It’s impossible to comment on the May 6, 1981 McCallum rockslide, without first honouring the tragic events of August 1, 1973, when a major Harbour Breton landslide swept four homes into the water, killing four young children from the same family.
“You’re right,” McCallum’s Liz MacDonald (Buffett) told me. “Our landslide was a big thing for us, but I don’t want to sound like we suffered like those poor people in Harbour Breton did – there’s no comparing. No sir, there’s no comparing what happened ‘down the cove’, to what happened when those four young children got killed in Harbour Breton…” At which point, Liz’ voice tails off. A courageous commercial fisherman for much of her life, the thought of what happened in Harbour Breton in ‘73, is a lot for the sensitive seafarer to think about, today. So I give her a chance to compose herself, before asking her to describe the events that occurred in McCallum, thirty years ago, when an untold number of falling rocks resulted in one home being destroyed, and four others (all MacDonald’s) being forced to relocate to safer ground.
“Yes, four homes had families in them – they belonged to a father [Samuel, widowed (Victoria)], three of his sons [George (and the above mentioned Liz), Henry (Hanna Jane), and Robert (Mary)], and another one was being built, new, at the time, by one of Samuel’s grandsons [Herbert (Ann)]. And that’s the one that the rocks beat down – the one that was being built new. And a stage got beat down too. Then people who know about these kinds of things went up in a helicopter to take a close look at the hill, and they said it wasn’t safe for us to stay ‘down cove’, so we all resettled someplace else.
“(George and I) went ‘on road’ (a different McCallum location) with our children Beverley (Riggs), Jason (both of whom still reside in McCallum), Denise (Bowles) and Brenda (MacDonald, both of St. John’s). And Henry moved his family into the home he’s still in behind ‘hydro’, but everyone else eventually left town. And it’s a good thing we did (relocate), because more rocks fell later.”
But it’s when I ask Liz if she still thinks of that fateful day - when a torrent of granite came thundering down around her home - that she gives me a most hearty response. “Oh yes… that’s what I do,” she says, with a bit of a choke in her voice and some mist in her eyes, as I imagine such memories trigger all kinds of thoughts, from the events of that scary day in ‘81, to the loss of George in ‘96. “Oh yes… that’s what I do.”
And then Liz helps me to understand that she is also thinking about some other people – those families that lost so much more than the MacDonald’s did. “But that was a much more terrible accident in Harbour Breton,” she reminds me. “We were so lucky, thank God. It could have been much worse for everyone living ‘down cove’. Because, just think about it, there were five families – a father, three sons, a daughter (Eliza Jane), a grandson, the son’s wives, and fourteen children ‘tween them. Look at that big pile of rocks out there now, David, just past Roland’s stage, and imagine… Just imagine what could have happened.”
I try to sometimes, Liz. I really do.
McCallum’s feller-from-away, David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org