Introduction to Best Practices Project

Many rural Newfoundland communities have been in a state of economic, environmental, social and cultural decay for decades. Since the 1960s rural people have been faced with an extraordinarily complex interrelated web of issues which have for the most part, impacted negatively upon them and their communities.

In the 1990s, the gradual deterioration of both the Canadian and Newfoundland economies, the over-exploitation of the fisheries and its subsequent astounding loss of jobs, a soaring cost of living, persistent cuts in federal transfer payments, and the demise of core-funding for non-governmental organizations, combined to create a rural society where jobs were scarce, social services were disintegrating, families were under tremendous financial, emotional and mental stress with few supports, and out-migration had become a frightening daily reality.

The demise of the Northern Cod stocks and the corresponding groundfish moratorium of the early 1990s exacerbated an already overwhelmingly perplexing and difficult situation for most rural Newfoundlanders and their fishery-based communities. At that time many of those involved in rural community development agreed that it was only a matter of time before the very foundations of rural life would begin to crumble under the weight of circumstances that were disempowering and demoralizing.

Simply put, although rural Newfoundland had faced tremendous challenges before the 1990s, this decade was particularly difficult and no individual, family or community was left unaffected.

This Best Practices Project explores how Newfoundlanders and Labradorians against tremendous odds, responded constructively to the heightened crisis of the 1990s. It shows how grassroots individuals and organizations worked together to develop and utilize creative and effective strategies to fight for their communities' survival, and to preserve the traditional cultures of their province.

The Project brings together a sampling of the little-known rural Newfoundland and Labrador success stories in community development and public education in an attempt to ensure that lessons learned from them, important for other struggling communities and organizations, are not lost or forgotten.

The Project is both a snap-shot in time and a living document. As a snap-shot it captures the essence of nine initiatives that occurred in the 1990s. As a living document it provides opportunities for readers to comment on the case studies profiled, as well to celebrate new case studies that share the spirit of those covered in this document.

The case studies discussed here have grassroots community participation, public education, critical thinking and constructive communication as their essential elements. They all in one way or another, intended to enhance community capacity to survive tough times and to more effectively direct their communities' future. Some were primarily educative and awareness-building in nature, some were participatory research based, some were focused on communication, while others were a direct call to civic action. Many created an "awareness backdrop" essential for simulating action while others were activism focused from the beginning. All provided opportunities for ordinary people concerned about their communities and families to participate in a process of critical analysis and problem solving about current issues that they themselves identified as being important to their survival. Most had cultural celebration and pride-of-place as the glue that held them together through difficult moments. Half had strong environmental stewardship themes while half dealt primarily with social justice themes including the right to employment and adequate health care. Some used video, others used theatre and drawing and several involved community television.

This document therefore is a practical real-life contribution to the broad fields of community development, adult popular education, participatory research and community activism.

By sharing stories of how those living and working in rural communities, occasionally with some outside help, invented the strategies to deal with problems that were often massive, complicated and in many instances beyond the control of community people, it is hoped that others in Newfoundland and Labrador will continue the long tradition of rural people in this province using their strength and resilience to survive harsh and seemingly impossible conditions.