He says some were sad and some were optimistic, but all came with feeling.
On Monday, May 30, those stories were brought to life as Tolson’s Stories of Resettlement: The Documentary was screened at Tricentia Academy to 100 people.
Tolson was unable to attend the screening because he was in the United Kingdom, but corresponded with The Packet via email in order to detail his experience in making the film.
Tolson first came to Newfoundland to work at the Come By Chance refinery from the UK in 1999 as a contractor.
“Having worked in Antarctica I somehow saw a resemblance. It wasn't only the climate, but the attitude of the people. They weren't phased by problems and nothing was too much; something I'd witnessed before in faraway Antarctica where I'd worked for the British Antarctic Survey driving their ships in the 1970s,” Tolson told The Packet.
In Antarctica, he filmed big expeditions and was lucky enough to work with Sir David Attenborough on his program, Life in the Freezer. Attenborough is a famed documentarian and broadcaster with the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC).
“So, when I came to work at the refinery in 1999, without a film hat on, I knew it wouldn't be long before I needed a project. And so it was, I heard about this thing called resettlement. I hounded people for their story, trying to understand what it was about and how it affected people,” says Tolson.
He became friends with Arnold’s Cove Coun. Herb Brett, who recognized the importance of telling in the story in the early 2000s, but the project fell on the wayside as Tolson became occupied with work at the refinery.
In August 2014, he had the chance to see some of the islands that were resettled during a period when the refinery shut down.
“The whole idea of the resettlement story was beginning to boil up and I was able to get out to some of the islands with the assistance of Ces and Edna Penny from Arnold’s Cove. Edna is with the heritage group and husband Ces was a fisherman. Their combined contacts and enthusiasm allowed me to get to Tack’s Beach and Port Anne,” says Tolson.
He began to appreciate what resettlement meant and began to interview people in their homes.
Deciding he should get government’s take on resettlement, he approached former MHA Bill Rowe, who opted not to be interviewed.
Ed Roberts, another former MHA who served as executive assistant to Premier Joey Smallwood, was willing to discuss the memories from a government perspective.
“Roberts, like so many of the islanders, comes across so powerfully because they have a raw side to their story. Most of the islanders were teenagers or young adults at a time when Newfoundland was being pushed through so much social, economic and political change. Ed Roberts saw this evolving, he came from a wealthy background yet was determined to try and make something happen to improve the lives of the fishermen and islanders,” says Tolson.
Tolson describes the film as a loose documentary and more of an oral history. It tells the story through a series of interviews from the islands and from Arnold’s Cove in attempt to portray life as it was in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
“When I started filming two years ago I didn't know how the film might look. In the end, I interviewed 33 people from Arnolds Cove, Tacks Beach, Port Anne, Spencer’s Cove, Kingwell, Harbour Buffett, Haystack, Bar Haven and Woody Isle,” he says.
Getting film material was always a problem, he says. He had to find people who wanted to speak and then convince them they had a story. He says some were integral to the story and had to be convinced to talk, and others were happy to talk and could talk all day.
“I have enough material to do a life story film on every one of the 33 people I interviewed, but most of them could only be used for a brief time to help tell the story of resettlement,” says Tolson.
“It could be told a different way, indeed, 100 different ways. I hope I have kept the flow moving, maintained interest, humour, sadness and a little political insight.”
Arnold’s Cove will have numerous screenings throughout the summer as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of resettlement.
For more information visit resettlementnl.ca