© Katie Turnbull
The future of Black Tickle is uncertain after the local crab plant closed last May.
Ever since the Quinlan Brothers crab plant closed down last May, the future of Black Tickle has been up in the air. The plant employed around 60 people, and was the only major employer in the area.
Kate Turnbull worked at the plant for more than a decade. She was the quality control and floor manager at the time the plant closed. She recalls the emotional impact the closure had on everybody.
"I was devastated," recalls Turnbull. "But the last three or four years, you could see the crab quotas getting cut. So it seemed like, eventually, it was going to happen."
The provincial government stepped in with a work program for those affected by the plant closure. The program offered 560 insurable hours of employment, so that most of the former crab plant workers would get employment insurance benefits once the program ended.
A lot of work was done around the community under the program. They renovated the church, tore down the moldy recreation building, dug a trench, and did a community cleanup. But the program has pretty much run its course. At its peak, more than 40 workers were employed under the program. There's now just three left, and the last one will finish up in March. Program Coordinator Laura Keefe says while the program ensured the short-term survival of the community, everything is uncertain.
"Once this money runs out, there's no more, so...in a year's time it might be a different story," says Keefe.
"There's nothing planned," says Turnbull. "Our Local Service District is not keeping people informed here. There's no long term solution, there's no meetings to hear what the people would like to do."
According to Turnbull, four families left Black Tickle in 2012, which is a lot for a town that has less than 200 people. She also says that there are more residents planning to move in the future, including herself. She and her husband have already purchased a home in Goose Bay. They can't sell their house in Black Tickle, so it'll be boarded up most of the year, and be used as a summer home.
"It's going to be sad, the day that we do leave," says Turnbull. "We're going to be missing our home. We own our own home and it's going to be sad to leave it. It's going to be destroyed eventually."
Rumbles of relocation
The topic of relocation pops up at times in Black Tickle. But it can be a touchy and divisive issue. According to Laura Keefe, many in the community are dead-set against the idea. But others, like Turnbull, think relocation might be a good idea.
"I think the community would be a lot better off if they approached the government for resettlement," says Turnbull. " I know a lot of people that would move today but they just can't afford it. I think if they had a choice, if they had a home given to them, and a half-decent living and a job, I think they would move."
Kevin O'Brien, NL Minister of Municipal Affairs, did not respond to the Labradorian's request for an interview on the possibility of, or process involved in, relocation.
Hugh Donnan, the Direct of Communication for the Department of Municipal Affairs, says that a town must have at least 90 percent support for relocation, before the provincial government even considers moving the residents.
"The Department of Municipal Affairs does not initiate contact with any community on to topic of relocation, but we will respond to a community-initiated request. These requests could come formally from a municipal council or LSD committee or via a community petition," said Donnan in a written statement. "We always encourage a community to take time for its members to discuss matters among themselves before they make a decision to request relocation as it is a significant decision. If a community does request relocation assistance, there is a process that we have to follow and that process takes considerable time. These decisions do not get made quickly."
Stella Morris worked at the crab plant for 12 years and has lived in Black Tickle all her life. Her heart is in the community and she can't picture leaving it.
"It doesn't come to my mind...the only way I'd move from this community is if the clinic shuts down," says Morris. "Everyone here is family, everyone is friendly...I love this community."
But Morris admits that she, and others in the community, doesn't have a long-term plan for financial survival in Black Tickle.
"I never even stopped to think about it, which I should I guess," says Morris. "It hasn't really hit anybody yet...but come this summer, when everybody has run out of EI, you'll hear it all over the community; what are we going to do."