By RYAN KING
SOUTHWEST COAST – People both in and out of province are beginning to look to the future and planning their vacations, and one event that many keep their schedules open for is Come Home Year. While some towns are in the initial planning stages for 2022, others are expected to postpone festivities even further as the pandemic continues to rage across the country.
This past January, Premier Andrew Furey announced that 2022 would be a provincial Come Home Year. This initiative was geared towards not only promoting tourism, but also encouraging Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living abroad to move home for good.
In a news release dated Jan. 27, the province stated that the potential in the province is “unlimited,” and the Furey government was looking to capitalize. Among the highlights – the province pushed to promote were the availability of high-quality education, the ability to work remotely, investment opportunities, a comfortable retirement, exciting tourism products, and the growing creative community.
“In order to achieve this, our government will continue to focus on robust immigration and retention policies, emphasize attracting remote workers, and develop ‘Come Home Year 2022’ to promote tourism and attract expats to move home,” said Premier Furey.
The province also noted that the pandemic has proven that remote work is a viable option for those who might want to move back, and the Furey government also plans to take additional steps to ease the ability for former residents to return home. These include creating a one-stop online portal to promote all opportunities in communities across the province and a comprehensive review of the labour market to identify gaps that those who return home can fill, and to connect them with the required resources to do so.
While the confidence in the 2022 Come Home Year was high at the time of the release, there followed another 10 months of COVID-19 pandemic with varying degrees of alert levels. In light of this, many towns remain cautious about kickstarting Come Home Year 2022 celebrations due to the ever-changing pandemic protocols as outbreaks cannot be predicted.
In Port aux Basques, the town had initially formed a committee in 2020 for a planned Come Home Year, though that was eventually put on hold.
“With the rise of COVID-19 all plans were cancelled until the pandemic subsided. Premier Furey announced in January that 2022 will be a Provincial Come Home Year. The Province has not made any further statements since that time with COVID-19 cases varying from month to month,” said Leon MacIsaac, Town Manager of Port aux Basques.
In planning any events like a Come Home Year, MacIsaac noted that it will depend on the number of cases of COVID-19, and the projected number of incoming vacationers.
“The Town of Channel – Port aux Basques, as with other municipalities, is anxious to get back to normal but the rate of infections will determine how soon that can happen. Vaccinations for all residents of the province, young and old, will also determine future planning,” said MacIsaac.
However, if all things go well and the pandemic continues to abate, celebrations will go ahead.
“Should 2022 become a reality for Come Home Year celebrations, the committee will have a large slate of events that everyone can enjoy,” said MacIsaac.
Similarly, the Town of Burnt Islands is hoping to have their Come Home Year next year in August, should the pandemic allow. However, while the planning is in the initial stages, they are still being made.
The Town of Isle aux Morts will also strive to have their Come Home Year in August 2022 and are already raising funds through ticket sales.
“We got a Come Home Year next year in August, but we don’t have anything planned for that yet, no. We were supposed to have one in 2021 and COVID shut it down, so we’re not planning until, we probably won’t start any planning until February of next year,” said Lydia Francis, Town Clerk and Treasurer for the Come Home Year committee.
Further inquiries along the coast ascertained that the Town of Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou does not have any current plans to host a Come Home Year in 2022.
Meanwhile in the Codroy Valley, Frank Aucoin is already hard at work even though there will be no 2022 festivities. Aucoin was the chairperson for the 2017 Come Home Year committee and will be involved with the next committee as a ‘resource person’. The committee recently announced its intentions to host a Come Home Year in 2023 and is actively recruiting volunteers.
“So a new executive will be in place sometime in the couple of months, and that committee will be the one discussing what the plans are, and I guess that’s a long ways off yet,” said Aucoin.
While the Come Home Year is almost two years away, Aucoin hopes there will be upcoming events in the Valley next summer, like the Folk Festival and the Winter Carnival, though those two events are still in the very early planning stages.
“We may possibly have a Folk Festival, which could happen, but that depends on all the regulations that’s going on. We haven’t had a meeting in that regard. This is only October. Yeah, the Folk festival will be next summer is correct, but that’s a little ways away too. Anything that might come up in the near future is a Winter Carnival, possibly, and that’s still… I don’t know what that’s all about,” said Aucoin.
The Come Home Year in 2023 will also likely tie into the Folk Festival that summer as well, as it usually does, but exact dates cannot yet be ascertained since it’s still so far away. In the interim, there are other festivals that must be assessed to determine whether or not they remain viable as COVID-19 drags on.
“We haven’t gotten that far ahead yet. We haven’t had a meeting to discuss the next festival really. We don’t know when the actual Winter Carnival is going to be. That’s in the planning stages too.”