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A trip to the Change Islands: Shepherdstown resident talks about Newfoundland, his summer home

By Staff | Aug 23, 2019

SAIL member Jim Bauman points out the location of the Change Islands in Newfoundland, Canada, during the Brown Bag Luncheon at Trinity Episcopal Church on Friday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — While many retirees spend their winters in Florida and their summers farther north, Shepherdstown resident Jim Bauman chooses to live in the opposite way, spending his winters in Shepherdstown and his summers in his second home on the Change Islands of Newfoundland, Canada.

During Shepherdstown Area Independent Living’s monthly Brown Bag Luncheon on Friday afternoon, Bauman spoke about the joys and challenges of living on the frigid, isolated South Island.

“I went up there 15 years ago after my partner died, to get away from the emotional pain and such. I went there with a friend,” Bauman said. “I fell in love with it then, and decided after my second trip there, to buy a house. The house I bought is on a small island along the perimeter of Newfoundland. I stay there for the summer, from May to October.

“I thought it was very appropriate, that the island is part of the Change Islands, since I was changing things up,” Bauman said, mentioning his island is 10-15 miles wide. “It’s been an opportunity to challenge myself. It’s a place to enmesh myself into a new culture and way of life.”

Bauman then pulled out a map, and pointed out the location of Newfoundland and the Change Islands.

Newfoundland's Change Islands have remained rooted in their culture and native dialect, thanks to their isolation from the rest of the world. Courtesy photo

“One misconception about Newfoundland, is that it’s close to the Arctic. It’s actually a thousand miles from the Arctic,” Bauman said, mentioning Newfoundland was incorporated into Canada after proving geographically useful during World War II. “It’s in its own time zone, and is the location where the United States Navy set up an air field as a fueling stop for pilots in World War II.”

According to Bauman, the South Island has about 110 residents, with a culture and dialect unique to the Change Islands. Many residents supplement their incomes and entertain themselves with handcrafts, including furniture building, carving and quilting. Once a successful fishing island, it is now home to many retirees and only 12 school-age children.

“About 70 or 80 years ago, it was an island of about 1,000, back when it was a fishing area. The cod fishing dried up in the 1980s, and was closed down by the government,” Bauman said, mentioning that although cod fishing was started again 15 years later, the population of the island had already decreased. “A large population has dwindled over the years. The house that I bought, I bought from the daughter of some people who still live there. She was part of the last wave of people to leave. She didn’t think she could raise her family there.”

In spite the challenges of island life, Bauman said there is only one aspect of his summer lifestyle he dislikes — the food.

“The traditional foods they still love — they’re not to my pallet, but I eat what’s available,” Bauman said. “They’re not an agricultural community, so we have to eat what’s imported.

“A lot of it has to do with salted fish and salted meat, which you can buy in tubs,” Bauman said, before describing many Newfoundlanders’ favorite traditional dish, Jiggs Dinner, which is boiled vegetables and salted meats drenched in gravy. “They don’t have a cuisine that’s all that similar to ours.”