Former Shoe Cove Bight resident still wants to go home for Come Home Year
Raymond Foster was born and raised in Shoe Cove Bight. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s likely because the community hasn’t existed for several decades. However, for Ray and many more, it’s still home.
Foster and his family were one of around 30 families that lived in Shoe Cove Bight at its peak; in the days when a fishery was plentiful, and times were simpler — according to the cheerful man who says his memories of “the Bight” are still as fresh as ever.
© Rudy Norman
Ray Foster was born and raised in Shoe Cove Bight - a small community near current day Shoe Cove. Over the years people started leaving "The Bight" and eventually it went the way of many NL communities and ceases to exist today. However, that did stop the Shoe Cove Come Home Year from having a celebration this summer for the former residents of The Bight - including Foster and his family. He and others like him will find out what it's like to go home, when home isn't there anymore.
“It wasn’t a big, big place now, mind you, but it was a fair size place, you know,” he said while sitting in his rocking chair as the rumblings of the television echoed in the background. “We had a little schoolhouse there, and a church, so that was all we minded.”
Ray, who is now is 84 and lives in Burlington, hasn’t been home in a few years. The community he’s talking about is a short distance from the present day Shoe Cove, however it wasn’t always identified as such.
“What’s Shoe Cove now, we called that Shoe Cove Brook,” he said. “You had The Bight, and the Brook, and the easiest way to get between them was by boat.”
Eventually, Shoe Cove dropped “Brook” from its name for the more simple and identifiable version we know today.
There was a time after Foster got married and settled in Burlington that he and his wife would travel from there to the Bight by boat for a visit – despite the changing landscape and eventual deterioration of the community he remembers so well. This year, though, he plans on going back to the Bight once more, as part of the Shoe Cove Come Home Year celebrations.
“They’re having a Come Home Year down there and we got an invitation to it,” he said. “Even though the Bight isn’t there no more, you know, I think we’re still going to go down and take it in.”
Not there anymore, says Foster, is in reference to the structures and people that once called Shoe Cove Bight home. Since the decline in fishery and when resettlement became a popular thing in the early days of confederation, that meant the end for small communities like the Bight and others.
“I left when I was 16 years old,” Foster said. “After that I still spent every summer there, fishing, but over time it started dwindling down more and more and by and by everyone was gone.”
It was 45 years ago that he says he last remembers the Bight in its glory. That was the last time he spent a summer there on the fishing grounds, before he realized there wasn’t a livelihood in the waters anymore.
“My father was devastated,” he said. “I went and told him I was done with fishing because I wasn’t making enough money to feed my family. He didn’t take it well at all.”
Foster says his life growing up circled around his father, after his mother passed away when he was just seven.
“They said she had pneumonia, I guess,” he said. “I remember the doctor came from Twillingate to try and help her, but she didn’t last very long after that.”
The seven children his mother left behind for his father were still all living home at the time. Three were older, and had reached an age where they could move out and fend for themselves. Their next oldest brother, who was 12, went to live with his grandfather. A family up in the Brook” took in the youngest brother, who was just over a year old at the time.
“Father took me and my other brother and reared us up on his own,” he said. “I tell ya, it wasn’t easy, but we had three meals a day, I can say that, and we were happy.”
Life in the Bight was good for Ray and his family. They spent summers there fishing, with Ray and his brother, Malcolm, helping their father on the water. Wintertime they would all go to Rattling Brook where his father worked during those months.
“There wasn’t big money back there, you know,” he said. “Father would walk two or three miles in the winter, and work in the woods for 10 hours a day and get a dollar. Summertime we didn’t make any money – we just traded our fish for a bit of food is all. But we made a living.”
More so than if they’d stayed home in the winter, where it would have been likely that they’d have to apply for “the dole,” as Foster calls it – assistance from the government of the day.
“Some people who weren’t able to work in the winter went on the dole – I’m not sure now if it was $3 every four months or $4 every three months.”
Foster says when he looks at life today and what it was back then, the contrast is startling.
“People don’t know today what it is to work hard to get what you need,” he said. “They got everything they want around them, and they’re not even thankful for that most of the time.”
One of the values he learned from his father and others like him, he said, was that working hard for what you have makes you more appreciative of the fact you have them.
Memories of those times will likely flood back later this month, when Foster takes his wife and some of his children back home, and points to them where the houses used to be, and where the school used to be, and where everything once stood in the Bight.
“I’m looking forward to going back again, even if its not there anymore,” he said. “At least I can still remember what it used to be like, and that’s good enough for me.”