JOURNEY THROUGH LABRADOR by Bernie Howgate

( Chapter 6 )

 

 

MARCH, 16th

There is a saying on the Labrador coast that Black Tickle manufactures storms for export to the mainland and my arrival on it coincided with a major dig out: four days before I had taken shelter at the bottom of Porcupine Bay. For three nights, I slept in relative comfort while 20 km. away, Black Tickle's inhabitants were living through the eye of the blizzard.

Black Tickle is an offshore community located on the south west corner of the Island of Ponds. There is not a single bush or twig to be found anywhere, nothing to soak up the 130 km/hr winds that battered it and as I walked down to the harbor - its full force was plainly evident. Mountainous snow drifts had changed the hole geography. The first two houses I came to were buried up to their roof tops and had I not seen the puffs of snow coming out of an eight foot hole, I would have walked unknowingly right over another. Electricity and telephone lines were now at chest height and as I was soon to find out, had been used as life lines of evacuation during the blizzard.

"You couldn't see your hand in front of your face, boy. The only way you could get around was by touch." Stories came thick and fast. Black Tickle's power failed the first night and as two thirds have oil fired central heating, by the second night mass evacuations were the order of the day. Whole families, dog and cats included, crawled along from one power line to another searching out neighbors. One house took in a dozen people, another with only three rooms took in over twenty, but not all families without power wanted to leave. Some just roughed it out with extra layers of clothing and candles. This blizzard wasn't even the first that year. In fact, I was told they were a regular part of life. The first question that came to mind was, why? Why do people live here?

Who in their right mind would put up with having to travel 6 km for water and 50 km for wood? Let alone live through intermittent power failures. In St. John's I heard the first stories of Black Tickle. "They're all Newfies who went there to fish in summer and missed the last boat home in fall." On the surface you would think they were all crazy. Outside their modern airstrip, there is no other all-year-round mode of transportation onto the mainland. During the summer months boats can be used and in winter, snowmobiles can cross the ice, but during the dangerous months in spring and fall when the ice is unsafe, they might as well be in Timbucktoo.

To find the answer I had to look back to the 60's and Joey Smallwood's resettlement program. In those days places like Mary's Harbor, Port Hope Simpson, and Charlottetown were just blimps on the map. The Labrador coast was still full of small communities. Some hid away in coves, some at the end of remote points of land and some, like Black Tickle, stuck to bare rock like limpits. Then came resettlement and overnight they shut up shop and migrated to the mainland. Many over the years have returned. Some families use their old homes as summer cottages and move back lock, stock and barrel to be close to the fishing grounds and yet other buildings have turned into ghostly museums.

Black Tickle was also given the option of resettlement. The younger generation voted to leave, but in those days major decisions were made by elders and the family heads of the Dysons and OKeefes voted to stay, so they stayed

By the end of the first day, the old clinic had been converted into my home. The oil tank was topped up, electricity connected and outside having to get my drinking water from a bucket and use the portable 'honey pot' for a toilet, I had all the amnesties of home. Soon my rooms had turned into the local drop-in centre and a steady stream of visitors came by to see the 'Walking Man'.

I stayed six days. I wanted to spend my 43rd birthday in Black Tickle. In the last twelve years I had spent eight of them on the road - between stops - this time I wanted to be around familiar faces. That night the school teachers put on a great spread. A friend of a friend brought in a crate of beers from Cartwright. For once I could close the door on travel, eat, drink and unwind and leave the consequences until tomorrow.

 


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14