Magical Merasheen

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jun 17, 2015 1:23 PM
A beautiful July evening on Merasheen Island

Have you ever had the privilege of taking a trip to a magical place, but where there are no crowds or line-ups? I have, and the place is called Merasheen Island, located in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

Two summers ago we spent almost a week there during their annual garden party. What an experience! It left us with so many memories and wonderful friends we will cherish for the rest of our lives

“We” were my husband Don and I, along with our friends Dan and Peg Seneca from Maine, USA. We have the pleasure of travelling the province by boat every summer. Each year we pick a bay, and in 2013 it was Placentia Bay. After touring the bay and visiting several other places, we finished at Merasheen Island.

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Though resettled in the 1960s, Merasheen Island is repopulated every summer.

Merasheen Island has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is a resettled community, but even though all the old homesteads are gone, the people are coming back and building their summer homes. They have so much passion for the place it is absolutely indescribable! We were welcomed into their homes and told stories of how life was growing up on the island, as well as what resettlement had done to the residents, especially the older folks. 

Not having experienced it firsthand, we can’t imagine what it is for someone to come to your community and tell you that you have to leave your home, your school, your church, your friends and especially those who had passed on. When we hear about resettlement we, like others who have never experienced it, think that it was the right thing to do; spending all that money on just a handful of people doesn’t really make sense, does it? But go to somewhere like Merasheen and listen to the stories of the people who travel back there every summer, how they tell of the broken hearts of their parents and grandparents who were forced to leave their homes. The younger ones would have left anyway, but the misery that was endured by the older people of Merasheen and any other resettled community - we could see it through the stories, the songs and the tears.

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Summer homes dot line the abandoned island's shores.

It wasn’t all remorse and regret, though. Merasheen people love a good time, and we were there when they arrived by the boatload. It was an amazing sight as they descended upon the abandoned island, with enough supplies to last two days to two weeks (you have to be prepared for anything when you’re visiting a small island). Some were bringing out items for their cabins - everything from the kitchen sink to oil stoves! Their arrival signaled the fun and excitement that was to come.

Merasheen folk love to dance, and for three straight nights we danced and we danced! Each night there were three different groups providing the entertainment. As soon as the first group would start, just two chords on the accordion, and one person would hit the dance floor, then two, then three. Next thing you knew, 75 per cent of the people were on the floor. Every song was a Newfoundland song, with the exception of a Johnny Cash thrown in because someone knew that my hubby loved Johnny Cash! What a wonderful time we all had!

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In addition to music and dancing, the "community" also comes together for a memorial service.

We were supposed to leave on Sunday morning, but because of the forecast we decided to stay - and we are so glad we did. We had been experiencing the “Merasheen magic” up to that point, but not as strong as we did that Sunday, when three-quarters of the population was getting ready to leave. We watched them load up the boats, with people and provisions - and that’s when the real Merasheen magic happened. Art Pink came down on the wharf with his accordion and played the “Merasheen Farewell” and “Merasheen Born and Bred.” As soon as Art started playing, the singing started and the arms started waving back and forth. This continued on the wharf while the folks in the boats were singing and waving, and it continued until the boats left the harbour.

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Proud Merasheeners leave the island with memories to last a lifetime.

I caught this magical moment on video, which I posted to YouTube (watch below). I have since heard back from so many Merasheeners I met there, and many others I have yet to meet, from as far away as Seattle and Florida. We look forward to meeting some of them this summer, when they return to Placentia Bay to celebrate the Merasheen reunion.

The people of Merasheen have to be commended for their passion and, God willing, we will have the opportunity to experience the Merasheen Magic once again. - Story and photos by Joyce Morgan

The Merasheen Reunion takes place on Merasheen Island this summer from July 23-26.