Published on August 15, 2013
Stephanie Payne, left, and Marquita Walsh do a reading of the play “Gros Mourn” about the impacts of Gros Morne Park’s formation on the local population in the 1970s.
Published on August 15, 2013
Chris Brookes speaks to the crowd during a page reading Thursday. Brookes was one of the actors who performed the play “Gros Mourn” in the early 1970s.
COW HEAD Gros Morne Park wasn’t always the welcome addition to the tourism industry it is today, especially to people living in areas like Sally’s Cove, Baker’s Brook and Green Point back in the early 1970s.
How the park was established 40 years ago left a bad taste in the mouths of some residents who were there. They remember feeling like they had no choice but to leave their homes and way of life as organizers drew up the boundaries around their towns that would one day become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wanda Payne, formally of Sally’s Cove, remembers how it felt having to move.
“My father was just stubborn that he wasn’t going to go anywhere, and I felt the same way,” said Payne, who would eventually move to Corner Brook. “People were devastated about it, but by the end, once one family started leaving, they all did.”
Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador performed a reading of the play “Gros Mourn” Thursday in Cow Head that explored what local residents experienced when Gros Morne was being established. It was written by The Mummer’s Troupe.
Payne said Sally’s Cove was an area that could have contributed heavily to the tourist aspect of Gros Morne Park today. It was a vibrant area, she said, with good people.
“It was one of the biggest lobster areas, lots of fishing, and people were happy there,” she said. “It had a lot of culture … there were always dances going on, it was nice and it was an area that really could have fit into the park.”
Gwen Slauson of Cow Head remembers feeling the pressure to sell her land at the time by government representatives intent on constructing a road.
“We definitely felt bullied, I believe,” said Slauson. “They’d send people to our property at the times when the kids were home from school; people would keep coming around trying to get us to sign our land over to them.”
Slauson said her husband worked in Labrador while she stayed home with the kids. She said eventually the representatives gave up and expropriated land nearby. They did use several feet of her property, however, for another roadway.
“This was going to happen, no matter what and it didn’t feel right,” she said. “We have a beautiful park out of it, but I’m not sure it had to be like that.”
The park was established in 1973 and its boundaries were set up to include several towns along the coast. Local residents were offered relocation packages that some deemed unfair. Rules were set up regarding fishing and residing within the new park’s boundaries and some of the town’s would all but disappear.
The play “Gros Mourn” was created by the St. John’s-based Mummers Troupe in the months after the official formation of the park. It is based on several interviews by former Sally’s Cove residents in the aftermath and depicts that most of them did not want to see the park formed at all.
The reading Thursday included Chris Brookes, who was one of members of The Mummers Troupe who helped write “Gros Mourn.” Although he was from St. John’s, he heard local people talking about it and felt for them.
“It was a formative experience for us,” said Brookes, in his 20s at the time. “The issue was in the news. I had heard people were unhappy but I thought it was all resolved; I was astonished at how much resentment there was.”
After they created the play they began performing it locally and discovered that the production was stirring people up. The dialogue in the play is made up mainly of issues surrounding the park development that locals experienced: the loss of farming rights, fishing rights and hunting rights, to name a few.
Brookes said people would watch it and gather afterward to talk about what they saw, which led to political action when the time came for the signing ceremony. The performance raised questions and brought locals’ own words back to them, which made them picket, he said.
“That’s the power of the theatre,” said Brookes. “After seeing the play they discussed it and wanted to do something about it.”
Of course the picketing was in vain, the Gros Morne National Park Reserve was officially established 40 years ago this month.
The discussion held among the audience following Thursday’s performance in Cow Head included a talk about factors threatening the area today, including proposed oil and natural gas drilling off Sally’s Cove in the near future and power lines running through the area from the Muskrat Falls project.