NL GenWeb Oral History
Conception Bay North ~ Northern District
This place history was hand written by Mary Elizabeth McCarthy of Northern Bay in 1964 when she was 77. It has been transcribed exactly as it was written with no corrections.
The information was written by Mary Elizabeth McCarthy and transcribed by Matt Mullaly. While I have endeavored to be as correct as humanly possible, there could be some typographical errors.
The following is a short history of Northern Bay in Conception Bay. This bit of writing is something I have intended doing for a long time and I probably would have postponed it further had not Mr David Jamieson of C.J.O.N. St John's Nfld quickened my memory, so to speak, and asked for a short history of each little hamlet all around Nfld.
Why I should likely postpone my intention longer, I'm sure I don't know, for in two months time, please God, I will have reached the fine old age of seventy-seven years, therefore, I could not be expected to use my pen at such length, for a much longer time. I will write this in my own way, and in my own 'lingo' which in spite of myself, slips over my tongue now and then in the good old fashioned words of long ago, and I do not apologize for that, seeing that some who correct me now are those for whom I had to use my pen for, and with success in the days when I was supposed not to know very much. In those few words I write, I shall use the good and bad English of the times concerned, the language of that day, and the various ways in which the words were pronounced, meaning no criticism of anyone, believing always that they were of the best, the rich, the humor and the tragedies I have heard and known all my life, so I will ask to be excused from the first, and make none intentionally.
For some years before the first real settlers settled in Northern Bay, and that was centuries ago, planters came here from England to fish during the summer months. They came and fixed up a cabin and fishing premises went back to their own homes in the fall, returned again the next spring year after year. The time came however when this little old colony was getting a little more fairplay from the English Kings of that day, who claimed Newfoundland as their own, and beat their subject's with rod and lash until they could not stand anymore. So emigrants came here, and settled, men from Ireland and Wales, men who were deprived of all they possessed, forced to leave their home land through poverty and ill treatment brothers came out from their homes together, whichever way they could, and did not meet one another for years after, depending on what part of the coast they landed on, some north, some south, they pitched their tents wherever they could, built a cabin down by the sea-shore, lived as best they could, for the Bay was teaming with cod then.
They cleared a bit of land for the place was a forest, with only a long-shore path to get back and forth on, and for fishing purposes is still used up to the present day.
An Irishman by the name of John Cummin came here from Ireland, and tradition has it that he was the first man to settle here. He claimed at least half of this little settlement, his land starting at the head of a pond, always known since as Cummins' Pond, and stretching as far down as the Lower Rooms. There was the "Upper Rooms", the "Middle Rooms" and the "Lower Rooms". A Captain Stephen Johnstone emigrated here from Wales, married a daughter or sister of John Cummins, inherited the property and lived there the remainder of his life. He was my Great Great Grandfather.
This little settlement has had it's up's and down's, and its tragedies too, some recorded and some not, cabins were built down by the shore, and a bit of land was cleared year after year. The cod-oil lamp was hung in the centre of the shelter, go to bed early and get up at dawn. Young people met and married, and built a little sort of house for themselves.
These houses were studded and stogged with what ever could be got for the purpose, roofs were shingled, some of them were quite roomy depending on the means of the owner. One end was called the chimney end and was built across with flat stones, like a wall, and was as level on the inside as if it was plastered. The hearth and most of the kitchen floor was made with large flat stones, color blue, some of them as much as two men could carry, they were called hearth-stones and were brought out here from Ireland.
The Dog-Irons were in use then but not in my day, the food was cooked in an Iron-Pot, hung over the coals. I suppose the bread was baked on the fire in the same way. "Damper Cakes" and "Toutens". On Christmas Eve the log of birch was brought in, it having been cut for that purpose, just before the date. It was placed at the back of the Dog Irons and was supposed to last the duration of the Christmas season. It was called the Yule-tide log so the old people said so.
The first stove to come to Northern Bay was The Waterloo, it was a very large iron stove with a barrel oven, four dampers and a large front door. When evening came we all crowded around it, young and old, the storm outside was forgotten then, and with the heat from those old "bageys" one could warm their feet on the floor, you cannot do that from White Enamel.
Time went on, people came in and out, marrying, settling down and clearing land. What back-breaking work that must have been, all done by hand, one can see evidence of this work in the walls of rocks laid down, as a boundary for the fields. Almost every man had a dog and truckley, as it was called, it was a little low cart with two wooden wheels just high enough to harness on to a dog which pulled what ever way it went. Some of those dogs used to get an awful walloping, depending on the temper of the driver, later a couple of horses were brought in. Carts were built and Catamaran's (slides) for winter and summer. As soon as the snow went the horses were put away in the woods, and the men and women did all the hand labour, it was more than hand it was slavery compared to now, and women working the hardest, I would say. There was an odd old lazy fellow who crawled away under the shade after his dinner, pulled his Cape Ann Down over his eyes, and snored the evening away. To go back over the years to what I can remember and what I have heard, Northern Bay has had many changes over the years, people who did not live those days and whose forebearers are not so much interested would not understand, it was one of the first settlements on this shore to be inhabited, and had a school as far back as 1831, and likely before that. Reading, Writing and Sums were taught there for those who were so inclined, and that wasn't very many then. I used to hear the old people say the School Master took his nap after dinner, and the boys played cards. This school was up the Harbor, as was the R.C. Church, Presbytery and Grave-Yard.
Our Parish of Northern Bay is eighteen years older than the Diocese of Harbor Grace itself, and dates back to 1838, so we have a long time to look back upon. It was said that an old gentleman named Butler (an Irishman) donated his present property to the Church, so Rev Father Bernard Duffy, who was our first Parish Priest, had the Chapel torn down and rebuild on the spot it is now-almost. Father Cummins died here, and was buried underneath the Sanctuary of the little Chapel of hallowed memory in its beautiful setting of trees, picket fences, rambling Roses, raspberries and Cracker Bunches peeping through. The friendly atmosphere of the place can never be forgotten by those of us who are left to remember.
When Rev Father John Roe came home as Parish Priest in 1891 he started a new two room school, it was called the Superior School. The Senior Room was taught by College trained men, Morrissey, Byrnes, James and Fitzgerald. Wonderful results came from this old school, as good as any and better than most. Rev Father Nolan came here as the Curate in 1906 and left again in 1907. Rev Father John Lynch came then, and he started a new Church. It was almost finished when it was destroyed by fire on a beautiful moonlight night in October 1924.
Our Parish Priest (now retired) Rev Monsignor E. J. O'Brien was in charge at this time, having come to us in 1915. As soon as possible he started on a new two room school to take care of the large number of boys and girls who would be attending there. It was second to none at the time. He built a New Presbytery and other buildings including a spacious hall. This hall served us for a Church for eleven years. We have a beautiful church here now, on Long Beach Hill, and the property is marvelous. The Monsignor is still going strong in spite of his years.
Northern Bay has had its tragedies too, as well, four fine young men from this place went on the ice one morning, the Arctic ice was into the shore line. Two Hogan boys, they were brothers Willy March and Richard Fahey, died here that day. The wind had veered and the ice of course went out with it. Marchs' body was the only one recovered and I can remember so well the older one's telling of the day the 'little steam boat; came in the harbor with the body of Young March, his was the only one recovered. You may depend that this was a sad time in Northern Bay. The place has turned out many fine men and women in the past. Men who could do their own work, women who could sew, embroider and knit of the best. Right Rev John March, Bishop of Harbor Grace Diocese, born and reared here until he went to Ireland to study for the Priesthood. Next came Rev Brother D McCarthy of the Christian Brothers of Ireland. A great educationalist in the U.S.A. Many young men have been ordained to the Priesthood and many young girls to the Cloister. God bless them all.
There was also a Protestant Church here in the old days. It was a very fine building. The congregation grew and grew. It was built in the center of the harbor, the Minister of that Church was stationed at Lower Island Cove and up to Northern Bay at same time every Sunday for services. Prayer was conducted by Mr Mark Puddister who was the Lay Reader in that Church. The bell of that Church rang three times every Sunday. Mr Mark Puddister was the father of Sir John C. Puddister of Commission of Government days.
In the years 1911 and 1912 the Government started to build the Railway down the shore from Carbonear to Greates Cove. In 1914 the first World War started, prosperity was in full swing. Fish was a wonderful price, and everybody had money to spend. After the war was over however, there was a general slump. Then came the depression of the 1930's, pretty near everybody was on relief. There was no work. Fish was worthless, and there was no way to earn a dollar. Then Hitler moved in and changed the ways of Northern Bay as well as all over the world. The U.S.A. and Canada wanted their Bases in Newfoundland. They had them built so quickly, so anybody who wanted work got it, and money flowed like water.
In the old days mail came from the old country four times a year by boat. The poor old exiles who were here used to call them the Home Boats because they were bringing them news from loved ones in Ireland and England and such. You can vision all that when the Boat came if you stop to think.
Then there was the boat they called the Packet to bring the mail to outside places. The mail carrier then took the mail bag on his back to the next office. There was no other way of conveyance, and in 1881 and before that according to the dates before that there was a way office here in Northern Bay.
Times changed and advanced all down the years. The Bultow and Hook and Line Men had their own little Hunts and Stages, and fished from the local grounds such as Paddy Finn's Ledge, The Grunt, Jerry's Bank, The Rump and Bill Howell's Bank. Then came the cod trap era. A crew would knit a trap during the winter, at night mostly, build a trap skiff, and fish that way. Long before this however there were three Coastal Boats, Vessels they were called, trading back and forth to St John's depending on the weather. There was Captain Stephen Johnson, the "Wave", Capt George Moores, the Jubilee, Captain's Fred and Jordan Moores, the Mary Anna. Much later Capt Frank Hogan had owned a boat operating on the same route. Woodroe Brothers owned a vessel as well, trading they all were, because that was the only way to get freight and passage to and from St John's.
Later came the Motor Engine, the old Coaker being the first one used. Oars were put aside then. Work became easier, and expenses higher.
To go back over all the time that has passed and try to write down all the up's and down's of this little settlement would be too much for me however, I could tell it to somebody else better, looking back however, there's a wide difference in the spirit of the place then and now, and tis not for the better. Everything has changed.
Politics played a great part in the spirit of this little community, especially just before an Election. Men used to almost battle with one another for month's and month's over their chosen member and refuse to speak with one another, how silly it all was. Some man on each side, whoever won, had orders to supply a small amount of gunpowder. That man would have the old Muzzle Loader ready to blast off as soon as the results were known. I remember one time in particular before a General Election, Sir Robert Bon (he wasn't Sir Robert then) was coming to hold a meeting here that night. He came by boat earlier than he was expected and the whistle blew a short time before dinner. Dinner was left on the table however and people started rushing around to be there for the landing. There was a horse and carriage waiting on the Bank of Isaac's Cove where the Boat was coming in to land. When Sir Robert came up, his supporters lifted him up, placed him in the Wagon, unharnessed the horse and pulled the old gentlemen down the road as far as the residence of Mr Geo Moores, where he was staying. Some fun to hear a crowd of non-supporters jeering the crowd as they pulled.
At an Election time then the newspapers of that day, the Evening Telegram and the Daily News were of course on opposite sides for printing the news of the way things were going. One paper would print a song or ballad whichever you like about the members of the opposition, and the other one would print something about the party then in power. Those songs composed by some local poet would be learning off to sing at Christmas, and by some poor old fellow who could neither read nor write, which often caused a bit of a rumpus when it was done.
Ah me, I think I'll finish but I could go on and on as I talk, the friendly cup of tea, the good neighbourly feeling, the hospitality and customs of the old days have all gone with the dear old folk who made them so. And tis not for the better so far-the walk over the road, the sitting down place for the young folk on the Beach Hill, the dance on the old wooden Bridge, the coming of Christmas, house to house visiting, the mummers with the Fiddle and drum and on a calm night, one could hear them coming a mile away.
Belief in the supernatural was widespread and ghost walked every night, and on All Soul's Night in particular. The dead roamed the earth until midnight and folk young and old were afraid to 'Budge'. The waves with their mournful sound rolling in over the Beach, and people used to say they could hear the wails of the poor soul's who were lost there years and years ago. When the "Rothsay" was driven ashore one terrible stormy night, with a loss of many lives, she drove ashore on the South West side of the Beach (now Northern Bay Sands). The Old Holly's could be heard (because I did) on a foggy night with their sad heave-ho, for certain the sound was there, whatever it was.
The cows coming home so early in the morning to be milked, pans of fresh milk scalding on the stove, great prints of fresh butter laid out on a platter, loaves of fresh bread cooling on the table, Gardens of Potatoes, Cabbage, Turnips, Rhubarb, Meadows of Hay, Flakes of Dried Fish, no talk of buying vegetables, it was good. Mat making time started in January and February. Quilting in March and then knitting and sewing for the summer. Men going in the woods hauling firewood, house framing, lumber to be sawed. Stage and fishing, wood Boat-building, tis all like a dream now and one wonders what happened to everything.
As I said I could write a lot more on the ways and doings that make up the customs of a place over all the years. Tis too hard for me now, since I want to do this myself and as I knew and heard it. Perhaps this sketch will need a lot of correcting if it's worth the second reading and that's alright too. To one who has lived through it all, life was worth living in those days. It is not money that makes up a little place, it's the friendships over the years.
Northern Bay was a grand old place one time and perhaps it is so still to a lot of people. The young grow up and leave, they are not going to live the rugged life their grandfathers did, they would rather work under a Boss. A place can not carry on without its young folk and
Maybe in the not too distant,Mary Elizabeth McCarthy