Memories of an island home: How one St. Chad’s home is a symbol of a long resettled community

·5 min read

From the bench on her front porch, Jan Jang had a perfect view of the small cove just over the bank from her St. Chad’s home.

The home, originally from the nearby Flat Islands, was floated to the area in the 1950s. From her perch, the British Columbia resident could trace the likely path the house took when it entered the cove.

It would have likely entered the cove pulled by a singular boat and around Damnable Island in the centre before being hauled out of the water and eventually into its current place.

Jang and her husband Ed purchased the property shortly after a vacation to the province some 12 years ago.

"We saw the view and we knew immediately,” she said.

Saltbox in design with white siding and black trim, the home sits in the middle of a gravel road. On a nearby hill, there is a flagpole, a cracked concrete foundation holding it in place.

The back of the property has a small garden and wooden archway covered in overgrown vines.

“That is the common house (of the time),” said 85-year-old former Flat Islands resident Everett Saunders. “I didn’t know what a bungalow looked like until I left.”

The Flat Islands were amongst the earliest reported settlements in Bonavista Bay, with the first mention of residence recorded in 1806.

The community was made up of four islands, Flat Island, Coward Island, North Island and Berry Head. Families with the surnames Hallett, Dyer, Morgan, Samson and Saunders, amongst others, built a life there, 21 miles from Bonavista in the middle of Bonavista Bay.

There were two churches — a Church of England Church on Flat Island and the Methodist Church on North Island. Each island had a school, while there was a post office with a wireless telegram and a nurses station on Flat Island.

The fishery ruled on Flat Islands as people made their living at the height of the Labrador fishery. There were often 25 to 30 schooners in the nearby waters.

In the 1920s, the islands had some 900 full-time residents. Resettlement began in 1954 when the first home was floated to Glovertown.

Others were disassembled, moved and then reconstructed at their destination.

The collapse of the Labrador fishery forced families to move to the mainland for steady work. By 1957, most of the population was preparing to leave.

Saunders left in 1958 and headed for St. John’s. In 1979, he moved to Eastport and he has been going back to the island ever since.

His parents moved to Eastport, while others made lives in places like Glovertown, St. Chad’s, Burnside and St. John’s.

“There was a lot of living on the island,” said Saunders, who left when he finished school at the age of 17. “It was quite different.”

It was Thanksgiving weekend when the Jangs happened across the place that would become their longtime summer home.

They were frequent visitors to the province and spent their time renting places while travelling around the island.

It got to the point when they were visiting so frequently they decided it would be in their best interest to buy a summer home.

They had finished a stay in St. John’s and were headed towards Lark Harbour on the west coast when Jan had the impulse to go to the Eastport Peninsula, where they had visited before.

There, they stumbled upon St. Chad’s and fell in love with a quaint home along the shore of a secluded cove.

It had a faded ‘House For Sale’ sign on the lawn.

“We looked at each other, we looked at the view and we looked at the house,” said Jan, recalling the moments before their decision to buy.

After some renovations, they were ready to make it their five-week Newfoundland home every summer for a dozen years.

The house was built by Stephen Hallett in the early 1900s, although Jan isn’t sure of the exact date.

It was 1958 when it was floated from Flat Island across Bonavista Bay and into St. Chad’s. A picnic table dedicated to The Dickers sits on the site.

Several years ago, Saunders took the Jangs out to see where the house had been.

For a couple of years, Saunders showed off his boyhood home while running a tour boat business out of the Eastport. His family home is gone now, but he still routinely makes day trips to the area for berry picking or just to walk around.

When he ties his boat to the old family wharf and takes his first steps on the island, the world he knew plays out in front of him. He knows the location of every rock and the beginning of every path. He remembers Mr. Decker, his apple tree and how he'd get angry when Saunders and his friends would swipe an apple or two.

If someone asks to head out, Saunders is sure to take them for a run to the islands. Lately, people have requested passage to the islands as they seek to say goodbye to loved ones. Saunders figures there have been three or four occasions where he's accompanied people as they scatter the ashes of those who once called the Flat Islands home.

Saunders understands their wishes.

“It was a great place," he said. "I'm so contented when I'm out here."

The Jangs knew that type of contentment in St. Chad’s, but they sold their home earlier this fall. It wasn’t something they wanted to do, but health issues had made it increasingly difficult to travel the long distance between British Columbia to Newfoundland.

It was a bittersweet decision, but one they felt was necessary.

They’ll miss their Newfoundland haven.

“We loved the house,” said Jan Jang. “It was a dear little house.”

Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice