Residents of Canada's smallest town seek to delay the inevitable

Jordan Chittley

While many Canadians are moving to bigger cities, Margaret Collins likes her small town. And she just doesn't live in any small town; Collins lives in the smallest town in Canada: Tilt Cove, Newfoundland. Current population: seven.

"It's different, but it's very peaceful," she says. "It's what everyone is looking for in Tilt Cove. It's very quiet. Everybody knows everybody."

She admits it's not much, just a few kilometres of uneven gravel road, a few homes and one stop sign that was put in a few years ago.

"We all knew we had to stop anyway, but they finally put one in," she says.

Despite the small number of people, it is an incorporated town. Collins is the town clerk — although she admits "it's very part time" — and her husband is the mayor. She has a lot of pull in the mayor's office.

Tilt Cove is a town wrapped around a pond surrounded by mountains. It looks like it is at the bottom of a crater. It's a six-kilometre drive on a dirt road off the main road. At one point buildings surrounded Winser Lake, now there are about 15 buildings between the two sides of the lake. Five of the buildings have permanent residents.

The town exists because there was once a mine. Collins is the best person to describe the history of the town because she remembers its heyday and also runs the museum.

"When I was a child growing up there were about 1,200 people living here. It was a mining town. We had everything here. There was no road in the beginning, everything came by boat. But still the company made sure we had everything like a supermarket, a movie theatre, a skating rink, a library, a huge school, everything," she says.

Tilt Cove was settled around 1813 by George and Mary Windsor, who came over from England. The post or Way office was established in 1869, and by 1900 there were more than 1,300 people living in the town because of the rich deposits of copper and gold ore discovered in 1864. In the 1920s the mines closed and the population dropped. The mines re-opened in 1957 and the population boomed, but it only lasted until 1967 when the mines closed for good.

"It seemed like it happened overnight, the people were all gone," says Collins. They mined it out, got what they wanted and left. By the end of the 1960s there were less than 50 people living in Tilt Cove.

Today, seven people live there, although Statistics Canada lists the population as being five in the most recent National Household Survey.

Collins knows her town isn't going to be around for much longer.

It's different, but it's very peaceful. It's what everyone is looking for in Tilt Cove. It's very quiet. Everybody knows everybody.
Tilt Cove resident Margaret Collins

"The youngest person in Tilt Cove now is 53 years old and I doubt there is going to be any more children in Tilt Cove," she says. The older people can stay there because they have Collins, her husband and one other couple to take care of them. But she knows when her and her husband get older there won't be anyone to take care of them so they will most likely have to move to a big city.

"I doubt my daughters are going to come back to Tilt Cove," she says.

And the town may lose two of its residents sooner than it wants.

The town, like many in the province, has been hit hard by the lack of fishing. Collins and her brother used to work at a fish plant, but it recently closed, leaving them out of work.

Collins says she'll be able to stay in Tilt Cove because her husband works in a mine about 45 minutes away, but her brother and his wife may have to move soon.

"He's hoping to pick up enough (work) to stay in Tilt Cove," she says. "He doesn't want to move, but he realizes that day is going to come. I think we could put in for a resettlement program to get out, but none of us want that."

When Tilt Cove closes it will join the list of hundreds of other towns in the province that have experienced a similar fate over the past 60 years.

For now, Collins and the other residents are working to delay the inevitable.

She has a brother in Edmonton and says, "He's probably one of the most loneliest people going. And I thought 'he lives in a city, he shouldn't be lonely living in a city with everything they have to offer.' But if he lived around here, he'd have everyone around because we're always getting together."

Collins has visited a number of Canada's big cities and says people are more polite and have time for others in small towns. For her, moving to a city is "too much for a person who likes to go out and sit on her porch, have a cup of tea and listen to the trees blowing in the wind," and she's grateful for the time she has left in Tilt Cove.

"We all say, 'if we get another 10 years we'll be lucky.'"

(Photos courtesy Jordan Chittley/Yahoo Canada News)