History of the Communities of the Peninsula

Port au Port East

The west side of Romaine's River and Berry Head are part of Port au Port East. The 1874 census used the name Berry Head, but later records called it Port au Port East. A parish priest visited from Placentia in the 1800s, but the first recorded marriage and baptism were not until September 1850 when the Reverend Alexis Belanger visited Port au Port from Sandy Point. Early deserters from the French fishing fleet and warships married Micmac girls.

Acadians and Scots from Cape Breton and French at Long Point moved to the area in the 1870s. According to Rosemary Ommer, who wrote about the region in 1977, the Scots from Broad Cove, Cape Breton, were looking for good farming land and "a similar physical environment". The first settler was likely William Hynes who settled in the 1840s, and the first settler at Romaine's River was Stephen Campbell. Salmon were caught, salted and taken in barrels to Sandy Point. Wood was cut as summer wood (green fir) and then sawed, split and piled in March.

Oral tradition has the following families in Berry Head in the 1850s and 1860s:

The Maclsaacs were descendants of a family from Moidart, Scotland, and Donald Maclsaac had moved from Piccadilly. His brother Dougal moved residents, including 27 children who helped with the summer fishery and farming, fall trapping, and winter wood cutting and repairs. Some new families included John Parsons, Dennis Benoit (Mi'kmaw), Reuben Hynes and Alex LaFitte who fished off Fox Island River. Parsons had arrived from England by way of Sandy Point, and LaFitte was from France via St. Pierre and Kippens. Their salmon catch was salted, put in barrels and sent to Halifax. Millage Parsons moved to Berry Head in the 1930s, and the Kendalls operated a lobster factory. Timber was cut around Point au Mal and Fox Island River. Most hay was cut in a communal pasture, known as The Meadows, about a mile up the Romaine's River. The Romaines shipped potatoes to St. John's.

John Hector MacDonald arrived from Inverness in the late 1800s and his sun, Auguste, had a business on The Gravels. While in Rose Blanche he met his wife Julia LeMoine-she later ran the first post office in Port au Port, as well as the first hotel which became very busy when the Aguathuna quarry started production.

(Factoid: The Holy Cross Church, Berry Head, was built in 1884.)

John Gillis came from Antigonish about 1850 and married Sarah McDonald. Sarah McDonald and Stephen Campbell were also Scottish. After four or five years in Black Duck Brook, about late 1860's John Gillis was lost on a trip to Sandy Point and his body was never found and his wife Sarah moved the family to Berry Head, where she did weaving and knitting to support the family. William Hynes was Irish, and Rowe, Marche and Morell were English.

William Hynes and Augustine Rowe moved from the beach (Hynes Cove) to the peninsula, and Jean Morell and Denis Marche also left. Stephen Campbell and his family moved to Campbell's Creek on the peninsula in the 1860s, and Ernest Lawrence Romaine took over their land. Romaine and his brother were Acadians who moved from Sandy Point. They later received a government grant for the land. Romaine set up a lobster factory on the beach at Romaine's River.

In 1874, there were just 15 residents in three families. A school was built in the 1870s with Mary and John Maclsaac as the only pupils. By 1891, there were 83.

Berry Head was considered a good farming area - 251 acres were cultivated, and cattle, sheep and pigs were raised. In 1891 the Port au Port East and West together had 546 residents. Port au Port East was a farming community rather than fishing and root crops were important. A big local event was Candlemas Day (February 2), which the French called La Chandeleur. The local garden party took place in the middle of August and would last two or three days.

The first Roman Catholic church was built in 1884 on the hill above The Gravels with John Leitch as foreman and Holy Cross Parish extended from Kippens to the peninsula. This old church on Berry Head was torn down in 1939. St. James Anglican Church was completed in 1887 and consecrated in 1893 when the Reverend Charles Jeffrey was the missionary priest, but the old church was blown down in a hurricane in 1949 and replaced in 1951.

The new Roman Catholic parish of Maria Regina was created in 1955 with Father John F. Curran as its first priest. Born in Ventry, County Kerry, in 1900, he had previously served at Curling and St. Jacques. He brought the Presentation Sisters to the area to teach in a new school. The first school was built on Duffy property with a Miss Ryan and a Mr. Gillis as teachers.

This page to be updated in the near future

Links of Interest:

The Pine Tree Recreation Corporation


Boswarlos was first settled by Captain Andrew Harvey, who operated the lead mine in East Bay. He named it Boswarlas around 1873 after the farm in Penzance, Cornwall, where his wife Honor (Tregear) grew up, but most people called the Methodist community "The Farm".

The Harveys had three daughters and four sons. Captain Harvey went to Wisconsin as a mining engineer and then to Tangier, Nova Scotia. He arrived in Newfoundland in 1873 with two Mi'kmaq guides, and soon found 75% lead in the Lead Cove area. His mine started in 1874 and employed 30 men until it closed down three years later under pressure from the French.

He then started a lobster factory at Boswarlos, having the lobster fishing rights from Shoal Point to Jack of Clubs Cove. A second lobster factory followed in 1901. Bill Compagnon worked for him, and Michael Abbott was his tinsmith who founded the Abbott part of Abbott & Haliburton. Dried salt cod, pickled herring and cod oil were also produced.

The 1891 census showed Bas Carlos (sic) with 42 residents, and The Creek with 69 residents. The 1892 House of Assembly Journal tabled a report from the previous year about the East Bay communities, including Boswarlos and The Creek: The soil in this section is rich and good, and extends on an average two miles inland, from the seashore as far as The Gravels. At the latter named place we entered the Peninsula of Port au Port, where there is only a quarter of a mile from sea to sea. After leaving the Gravels we followed on our route in the direction of the Creek. Here the hills were much nearer the shore, so that the good land did not extend so far inland; but such as there was was of most suitable quality for agricultural purposes. At East Bay, Port au Port, the soil was of superior quality, and we found the settlers very comfortable there, and depending as elsewhere in the district, to a large extent, on the land for a living.

The Harvey family built a log church and a log school, with Parson Sheaves as the first permanent clergyman and a Miss White as one of the first teachers. Honor died March 6, 1905, and Andrew died February 13, 1907. Captain Harvey's granddaughter. Ivy Spencer, ran the first post office.

Early settlers cut their hay at Shoal Point, on the north side of Piccadilly Harbour, where grass grew with wild peas and provided superior forage. Oil was found at Shoal Point by a Mr. Bell who worked for the Western Oil Company of New Brunswick. He found oil at 800 ft. and six wells were sunk at that depth. The flow was too low to justify a commercial operation, but one shipment was made. The suggestion was made that the oil was somewhat lower than 800 ft. but deeper wells were not dug. An English company followed in 1908 and also made one shipment. The wells still produce oil used by local fishermen as lubrication oil.

Mining activities continued in the late 1800s, but mining was not a commercial activity until 1911 when the Aguathuna limestone mine opened and employed many local residents. The mine opening also stimulated local agriculture, with three full-time farmers listed for 1921, when the community had 138 residents, and a school with 30 pupils. In 1922, a butter factory opened in Stephenville, a boon to farmers at Port au Port East and West and The Creek.

Abbott & Haliburton opened a store in 1938 and bought lobsters until it closed in 1957. The 1976 population was 308, including six fishermen operating a longliner and inshore boats to catch cod, salmon, herring, lobster, mackerel and scallops.

The combined population of Boswarlos and East Bay (Statistics Canada Subdivision D) was shown as 871 in 1981, a drop of 111 from 1976, with 165 listed as being of French origin. Boswarlos has three churches: Anglican, United and Pentecostal.

Of 190 men in the workforce in 1981, 45 were in construction trades and 35 in primary occupations. Of 80 women in the workforce, 55 were clerks. Residents work in Stephenville at the mill, in retail stores and in garages, but there aren't a lot of local jobs and many businesses have closed. School children travel by bus to Port au Port West and East and Stephenville.

Place names in the Boswarlos area:

Costa Bay

Lead Cove

In 1974, Lead Cove had 10 residends, three from Newfoundland, two from the Colonies, two from England, and three French. The House of Assembly Journal reported the opening of the Lead Cove mine the previous year: The opening which was commended at Lead Cove, on the property of the Hon. C. F. Bennett, was at the time of my visit (July 1873) entirely among the dislocated Carboniferous rocks, where the greatest display of galena was at the intersection of the east and west, with the north and south fault. A shaft was being sunk...but was not sufficiently far advanced to prove the mine, or to prove with certainly the direction the principal orebearing part of the lode would tend.

Captain Harvey operated the mine with eight or nine men for five or six years, and had constant problems with the French. Captain Aubrey of the French man-of-war Kersaint complained about English harassment in 1874. The British fisheries officer suggested that the French had only fishing rights and could not prevent normal business activity at the mine at Lead Cove, but, eventually, French pressure resulted in its closure, although the official reason given was that the ore was too low grade to be commercially viable. Captain Harvey and his family settled in Boswarlos.

In 1973, there was a mine manager's house, barracks, forge and small store on about an acre of land, but no wharf.

Port au Port West -Aguathuna-Felix Cove-Campbell's Creek

Cartier may have landed at the beach (later known as The Gravels) on his way to Gaspe in 1534. The community got its name from two narrow gravel beaches nearby. Isthmus Cove and The Gravels, where the main area of activity was located. The Gravels and The Isthmus are part of Port au Port West. Isthmus Cove had six families in 1871, and The Gravels had 46 residents in eight families in 1874, 34 Roman Catholics and 12 Church of England members.

A local historian. Bill Abbott, thought the first settlers were the Hynes, Rowe, Leech and Young families. A Mr. LaFitte may have arrived from St. Pierre around 1790. Gabriel Doucette arrived at Man'o'Wars Cove, between Felix Cove and The Gravels, in 1870. He cleared 40 acres and sold logs to the merchants at The Gravels. He also fished cod from April to late fall, plus lobster, halibut, herring, capelin, smelt and mackerel. He was granted title to the land in 1902, and three sons of 13 children stayed in the area.

Most early residents were of English origin, but there were some French fishermen, a situation which caused tension in the late 1800s. Captain Brown, who landed at The Gravels in 1871, warned local residents not to harass the French fishermen.

The fishery, especially the lobster fishery, was good in 1871 and 1872 but poor in 1874 because herring did not arrive in the spring. Port au Port West was the largest settlement on the North Shore in 1874, and, by 1891, had 123 residents.

A canal across the Isthmus was proposed in the 1870s as a means of cutting out a 100-mile journey around the peninsula. During the time of the Very Reverend Thomas Sears, a channel was cut between Port au Port Bay and the small saltwater pond. It was wide enough to allow small fishing vessels through until the wreck of a small vessel during a storm blocked the entrance.

A commercial lobster fishery started around 1884, with The Isthmus the most productive area, taking about a third of the Port au Port catch in the 1880s. The season was closed from 1925 to 1927, but larger factories were built by 1930, and the live lobster market started the next year. Some fishermen turned to halibut after the lobster season-it was taken by train to Sydney, Nova Scoria. Some fished for cod or went to the herring fishery in the Bay of Islands.

Frederick Thompson reports the beginnings of the lobster factories in his book. The French Shore Problem in Newfoundland: St. John's interest began with the joint ownership, by a Mr. Baird and a Prince Edward Islander, of a factory at Port au Port. Local inhabitants followed suit, and by 1887, there were sixteen factories, with a further 10 in operation at the end of the 1888 season, employing 100 maritimers and some 1000 local residents.... From small beginnings this fishery became a mainstay of the coast, and certain physical advantages attracted the settlers, to the detriment of the cod fishery.

The French also became interested and established their own factory in 1891, but a serious clash was avoided, as Thompson indicated: O'Brien... reported deliberate attempts by the French to squeeze out the merchants on the west coast. Baird was their victim. In 1890 a Frenchman named Tagan had built a factory close to his, and in 1891 planned to work another on the other side of Baird's. His materials were imported duty free from St. Pierre, and his factories were worked by Newfoundlanders enticed largely from Baird's establishment. Though O'Brien based his dispatch on a report from Baird, Lord Knuls-ford favoured a protest to France on the grounds that Tagan's action was contrary to the spirit of the modus vivendi, that the French were violating colonial law by importing goods with which to pay their colonial employees, and it was doubtful whether a factory worked by Newfoundlanders supported by French capital was entitled to whatever privileges accorded to the French subjects under the treaties.

The first school was built in The Isthmus in 1880. The teacher, a Mr. Hill from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, was given land in Port au Port East in lieu of a salary. By 1884, A.J. O'Reilly was the teacher, and 16 of the 57 children listed for Port au Port West were in school by 1891. Father O'Rourke was the first visiting priest, followed by Father Hawkins who lived in the area. Dr. Scott was the first doctor at Port au Port, then Dr. MacDonald in Aguathuna.

McAlpine's 1884 Directory listed Michael Abbott as a merchant at The Gravels. Henry Haliburton was Baird's agent. In 1904, both were general dealers at The Gravels, and both James and Michael Joy were farmers there. The only road linked The Gravels to Stephenville, although a rough track continued on to Seal Rocks, and a rail connection did not exist until 1899 with a regular weekly service not starting until 1906. The first post office opened in The Gravels in 1901 with Jules MacDonald as postmaster.

Joy and Sons, Haliburton and Baird, George Mac-Donald and M.F. Abbott were still merchants at Port au Port. Haliburton, Joy, Abbott and Baird all had business premises on The Isthmus, and Abbott and Haliburton combined their businesses later. Both M.F. Abbott and J. Baird established lobster factories on Fox Island in Port au Port Bay to the north. The Abbott business was started by Michael Abbott and grew on the strength of the lobster cannery. Born in 1866 to a family from the West Country of England, he lived at Marche's Point after arriving at The Gravels in 1886, having worked as a linesman with Reid Railway Company at Stephenville Crossing and then as a tinsmith for Baird and Gordon at The Gravels. In 1890, he received a block of land at The Gravels and extended his business there.

By 1905, Joy and Sons and Baird's had closed and Abbott had combined with Haliburton and built new premises in 1908. As well as lobsters, they processed salmon, halibut, herring and scallops. While scallops were important, this aspect was short-lived. The large Abbott & Haliburton general store at The Gravels dealt in foodstuffs, hardware and building supplies, while that at Piccadilly took over the fisheries supplies. The company also bought cattle which they sent by rail to St. John's for butchering. Involved, too, in the timber industry, the firm cut pulpwood at Camp 23 between Stephenville Crossing and Corner Brook.

William Abbott was connected with the family business for six decades. The company's first lobster factory was at School Point, while Baird's built one at The Gravels. Most lobster was sold to the U.S.

An earthquake destroyed much of the old settlement in 1927. Abbott's founder continued to work as a tinsmith, making his own tins until 1925. He died in 1939, and his two sons took over the company. His grandson took over in 1974, with a sister and cousin providing help. Father James Joy arrived in 1900 and stayed until 1908. He returned in 1912 and planned a new church in 1914-it was begun in 1921. The largest wooden church in Newfoundland, it was financed mainly by U.S. donations and opened as Our Lady of Mercy in 1925. Father Joy stayed until 1932 and died the following year in St. John's.

The 1941 opening of the Ernest Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville helped boost the peninsula's population to 3,882 by 1945. It also took many fishermen from the local cod fishery, although the Abbott & Haliburton lobster factory continued to prosper, causing reduced interest in farming. The Gravels was still the community name in 1945 when there were 106 residents with 543 lobster traps and a few cod, salmon and herring nets.

Haliburton retired in 1927, but the company retained his name. A flood on December 19, 1951, covered the beach where Abbott & Haliburton had their premises. The peninsula was cut off for the only time in recorded history. The original store on The Gravels was destroyed, but two of theoriginal buildings were moved and are used as warehouses at the main store's new site in Port au Port West. Some of the founders' original tools and equipment have been kept in good working order were a Heritage Village ever to be set up.

A new school was built in the early 1950s with Father Greene in charge and the Presentation Sisters had a convent and taught in the school. Port au Port again divided into two parishes in the 1950s. The west got a new convent, a high school and a parish hall, with the old convent converted to a high school for Grades 7-11. This high school. Father Joy Memorial High, was later expanded, and in 1962, had 128 pupils. The new school. Bishop O'Reilly High had Grades 8-12 and a public library by 1985. Today the shool is abandoned and partly torn down..

Following mine closures, the population of The Gravels dropped to 212 residents in 1951 and 214 in 1956. The community of Port au Port West rebounded to 482 residents in 1961 and 502 residents in 1966. In 1961 the two communities of Port au Port and Berry Head had 884 residents, but only six were fishermen.

Port au Port West was also renamed Port au Port West - Aguathuna - Felix Cove on incorporation in the 1950s. The 1981 census listed a combined population of 938 in 220 families: 225 were of French origin, 905 were Roman Catholics, 35 Anglican, five United, and 40 other Protestant denominations. Male unemployment was 26%, and female unemployment was 46%, but higher among youths. Of 215 men in the workforce, 75 were in construction, and 35 in manufacturing. Of 110 women in the workforce, 50 were in the service industries.

In Campbell's Creek residents still, as in other area, cut their own wood and grow vegetables enough to last them through each winter, much the same as the Campbell family has done in Campbell's Creek since settling it in the 1850s. The fishing is completely gone here except for the lobster- the early fishery looked after the lobster by never taking the spawn or small ones. In the 1960's resetttlement bought a few new residents to the community. In 1990, there were only two men fishing in the cove, another three at the other end of Campbell's Creek.

Places in Port au Port West:

Bishop O'Reilly High School (now just a memory)

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