MERASHEEN ISLAND, N.L. – Despite the grey, drizzly and rainy weather, 350 people travelled to Merasheen Island to take part in the community’s 50th anniversary of resettlement and reunion July 26-29.
Ray Hann, who was among those to attend, said the event was very special.
The weekend’s events included a dance, kid’s day, variety concert, a meet and greet, slideshow presentation, mass and a plaque laying ceremony to honor the Hennessey’s, one of the earliest families to settle the island.
However, Hann recalls “the single most powerful moment” happening at the wreath laying ceremony to commemorate all the men from Merasheen who served in the merchant marine and armed forces and fought for their country during the First and Second World Wars.
Planning the reunion to coincide with such a significant marker in the island’s history was vital to Hann and his team.
“The purpose of the homecoming was planned around commemorating the 50th anniversary of leaving Merasheen,” Hann explained. “I think it’s significant that people remember that time in our history and for Merasheeners it’s particularly poignant.”
Hann’s family was the last to leave the island on Oct. 9, 1968.
“I was 18 years old when I left,” Hann recalled. “My formative years were spent here and I have great memories of going to school and when you are 18, you are pretty well tuned in and you remember a lot.”
He remembers the backbreaking work of packing to leave their homestead and community for good, the $6,400, the government allocated to his family to build a new home and life in Marystown and his parents crying as his family of 12 left the island on the MV Bertha Joyce ferry.
Hann’s heartbreaking account of his family’s departure from their homestead, including historical photos, letters and an explanation of the politics around the resettlement program can be read here: https://spark.adobe.com/page/ezTGRWtms72QW/.
The pull to return to Merasheen was so strong for Hann that he returns from his current home in Prince Edward Island to spend his summers at his island cabin.
“I am at my maternal grandparents’ homestead,” Hann said. “I was pretty close to them growing up and they were pretty special people.
“I feel like I’m honoring their memory when I’m here. Merasheen for me is a pretty powerful and constant tug in my life,” Hann said. “Wherever I’m at, I’m thinking of Merasheen, even if I’m not here.
“I’m tilling my grandma’s gardens and tending the flowers she planted, 60, 70, 80 I don’t know, 90 or 100 years ago. It’s a pretty powerful spot. Even the name Merasheen has a special connotation. It’s a magical place to me, for sure.”
Hann is optimistic for the future of his beloved island.
“Merasheen is still a very vibrant community,” Hann maintained. “There’s almost as many cabins here right now as there were homes back in the day when people still lived here.
“There’s more people coming back to build summer cabins and spending periods of time here. I think that is pretty significant, second and third generation people are coming back and driving down roots where their parents and grandparents did years before. Pretty powerful stuff.”
Hann says judging by the comments he heard at the reunion and from those on the island’s Facebook page, the event was a huge success.
Attendees were left with a parting dose of Merasheen spirit for their trip back home.
“We have this tradition when people are departing,” Hann explained. “Don Fulford wrote this song ‘Merasheen Born And Merasheen Bred’. When people are leaving after any event we go to the wharf and sing ‘Merasheen Born And Merasheen Bred’ as they are pulling away. There’s never a dry eye, whether you were born in Merasheen or you weren’t, it’s pretty emotional.”
Members of the organzing committee for the event were Val Power (chairperson), Doreen Ennis, Edna Pittman, Evelyn Ennis and Sharon Fitzpatrick.