The Story of Crow Gultch

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The Story of Crow Gulch:
Resettling an “Outport Ghetto” in Corner Brook, Newfoundland during the 1960s (Please note: This paper (still a study- in-progress) is not to be cited or quoted without the permission of the author.) Rainer Baehre

Historical Studies and Social/Cultural Studies
Sir Wilfred Grenfell College
Memorial University of Newfoundland
A2H 6P9
e-mail: rbaehre@swgc.mun.ca

Environmental History of the Atlantic Region Panel
Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association
Concordia University
Montreal
1 June 2010

The Story of Crow Gulch: Resettling an “Outport Ghetto” in Corner Brook, Newfoundland during the 1960s Rainer Baehre

Introduction
The following story of Crow Gulch is a micro-study, one in a series with the Humber River Project, whose primary objective is to explore the historical interaction between the natural and human environments of the Humber River Basin (HRB) region of western Newfoundland. Once part of Greater Corner Brook, Crow Gulch was a “ghetto,” as sociologically defined: “the social practice whereby social groups tend to associate with others of like kind, usually (but not always) residentially, occasionally by their own choice, but usually by force” Crow Gulch was an impoverished, disadvantaged, neglected and marginal residential area somewhat outside of Corner Brook, which had survived for decades independently of direct municipal control, many of whose residents were “jackatars,” a derogatory term once used widely in Newfoundland for persons of French-Mi’kmaq descent (métis).

The community of Crow Gulch disappeared in 1968 following nearly two decades of discussion over urban renewal in Corner Brook. The end result was a form of benign coercion: the expropriation of property with some financial compensation, the physical destruction of their homes, and the relocation and resettlement of residents unable to find affordable housing into the city’s first social assistance housing project. However, while it has been physically expunged from the urban environment of Corner Brook, Crow Gulch still exists as a cultural landscape and cognitive landscape, and still affects the lives of its former residents, whose personal identities, families, and fragmented collective memories of “the everyday” were affected by the past - “in spaces, gestures, images, and objects.” In other words, the emotional, cognitive, symbolic and spiritual elements of these intergenerational experiences of Crow Gulch have survived, as “local knowledge,” as stories from an “invisible landscape.”

In order to contextualize and reconstruct this history of Crow Gulch, it is necessary to place this community’s past within the broader context of the HRB’s natural, urban, and social/ethnic environmental history. The following study uses the approach of “small-scale description” and “nearby history,” to make sense of Crow Gulch’s history within these larger structures, contours, and developments: “The agenda was to discover not what all the pieces of the jig-saw were, but to gain an impression of the overall picture to which they contributed and the processes that had produced it.”

In taking urban environmental history and integrating into this meta-narrative, I have attempted to accomplish two goals. One, to reconstitute an interpretive history of Crow Gulch, making it more comprehensible to those who were directly and indirectly affected by the community’s existence; and two, to understand Crow Gulch, as part of Newfoundland’s past, and to use this past to illustrate how social issues, such as poverty in an urban environment, were addressed at mid-twentieth century by government and urban planners who applied strategies social and civil engineering to address poverty, slum housing, crime, and social morality, in the quest for urban renewal. Background

Figure 1 Humber River Basin region
Figure 1 Humber River Basin region
The HRB extends more or less along the 49th degree...
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