Migration a part of life in Newfoundland diocese

Migration is part of the cultural memory in Newfoundland, says Rev. Jonathan Rowe, curate at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Migration is part of the cultural memory in Newfoundland, says Rev. Jonathan Rowe, curate at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Published February 3, 2015

It is known colloquially as “the turnaround.”

Every few weeks, thousands of Newfoundlanders make the longcommute to northern Alberta to work in the oil industry. They stay there for a”shift” of two to four weeks, and return to their families on their weeks off.

Since the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992,Newfoundlanders have had to be creative in finding work if they want to continueto live on the island. The province registered an unemployment rate of 11 percent last year, and in 2008 there were around 20,000 Newfoundlanders working inAlberta alone. The turnaround has funnelled money from the oil sands back tothe island and allowed many families to continue living there.

But it has not been without its costs, and both rural andurban clergy in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador are aware ofthe impact it has on families and individuals. “The younger families don’t seemto mind,” said the Rev. Dianna Fry, a priest in the parish of the Holy Spiritin the western end of the diocese “I suppose because they are young. But theyalso find it difficult in that the mother is alone with the children for three,four weeks at a time. They feel like a single parent sometimes.”

The Rev. Jonathan Rowe, curate at the Cathedral of St. Johnthe Baptist in St. John’s, has noticed this problem as well. “It can havenegative effects on people’s families. I think that it’s a whole lot more of achallenge than most people might like.”

However, this kind of seasonal, migratory lifestyle is notnew in that part of the world, he said. “It’s not a long time ago in theNewfoundland cultural memory when this happened anyway, because men went awayto fish on the Labrador coast, or they went off on the seal hunt, and theycould be gone for stretches at a time.”

But Rowe does believe it is harder now than in previouseras. “Fifty years ago, if Dad had to go and work, well, things were prettymuch the same whether he was home or not,” he said. “But kids now have to be inafter-school programs and things like that because Mom is working.”

The church has largely responded to this situation throughpastoral ministry. There are otherreasons, however, that the turnaround may not be a long-term solution. Droppingoil prices have been cause for concern among some in the province. Lower priceswould not only affect the province’s offshore drilling operations, it couldpotentially put Newfoundlanders working the turnaround out of a job. Accordingto news reports, some oil companies have already started laying off workers.

But it isn’t just the turnaround that leads to disruptionsin family and community life. Long daily commutes have become common on theAvalon Peninsula in Eastern Newfoundland, and many people who live in smalloutports are driving to St. John’s for work. The Rev. William Strong, rector ofthe parish of Upper Island Cove, said that a significant number of hisparishioners are professionals who drive the 100-odd kilometres one-way to thecity every day. Many of Fry’s parishioners make a similar commute.

This transient lifestyle limits the freedom of someNewfoundland Anglicans to participate in parish life.

While some of the larger parishes, like Strong’s, havemanaged to maintain a vital ministry in their communities, smaller, moregeographically spread out multi-point parishes have greater difficulty doingthis.

Fry believes the church must make itself more flexible torespond to these changes in the lifestyle of its members. “We need to somehowbe able to find out what the needs of these families are and meet them,” shesaid, “whether it be a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and not necessarily a Sunday.”

She herself has started to spend more time with parishionersin the evenings, when they are home from work, rather than trying to keep aregular nine-to-five schedule.

The Labrador region of the diocesehas to deal with a lot of transience as well, but there the problem is theopposite-many come to work in the hydroelectric or mining industries, and leavewhen they reach retirement age.

“Our church family never stays the same,” says NellieThomas, the territorial archdeacon for the archdeaconry of Labrador. “Peoplemostly when they retire move away, either back to their own homes or to somecommunity where they feel they want to retire.”


  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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