Looking through the rubble of a burned down house in Keels. (Photo: Claire McDougall)
I keep thinking about this problem as it relates to the larger issue of rural revitalization and what can be done about sustaining communities like Keels, who's raison d'être – the fishery – is diminishing. There is no logic to a fishing community beyond fishing. Tourism is touted as the saviour of rural Newfoundland, but it can't save every community. Towns like Trinity have been bought up and painted up by summer residents from away, who have recreated a historical image that never really existed. Businesses are springing up to cater to these tourists who have a taste for fine dining, fresh greens and cultural performances that have never been a part of “authentic” Newfoundland culture. It provides an economic base to an ailing community, but the “new Newfoundland” bears little resemblance to the lived experience of most Newfoundlanders. This is not necessarily a tragedy. I'm personally quite happy to be able to buy freshly baked multi-grain bread and garden vegetables around the bay as an alternative to bologna and chips.
The Bonavista Social Club in Amherst Cove. An example of the "new" Newfoundland.
(Photo: Claire McDougall)
In talking to some of the residents of Keels, I've heard an expression of sadness about the declining population of the town. There are few young people here, and they will likely leave the community when they finish school, never to start a family here and keep the place going. Two boys I spoke to in grade 10 are looking forward to getting the heck out of Dodge and starting a new life elsewhere. And who can blame them? After all, what teenager hasn't longed to leave their home town at the first possible moment and discover what else there is. But if the only people moving into a town are those who only spend a few weeks in the summer, how can the community sustain itself year round?
In the words of the immortal Bruce Springsteen; “Everything dies, baby, that's a fact. Maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” Maybe tourism will save rural Newfoundland. Maybe other economies will move into these towns and provide a new logic to sustain them. I'm certainly not equipped to speculate on the future of rural Newfoundland. But whether or not you grew up there, towns like Keels hold on to your heart in a way that makes it pretty hard to let them go. I hope we don't have to.
The sun shines brightly over Keels harbour. (Photo: Erin Whitney)