"If it were anywhere else in the province..." If you live and do business in Labrador, this oft-heard phrase is nothing new. And it's nothing new again this summer, as coastal Labrador communities - both north and south - struggle to get even the most basic grocery items on their shelves before our short summer is over.
Between mechanical issues with a crane, to vessels in the way that apparently couldn't be moved, the coastal Labrador freight runs are a recurring nightmare for those who live on the coast.
Government is attacked by the residents for not listening to the needs of the people, not planning ahead of time for the summer runs, not being pro-active in getting repairs and safety checks and inspections completed before the ice melts. After all, they say, it's not like shipping to the coast is a new concept: it's the way things are done and have been done for decades.
Granted, some situations are beyond the government's control (like the broken crane on the MV Astron, for example) but are there not ways to try to fix this apparently broken system? Newer vessels? And dare we mention, a road system?
Picture it: you live in an isolated community on some of the most rugged coastline in the province. You are virtually cut off from the outside world (with the exception of super expensive airline tickets or the hours-long snowmobile ride) for essentially eight months of the year. The last bit of shipped freight is dropped off in November, which is supposed to sustain a community of anywhere from 200-800 people, depending on where you live. No ship will be seen again until June (hopefully), at which point, you just have to pray the stock holds out enough to keep your family fed through some of the harshest winter and spring conditions in the province.
And here we are in mid-July, and several communities are (as of this writing) still waiting for their summer stock. Never mind that they generally get the majority of their winter stock shipped by the end of August.
We have a province with some of the most resource-rich regions in the country (Voisey's Bay), undergoing unprecedented growth and development (Muskrat Falls), with jobs and high salaries apparently around every corner.
And yet, in the far-flung corners of our Big Land, a mom, a dad, a child, cannot go into some of these "grocery" stores in Hopedale, Black Tickle, Natuashish, and find even a can of milk, toilet paper, or sugar.
It almost reads like something out of "Them Days" magazine, as an elder recalls their days standing at the wharf, as the coastal steamship leaves the dock for the last time in the fall.
I mean, is this 1914 or 2014? Because, quite frankly, we can't tell the difference up this way anymore.
- Bonnie Learning is a senior reporter with TC Media in Labrador