Cranky Goat Entertainment will be on location in Petites filming a documentary episode beginning Sept. 16, and will spend the week chatting with locals about the good old days.
“We are very honored to be allowed to tell this story. I’m sure it’s going to be a great piece,” said executive producer Christopher Richardson via email. “We see this as a ‘perfect storm’ kind of piece where the beauty of an area, history, and interesting people all come together to provide a solid story that is perfect for television.”
Stories about life in Petites are hard to come by since its former residents have scattered.
One of the province’s more controversial programs, resettlement has sounded the death knell of roughly 300 small communities and the relocation of approximately 30,000 Newfoundlanders.
Back in 1946 Petites was home to 11 families and held a population of over 200. Within a decade that was down to less than 150, and eventually it was abandoned almost entirely in 2003.
One former resident, Austin Bennett, visits there almost daily and often helps out with the church restoration efforts. Built around 1859 by a series of unknown architects, the wooden Gothic Revival style Bethany United church in Petites is thought to be one of the oldest surviving wooden churches in the province.
Although the church is likely to be mentioned, it is not the intended focus of the documentary. Instead the show will focus on the community itself, hoping to attract former residents to share their untold or forgotten stories of everyday life in Petites.
But the church owners are already helping out, having reached out to former residents via social media. And apparently they’re coming, some flying in specifically for the filming.
“Usually it’s just my husband and I out there working,” says Ontario native Julia Breckenridge, who along with her husband John purchased the building after the church declined to restore it and there was no other way to get permission.
Once repairs are complete the couple intends to turn it over to someone who will use it to build upon the southwest coast’s ecotourism potential.
“They want input from the people from Petites,” she said. “They don’t want us, really, because it’s a Newfoundland program.”
Julia is hoping some nearby former residents will also want to come down that week.
“Three people are flying in from Ontario,” confirms Breckenridge. “We’re hoping to get the local people from Petites, in the past, who live in Port aux Basques to come and visit too.”
And although people are always welcome to lend a hand with the church restoration efforts, Breckenridge stresses that is not the point of her invitation.
“It’s not to work,” she said. “It’s just to share their stories. If they want to come and help — that’s wonderful.”
Former residents who want to come in and participate may want to book accommodations in nearby Rose Blanche, although the lone Petites resident Austin Bennett has already agreed to put up one couple. Alternatively, some of the more homesick visitors may wish to chance the weather will cooperate and pitch a tent.
Plans are even taking shape to give the filming a kind of celebratory air.
“There’s a lady in Rose Blanche whose daughter is a chef and she contacted us and wants to come over and prepare a meal,” says Breckenridge.
As for the church, Julia and John will also be in town that week and the next to continue their restoration efforts.
“We’re doing the foundation,” says Julia, who hopes some will choose to lend a hand while they’re in the area. “We’ve got foundation posts. We’ve got gallons of paint. We’ve got paint scrapers. We’ve just collected everything so that if people come so that if they want to paint, scrape, dig – we’re there.”
Once the church restoration is completed the Breckenridges hope to pass it on to a worthy successor. Julia thinks the raw beauty of the southwest coast along with the historical legacy of the church are perfect to help develop ecotourism in the area.
“We own it because the church would not do any of the renovations,” says Breckenridge, who considers herself merely a caretaker. “This renovation is not for us personally. It is solely for the preservation of this heritage site.”
As for the film crew, Cranky Goat is already thinking ahead to another possible episode.
Says Richardson, “We also see this a “part one” of the story; we’ll be coming back to follow up down the road. We’re just praying for good weather on this visit!”
Those wanting to keep up to date with details on the upcoming filming can contact Julia Breckenridge through the church’s Facebook page: Petites Church Newfoundland: Restoration.