Returning to Fair Island: A Land & Sea archival episode

For two centuries, the residents of Fair Island had been able to make a living fishing on the Labrador coast every summer, leaving behind only the women and children, and those too old to make the trip any longer.

"Back in them times, everybody [who] could fish was fishing," said Elias Pickett, a former resident.

But by the early 1960s, things were on a downswing. The Labrador fishery had begun to fail, and life on the island on the north side of Bonavista Bay was getting harder it was more difficult to get good teachers for the school, and to graduate from high school, residents had to leave. 

CBC

The decision was made to resettle, and in 1961 the homes were floated across the bay, and after a final service, the church was disassembled for the move to Centreville. 

Bonavista North fire

But the community arrived on the mainland to a terrible sight: the Bonavista North fire of 1961, which decimated the nearby forests and meant the loss of the forestry jobs that the new residents were expecting to get through the winter months. 

"The fire killed Bonavista North completely," Pickett said. But it didn't kill the community, who put down those houses, rebuilt the church, and continued on.

CBC

Two decades later, Fair Island was coming to life once again not as a full-time community, but as a summer fishing station. Former residents returned when the weather got warm to fish, men and women both, and remember times gone by. 

What was life like on Fair Island, 20 years after it was resettled? Learn more in this 1983 episode of Land & Sea, including footage from 1961.

Want more Land & Sea? Click here to see a playlist of archival episodes on our YouTube channel, and you can watch more recent episodes on our CBC Gem streaming service here. 

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