Freedom of choice prompts couple's donation

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

– with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — Acts of kindness and generosity for the displaced residents of the Southwest coast have become a beacon of hope for those who have lost so much to post-tropical depression Fiona. A lot of the selflessness has come from within the community, but there are those from outside the affected area who have chosen to extend an extra helping hand.

Peter and Cathy Malon hail originally from Ontario, but are currently living in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. The couple heard and saw reports of how the Southwest Coast was ravaged by Fiona and, even though they have no ties to Port aux Basques, wanted to do what they could to help.

“When Peter was in high school, he had a friend who went to Newfoundland and loved it, and so Peter went out to Newfoundland and he liked it a lot,” said Cathy.

“In the late 70’s, I spent three months up in Baie Verte at the hospital there as part of my training, and then some more time in ‘81 for more training,” explained Peter.

Cathy's mother was originally from Saint John, New Brunswick, so she grew up with a Maritime heritage and felt a special kinship to the Eastern portion of the country.

“We decided to go to the Maritimes when it was time to do post-grad schooling. Well, I was in undergrad and Peter was doing post-grad schooling. Peter was doing medicine. I was doing a degree that was a Bachelor of half science and half English at Dalhousie, and we just fell in love with Nova Scotia and the ocean.”

The couple retired to Nova Scotia in 2012, and they are tied to Newfoundland now as well. They currently own property in Pike’s Arm, near Twillingate. The property is a place they stayed when it was an Airbnb, and they took possession of the property last August.

“There are 39 homes there. A number are abandoned, and a number are seasonal, but there are still viable fishermen there,” said Cathy. “Just beautiful scenery, such a beautiful province. We’ve been back to Newfoundland visiting many times since we’ve retired. We’ve been all over Newfoundland.”

Even though they don’t have a history that connects them to Port aux Basques, they certainly have a history with small communities in Newfoundland.

“We were in Baie Verte at a time before the cod died, and so we visited all the outports there when they were viable fisheries, and what attracted us to Pike’s Arm was the fact that it was a small outport that still had viable fisheries,” said Cathy. “Last year, for the first time in 40 years, we visited all the outports we used to work in, and they are all gone. They are all gone because the cod died. So Pike’s Arm was special, I think, for me, because it reminded us of viable inshore fishery, and we just find it gorgeous. We fell in love with it.”

Peter said they never had the opportunity to spend much time in Port aux Basques, but he always thought it was beautiful.

“I certainly love the scenery here. Getting off the ferry, you’re in a different world. It’s just gorgeous with all the barrens and the mountains.”

Since Fiona hit, the beautiful landscape of Port aux Basques has changed drastically, but the spirit within the community is something that still remains strong. When Fiona made landfall, the Malons were back home in Nova Scotia, where they experienced a fraction of what the Southwest coast of Newfoundland did.

“We were on the periphery of it,” explained Cathy. “Not like Cape Breton, poor Cape Breton. We heard about it on the news and it was devastating, and it was sickening because Port aux Basques had just been hit last year with the flooding. They lost the road. These people were disconnected. I can’t imagine.”

Knowing how hard Port aux Basques was hit with both storms, Cathy knew that she wanted to help.

“I said to Peter, ‘Here we are in Pike’s Arm, and we’re so lucky to have this place, and we haven’t been touched by Fiona here, and we weren’t touched by Fiona in Annapolis Royal, and look at Port aux Basques. Two years ago they were just smacked,’” said Cathy. “So I asked him what he would think about giving the people who lost their homes some money each.”

“One thing that struck us, too,” added Peter, “I think it was on CBC. She was interviewing somebody from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, and she finally cornered her, and she said, ‘yes, we will not cover saltwater damage,’ so all those people that were destroyed by that, no matter if they had insurance for it or not, they were out of luck.”

Cathy said she looked up the mayor of Port aux Basques, the Red Cross, and Wreckhouse Press to try to find a way to get their donation to the people who needed it most.

“I looked up the mayor and it gave his contact information, but it also said the number of calls and emails he was receiving a day, so I thought he’s too busy. He’s gotta be fielding stuff for the citizens he represents, and then I thought, ‘of course, the media,’” said Cathy. “The media, we know, are very powerful and, unfortunately not everybody sees it in a good way and not all media is open, but I know that the media here would be the best to contact to help facilitate this.”

When they reached out to discuss how many families lost their homes, Cathy said they weren’t expecting such a high number.

“I was shocked that there were 96. I kept hearing about 20 to 30 homes and (Wreckhouse Press) explained to me that those are the homes that have been condemned and have yet to be torn down. We both missed it and thought it was only 20 to 30 homes."

Even though the sheer number of homes lost during Fiona was higher than they had initially believed, Cathy and Peter knew that a donation, no matter the size, would count for so much.

“The meaning behind the gesture, that I had thought of, was that when people lose everything, they lose choice,” said Cathy. “They’re given things and that’s great. The Red Cross facilitates that. The Salvation Army facilitates that, donations coming into the Town, and when people are handed things, they are grateful, but they haven’t chosen any of them. Even when people are bringing them meals, they haven’t necessarily chosen them. So my thought that I shared with Peter was to give those households money to give them choice. Now that it’s 96, it’s still a choice, but it’s a limited financial choice.”

Cathy said she wishes they could do more, but knows the gesture, no matter the size, will help those who have lost everything.

“I know that they’ll be able to buy something, and it doesn’t matter what it is. I’m assuming it could be 96 different things.”

The total amount donated by the Malons is $5,000, to be split amongst those whose homes were declared lost to Fiona. The plan is to offer $50 to each of the 96 families who have lost their home, and the extra $200 will be left in the hands of Mayor Brian Button to distribute to those families who may need a little bit of extra help.

“Our hearts go out to Port aux Basques, because we are Atlantic Canadians, and we need to help each other. Newfoundland is a special place, a very special place. “

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News