Stephen Wheeler and his friend John Campbell were the first to clear land around the main cove in Ship Cove, settling there in 1888. Wheeler came with his father from England, and settled first in Cox's Cove on the north shore of the Bay of Islands before moving to the Port au Port Peninsula, and Campbell, a native of Scotland, had been living in Campbell's Creek, but the extraordinarly good fishing and rich soil attracted them to Ship Cove. They were joined shortly after by Mi'kmaw Alex Benoit who used to live in Lower Cove and a LaPage, who apparently deserted a French ship off the Cape.
Note: The island off Ship Cove is a bird sanctuary and is called Ship Island
Older residents recall the community had another name of French origin at first that sounded something like "Viats Cove", but for at least the past 80 years, it has been known as Ship Cove, so named by an anonymous resident for the number of ships that ran aground on the rocks close to shore.
Ship's Cove was first mentioned in the 1891 census, with 34 residents, most of them children of Wheeler and Campbell, who each had about 16. They built around the initial clearing in the main cove in the lower part of the community, taking up most of the land in that area. Today, however, just half a dozen Wheeler families and a few Campbells remain, with most of the community Mi'kmaq with either Benoit or Jesso families, who settled the upper part of Ship Cove above the section called Jerry's Nose.
Duncan Campbell, from in Ship Cove and a First World War veteran, John's son, recalled some of the stories about the community's origins, and Stephen himself died at the age of 96 only in 1963. His wife died when she was young, although they had 18 children, two of whom died, and he lived alone. He always had a bottle for a hot toddy. Fishing, as other areas, was an important part of their liveihood -as in the early days in Ship Cove. He said the men could go out on the rocks just off the shore and get lobsters, they were so plentiful. They processed them and fed their families until many years later buyers began to come after the road was put through.
From 1891 to 1901, the population nearly doubled to 65, but it subsequently dropped to 44 in 1911. In 1935, 69 people lived in Ship Cove, and the population doubled again in the following 10 years to 148. Ship Cove undoubtedly grew faster than many of the communities on the shore of the peninsula, most likely because of the excellent fishing and agricultural land.
Just a handful of people still fish in Ship Cove, but it has three suitable beaches. The first, west to east, is at the base of a dirt road joining the main road through Ship Cove with the shore. This area is called Jerry's Nose.
Jerry's Nose was named by Americans who built a base in Ship Cove sometime during the Second World War. The base, located in the upper or eastern end the community and well off the main road, included a school, a recreation centre and work centre consisting of one large building and several smaller ones, and was situated in Ship Cove, according to residents mainly because of advantages in transmitting from the location. They employed a number of local men to clear a huge tract of land and build the base, and, unfortunately some say, supplied them and others in their community with cheap liquor and tobacco. The base closed in the 1960s, and one of the buildings became a high school after that, but there is now little evidence left of the installation.
Early settlers in Jerry's Nose, mostly Mi'k Maq, came from Nova Scotia and other parts of the peninsula and region. Albert Jesso, resident Ron Jesso's grandfather, came from the Pictou area to fish at Ship Cove. About 15 homes are still in Jerry's Nose Road, many owned by Jesso families.
Yet another small section of Ship Cove is Tommy Touche, meaning Tommy's touch, pronounced locally as "Tommytush", and apparently spelled a number of different ways. It is located between Jerry's Nose and the main cove, and still has about seven Mi'kmaq families in 1990.
Ship Cove seems to be linked more, both econoncally and historically, with Piccadilly and Port au Port East and West than with the Cape St. George area. The accent with traces of the French inflection typical of the Port au Port Peninsula is dominant in the area. Many people left Ship Cove when the economy in the surrounding area began to suffer, some returned in the 1980s hoping to get work at the Lower Cove Mine and local fishplants. Unfortunately many were disappointed and are again leaving either seasonally or permanently to find work mainly in Nova Scotia or Ontario. Rampant unemployment has resulted in sporadic outbreaks of vandalism, and drug abuse appears to be on the rise. The Mi'kmaq of Ship Cove like most of Bay St, George have been deliberately kept out of the Indian Act and the services that would be available.
Areas in Ship Cove:
Ship Cove Cementary
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