About town -
It's early in the afternoon and Leon Ivany's slowly lifting the liquor out of his soup.
He's quietly on edge about a neighbour who left for a morning walk on the horsechops and hasn't yet returned. There's no answer on the phone and his mind won't ease up 'til he knows everything's okay.
He sits his spoon back down in the bowl and heads for the door.
Five minutes later he's back wearing a look of relief. Someone up the road saw the man and his dog return from their walk, and so he figures there's no need to worry further.
In a town as small as English Harbour everybody and their dog counts. But as Leon puts it, there's people you come to depend on - those who've been around all their lives and have no plans to pack up and leave. His neighbour is one.
Like with many towns in the Trinity area, these people are the ones getting fewer and fewer.
Over half the houses in English Harbour are summer homes. By the time winter sets in the town is left with no more than 40 or so people.
Leon's been around for 83 years. He's done his share of living elsewhere, but he's back home for good.
Born and raised
It's the same as if a tidal wave came and washed it all away.
"Clean, gone," he says.
"The land and everything is still here, but it's not one bit the same as when I grew up."
The waters of English Harbour may no longer be topped with boats and the beach may not be lined with stages and flakes, but Leon's memory won't let him forget when they were.
"T'was all smell them days. All the flakes spread out with fish and all the ol' cod's heads and salmon bones and guts down on the beach."
There was no need for anyone to take the road; you could walk across the flakes and on up the hill he says.
The land was once riddled with picket fences.
"I used to say there was a million pickets here, but there was half a million anyways. You had to keep the sheep out or they'd be eating your grass. And you had to keep the hens out too. Livestock was everywhere."
There was once a cod liver oil factory in English Harbour. The thought of it brings the hard taste back to his tongue.
"They gave it out in school, when the TB was raging. It didn't taste very good, but you could drink it."
He can recall once watching the owner of the factory dipping his spoon down into the brew to sample it. A sight he'd sooner forget.
As a boy he made a few trips across the way to Trinity - a town so close yet altogether different.
"For us boys comin' out of English Harbour, you go up there and some of them cars goin' along and horse and carts and carriages and big trees... my eyes would be poppin' outta me head. T'was so different from what we were used to. But you gradually got used to it all."
There's but one fisherman living in English Harbour now. Far from what there used to be.
"They were all fishermen. In my day there was a lot of fish brought in here," Leon assures.
"It's a different life altogether. One time codfish was the whole thing. Codfish. If you didn't have codfish and you didn't have good credit then you wouldn't get by the winter. Codfish don't count at all now, but there's plenty of it."
As busy as the townspeople may have been on the water, Leon says it was all toil and no profit.
"The merchants, we made 'em millionaires, and the poor fisherman would only get enough to keep him alive, so he could fish again next year."
When Leon was a boy he fished, like everyone else. But he knew it wasn't enough to make a life out of.
Like many others he was forced to find work away. He says most all the men had a "trick" in Boston or New York or somewhere off the island.
His own parents met while his father was working in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
By the time Leon was 23 he left English Harbour for the mainland, looking for whatever work he could find.
"There was no such thing as looking for a sheet metal job or a linesman job. It wasn't easy."
He finally found employment, working the poles and lines for CPR Telegraph in Ontario.
But he could never stand the city.
"Back in Toronto I had a room. But what are you gonna do when you come home? I seen every western ever made," he laughs.
It was money and nothing more. As soon as he made enough of it he left for home again.
He met his wife while working on aluminum storefronts in Grand-Falls Windsor. They spent 25 years in Sunnyside and raised three kids there. Leon was helping build the oil refinery.
"I'm a jack of all trades and master of none. Not much I couldn't do. I never tried to fly a plane or nothing..."
"I had to come back. I always intended to come back."
He would close his eyes and see English Harbour.
"I'd dream about English Harbour."
The house he grew up in was sitting empty in his hometown, waiting for him to finally return.
"When I got up close to 70 I come down and started to clapboard this place outside and shingled the roof. Then, when time come for us to move down, all I had to do was work on the inside."
He and his wife have been living in the old house for 13 years now.
He's long since retired from working jobs, but he doesn't stop.
He still cuts and stacks his own firewood. He's already fit for the coming fall.
"That's what the old man spends his winter at," he says.
These past few months have been tough on Leon. A case of the flu hit him hard and drugs he was given to make him better only seemed to make things worse.
"I think if a feller could stay away from the doctors he'd live ten years longer. I never took so many pills in my life as I did these past few months. And I don't like 'em."
He hasn't been trouting yet the summer, but he's coming around and soon enough he'll be heading for the pond.
A few old friends from up the road gave him a hand planting his garden while he was under the weather this spring, so luckily he's not too far behind.
That's the way they pulled together back then, and it's these little things that make Leon feel at home to this day, even if English Harbour is forever changed.
"There's no way you can go back, there's no way. Everything's different.
"There's nobody around now who knows what it was like. It's almost impossible to tell anybody what it was like."