Doug Manstan didn’t want to come to Port aux Basques at first. He’s a ‘townie’ who was working with the Canadian National Railway (CNR) when he was offered the opportunity to relocate when the company chose to transition from steam engines to diesel electric.
“That was a nice job out there in Port aux Basques. That was in 1961,” recalled Manstan via telephone interview from his home in Mount Pearl.
He’d just gotten married, and late that Spring visited the area without his new bride to assess the idea.
“I wasn’t overly impressed with the place, coming from a city, to a small town like Port aux Basques,” admits Manstan.
He did have some acquaintances who personalized the visit and he familiarized himself with the pros and cons of living on the Southwest Coast. Thanks to his friends, he learned that there was good hunting and fishing, and career-wise it also made sense. Towards the end of June, he moved to Port aux Basques and his wife followed in October.
“It wasn’t just a couple of months as I thought it was going to be,” says Manstan.
One of Manstan’s acquaintances was Fred Beauchamp, a friend of his father’s. The two men had both been among the first to join the Newfoundland Rangers, the island’s police force prior to Confederation. Beauchamp owned a hardware store business by then and played a large role in introducing Manstan to the town.
“That sort of encouraged me to stay longer,” Manstan recalls.
Both he and his wife, June, became heavily involved with charitable groups in the region and developed a strong network of friends as a result. Manstan was President of the Port aux Basques Lions Club and also served for two years as President of the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce. June was involved with the Parent-Teacher Association and the Lioness Club.
After a couple of years the busy pair started growing their family, beginning with their eldest son, Scott. Stephanie, Steve and Stanley would follow in later years.
Eventually the railway began shutting down the passenger trains and Manstan transferred to Argentia to oversee operations. That was back when the MV Ambrose Shea first began making its Summer passenger runs there.
“I went to Argentia about three or four months before the Shea came in,” remembers Manstan.
His family followed and they stayed in Argentia for about two and a half years. He says he didn’t much care for the climate, particularly the fog. They kept travelling back and forth to St. John’s but Manstan still felt restless.
“I was bored. Not enough responsibility I think.”
Things were so slow that Manstan left a message with head office that he was going into hospital for surgery and would be unavailable for ten days, then would need a month at home to recuperate. It was only when he was home and touched base with his supervisor that the company realized he’d been absent.
“I realized then that it wasn’t a very important job that I had down there then,” says Manstan.
He returned to Port aux Basques in 1970 to take on a supervisory position with the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency (CFIA), which had built an inspection station to combat the island’s potato wort problems. He stayed for eight years and afterwards started businesses in Port aux Basques, Corner Brook and St. John’s. With the potato problem cleared up and his businesses needing more of his time, Manstan retired from the CFIA.
Manstan recalls that the town was booming back then. The fish plant and the ferry service and railway were facing a shortage of employees due to growth. By 1986 his businesses were still thriving, and the Manstans were prominent figures in the town. Then tragedy struck.
Their son Scott was killed in a hang gliding accident at age 23. The Manstans decided to cut back and sold a couple of their businesses as they moved towards retirement. Then June discovered she had cancer.
“He got killed on Sept. 1, 1986. She found out she had cancer and she died on May 20, 1987. So about eight months after,” recalls Manstan. “Now it was a completely different ballgame. What was I going to do with three kids, two in university?”
In order to keep his kids close, Manstan pulled up stakes and returned to St. John’s, though he kept the house and some businesses in Port aux Basques. Steve eventually returned to help his father run some of the businesses and now owns the family home. Stephanie and Stanley are now living in Ontario. Manstan is now taking it easy in retirement.
“Port aux Basques is a nice place, even though when I first went there it was pretty depressing, but it became a beautiful place I must say. It’s too bad the businesses are gone the way they are,” says Manstan. “I think people gotta get on the go there soon and start doing something, because the government is not going to do it unless you put pressure on them. I think it’s got great potential myself. It could go back to being booming like it was.”