Newfoundland’s outport communities are small communities scattered along the coast, frequently supported by the fishery industry. Their locations were primarily determined by access to fishing and drying grounds, but also shelter, fresh water, or access to other resources in the case of communities which also relied on industry such as forestry mills.
Outport communities demonstrate a huge diversity of characteristics, due mainly to the sheer number of settlements as well as the diversity in shoreline geography. In general, the shoreline was a place of work: wharves, stage sheds, piers and drying areas were all clustered here. Houses and yards were found farther inland, as were public buildings such as schools, churches or town halls. Historically, larger outport communities would function as service centres for the surrounding communities, with more merchants, or artisans such as blacksmiths, tailors or cobblers.
Outport residents often saw more movement and migration than farming communities, for example. Many outport communities were too physically exposed to support year-round occupancy, so families travelled to inland winter homes. Whole communities often moved due to depleted fish stocks. This movement declined as larger motorized vessels become dominant, and infrastructure for shipping and ground transportation (such as railroads) led to more permanent settlements. However, the cost of extending of government services to all settlements led to the contentious policy of resettlement under the Smallwood government. Under this policy, smaller outport communities were relocated in order to concentrate services such as health care and education in larger centres. Between 1954 and 1972 more than 27,000 people and more than 220 communities were resettled.
The decline in outport population has followed the pattern of decline in many rural areas of Canada, but was greatly accelerated by the 1992 cod moratorium. Currently, outport communities are exploring reuse of their existing infrastructure, and developing new economic models to replace dependence on the fishery. However, many outport residents have had to leave the region, often for work outside the province – such as Alberta’s oil sands – or to Newfoundland’s capital of St. John’s.
Please also see our Culture of Outports website.