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Book chronicles Okotokian’s childhood on remote fishing port

Okotoks: Growing up in Deer Harbour Newfoundland tells the story of Garry Bailey’s unconventional upbringing
SCENE-Garry Bailey Book BWC 5622 web
Garry Bailey, who grew up in the remote area of Deer Harbour, Nfld. was presented with a book from his son Matt documenting some of his childhood memories.

A long-time Okotoks resident was given a rather surprising gift from his son this year.  

Garry Bailey, who grew up in the remote area of Deer Harbour, Nfld. from 1947 to 1964, and has lived in Okotoks since 2006, was presented with a book from his son Matt documenting some of his childhood memories as a belated Christmas present.  

“He’s always a hard person to buy stuff for at Christmas,” Matt said. “I always love to try and give gifts that have a meaning to it.”  

Bailey, 74, said that his son had encouraged him to begin writing down the memories he had of growing up on the isolated fishing port. He lived in Deer Harbour until the age of 17, where there were no roads, electricity, or indoor plumbing.  

Along with his parents, Bailey grew up with 11 siblings in a three-bedroom house.  

“I had no idea that he was going to put it into a book,” Bailey said.  

Deer Harbour was located on the eastern side of Random Island, Nfld., but was not connected to the island by road. This left the approximately 200 residents tucked away from their neighbours and disconnected from modern conveniences.  

“I don’t know if I would live through it now, but then, you didn’t know any better, I guess,” Bailey said.  

The settlement on the harbour was eventually abandoned in 1965 following the Federal-Provincial-Resettlement Program under the province’s first premier, Joey Smallwood.  

Bailey and his family vacated the area in 1964 and moved to the west coast of the province.  

He said that some of his fondest memories were playing with his brothers and sisters – building forts, play structures and fishing.  

Although he has many good memories of those 17 years, Bailey said one of the most difficult parts of growing up in Deer Harbour was the fact that many people in the community died due to the lack of access to immediate medical care.  

“A lot of people would just pass away because there was no way to get out of it,” he said.  

Matt added that one of his dad’s sisters had swallowed some glass as a child, and they had to take a three-hour boat ride to get her to a hospital.  

Winters were hard, Bailey said – no electricity made for cold days and nights, and the lack of roads made it nearly impossible to get medical attention when it was needed.  

“You’d get up in the morning and the kettle would be froze over on the stove. We had a wood stove, so minus 20 or so – there’d be no heat in the house, and we had a canvas floor, so it was very cold,” he said.  

His son recalled a favourite story of his where Bailey talked about ‘chamber pots’ – pots kept underneath the beds in the house so that everyone could relieve themselves in the night without having to run to the outhouse.   

Matt said that his dad had once volunteered to run up to the outhouse to empty the partially frozen contents and ending up slipping and spilling the contents all over himself.  

He added that he grew up listening to the stories of his father’s childhood and thought that a physical collection of the stories as told by his dad would be a great keepsake for him to have.  

“He misses it,” Matt said.  

The book, titled Growing up in Deer Harbour Newfoundland, has sold approximately 500 copies, according to Bailey.  

It can be purchased at or by contacting Bailey at

Lauryn Heintz

About the Author: Lauryn Heintz

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