In 2007, Doug Wells interviewed his parents, John and Mary Wells (pictured below), about their resettlement to Harbour Breton from Muddy Hole, an isolated outport located about 10 kilometres west of McCallum in Hermitage Bay. This is what John told Doug about their big move 42 years before.
How did you find out that you had to move?
The government announced that we should move because we were one of the more isolated communities along the coast and that it was very difficult providing public services to the people. We realized that we had a tough life in Muddy Hole and when we heard that every family would receive money for moving, we all bought into it. Couple hundred dollars per family seemed a lot of money back then…Sure it was sad in a way, but everyone was looking to the future where it would be better for them and their children.
Why did you so willingly move?
It was a tough life living in Muddy Hole. We had no post office, no fish collector for our daily catches and we had to take our fish daily to Richard’s Harbour in dory, summer and winter and in some terrible weather conditions. We had no medical clinic, no coastal boat services, no teachers some years, and only saw the minister once a month…We know that telephone services, electricity and a road would never come to Muddy Hole.
We had three children that we wanted to see get an education and have a chance for a good future. We didn’t want to deny them that. There was no future for our children in Muddy Hole and I certainly didn’t want them to be doing the kind of work that I was doing.
Another reason we moved was the fact that the community was getting smaller anyway. Some were leaving for work, some moved away and married, and by 1965 there were less than 100 people living there.
I’d gone away from Muddy Hole to work at times – in the lumber woods, on fishing schooners – and I didn’t really prefer being away from home but I had to in order to support the family. By moving, I figured I would get a steady job at home.
We had poor, poor health care. The only thing we had was a midwife. Doctor visits were not very often and in times of emergencies, it would still take a day or two to get there. It all depended on the weather and foggy conditions. I remember once a seaplane came to take Uncle Phil Morris to hospital. She had to land in nearby Dragon Bay and we had to take him to Dragon in a dory because Muddy Hole harbour was not big enough to land the plane.
In the late years, no teachers wanted to come to Muddy Hole. If they did, they probably only had a grade 10 or 11 education and, in some cases, they couldn’t finish the year. This put all of our children behind.
How did you move your house?
We had to take our house down board by board, take the nails out, tie the board in bundles and ship it down to Harbour Breton. Clar Riggs brought our house down on his schooner, the Stewart Rose. I came with him, and Jack Stewart said I could put the wood ashore on his old wharf. He didn’t charge me a cent to put the stuff on his wharf. Clar Riggs was good to us in our move and he even took our family to Francois so we could spend a few days with Mary’s parents before we took the coastal boat to Harbour Breton.
Wes Morris and his parents came to Harbour Breton with us and we rented a house together, built one house and we all moved into that one and then built the second house for Uncle Phil.
What did your only brother think about your decision to move to Harbour Breton?
He didn’t like it and said to people that I was making the wrong move. Jim moved to Gaultois because of a job opportunity and I believe his oldest daughter had some previous work there, so that’s why he moved there. Anyway, I decided to take my chances on Harbour Breton. It was hard when I left Muddy Hole that morning, Jim and Mary went up on the hill because they found it hard to say goodbye. I think we were all sad that morning.
Did you have any trouble getting work in Harbour Breton?
After the two homes were built I helped build a house for Tom Jensen, and after that I went to work on the fish plant. I started work on the fish plant (British Columbia Packers Ltd.) in January of 1966. I started at unloading fish from draggers. I worked for $1.05 an hour then. It was a hard job, dirty, but I was only at it for two or three months when Don Hickey came after me to work in the carpenter shop. I worked as a carpenter until I retired in 1992.
What did you regret most about leaving Muddy Hole?
We were hurt by the fact that we had to leave friends and relatives that we would probably never see again…We had a small community, knew everyone, helped and supported each other on a regular basis. We were all like one big family.
Leaving your home that you knew for years, a lifestyle, and departed loved ones on the hill – you couldn’t help but think about these things.
If I had my time back, I would have taken more of the old antiques we left behind. I guess somebody has the things, like old guns, furniture, bottles and other stuff, but it can’t have the same meaning to them just the same.
What did you find the hardest adjusting to in Harbour Breton?
Harbour Breton had a lot more people than Muddy Hole. No matter where you went there were crowds of people. Line up to get your groceries, at the post office, and even large crowds in church. Waiting to be served was new to us, but we learned to be patient and eventually adjusted to it.
The long distances we had to walk in Harbour Breton took some getting used to. Harbour Breton is a much larger community and in order to get to church, for example, you had to walk about a mile. Walking to the post office was almost as far and, at times, we would go across the harbour in a flat to check the mail. Our youngsters usually went to the post office.
I lived quite a ways from the fish plant and I had to use my old dory to go to work at the beginning, and then arranged rides to work every day…I finally got a car in 1972 and getting around was a lot easier after that.
Were you welcomed by Harbour Bretoners?
Yes, very much so. We were worried about being strangers in a new town. We were the first to move to Harbour Breton in 1965, most people moved here in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We were welcomed with open arms and I’m glad to say we settled in quite easily.
I made a lot of friends…because I could fix things and make thinks for people, and many came to me with little odd jobs. I knew about moose hunting and the outdoors, so I made even more friends that way. Mary could turn her hand to fixing and making things when it came to clothes, so she met a lot of people in that way. I got to say the people of Harbour Breton were really good to us and I always think about that whenever I think about resettlement.
Do you feel the move was worth it?
Yes, we have to say it was worth it. It was a big thing you know, leave your home, come to a new town, with all the fears that went along with it, but in the end everything fell in place for us. I thank God for that and the decision to move to Harbour Breton.