NL GenWeb Place Information

West Coast - Codroy District

Doyles / Upper Ferry


The communities of Doyles and Upper Ferry are so closely intertwined in reference to their location that it is virtually impossible to separate one from the other when writing about them. Doyles was named after the first postmaster, Mr. Jim Doyle, who operated a post office in 1898. The post office was near the railway where the train made its stop. The train ran through Codroy Valley in 1898. Upper Ferry received its name from the ferry services which were at both ends of the Grand Codroy River. Mr. Pat Chaisson was responsible for the ferry at the lower end of the river at what is referred to as "The Gut." Mr. Tom Corneally operated the ferry boat some miles up river at a place referred to as Upper Ferry. "The Head " is a name sometimes applied to Upper Ferry.

Another place in the Doyles area is Benoit's Siding. This place gets its name from the Wallace and Joe Benoit families that lived there. The Benoits came from near St. Georges and settled " in along the line." A railway spur was built to this area to facilitate the shipping of potatoes which were grown there in large quantities.

The first settler in the area was Angus MacIsaac. Mr. MacIsaac left Scotland in 1844 and landed in Margaree, Cape Breton. Three years later he came to this community.

The main source of employment for the early settlers was farming. Some of the vegetables grown were: carrots, pumpkins, turnips, cabbage, spinach and Swiss chard. Wheat was grown but to no great extent - its cultivation was fairly successful. It was ground into flour that was used in baking. Some livestock that was kept by the settlers: oxen, sheep, chickens, geese, pigs and cows. Many of these animals were slaughtered and the meat was eaten after the fat had been cut off. The fat was used for lard in cooking, also in the making of soap and candles. The milk from the cows was used for drinking, making cream, butter and cheese.

The women of the area made clothes for their families from the sheep's wool. This wool was sheared from the sheep's back, washed, dried, carded and spun on a spinning wheel and woven on a loom. Before being woven some wool was died from a dye made by boiling moss and adding alum which created a brown color. In order to create a yellow color onion peels were boiled and salt and vinegar were added.

Originally the forest extended to the river banks and had to be cleared for farming. There was, and still is, plenty of lumber available that is suitable for the construction of houses, barns, fences, and boats. The forest also provides fuel for cooking and heating. In later years people cut ties for the railroad and pulpwood for contractors. Ties sold for 18 a piece and pulpwood sold at 90 a cord. Many of the men served as guides for sports fishermen and big game hunters. The Codroy Valley region was famous as an area for hunting and fishing. Many well-known sport personages visited the area on a regular basis through the years up to the 1950's.

Roads were slow in coming to the whole valley area and most of the traffic was by sea or river, railway after 1898-in winter travel across the ice was popular.

Due to the nonavailability if liquor some residents either manufactured their own or purchased it from smugglers who usually obtained it from St. Pierre and Miquelon. The smugglers made trips to the bays but never would enter a community. They stayed outside the 3 mile limit until a person from the community arrived with the money. A 5 gallon keg cost $45.00 and a 10 gallon keg cost $90.00. Most people who did not buy liquor often manufactured their own. Many brewed a form of beer known as "home brew". Others distilled moonshine and others made blueberry wine. One of the methods of making this wine was by filling a 5 gallon keg with 3 gallons of blueberries and 2 gallons of molasses. This mixture was corked and buried for 6 months.

The first mail carrier in Upper Ferry was Hughie MacInnes. He carried the mail from Upper Ferry to South Branch and overland north to Highlands. In the summer this work was done on foot but in the winter a dog team was used. The first school was built over 60 years ago, this was followed by a second school which was built by Monsignor Andrew Sears. Some of the teachers in these schools were: Angela Blanchard, Miss Genevieve Farrell, Julie Chaisson and Minnie O'Quinn. The story of Miss. Genevieve Farrell, the school teacher from Fortune Bay (probably St. Jacques) is rather poignant and bears repeating. She was engaged to Sears Tompkins but died of galloping consumption shortly before the date set for her wedding. She was laid out in her wedding dress at the residence of Archie MacIsaac at Upper Ferry.

The present church [St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church], is the only church constructed at Upper Ferry and was opened in 1976. It is situated near the southern end of the long concrete bridge over Codroy River that joins the north and south sides. Unfortunately this bridge was destroyed by ice in 1977.

Talking from memory and tradition, facts often become confused and dates blurred. However, the St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church records go back continuously to 1867. A number of priests served there from the time of Monsignor Thomas Sears, the Prefect of St. George's 1868-1885. However, the limited number of priests and the large area to be served meant the clergy moved from place to place. Right Rev. Alexis Belanger, first missionary priest and Vicar General on the west coast 1850-1885 visited the Codroy Valley many times during his sojourn in far flung missions. The following passage from Very Rev. Michael Brosnan's history might be of interest. Brosnan is speaking of Gaelic speaking people coming from Nova Scotia to the Codroy Valley.

"......Thus about the year 1844, if not earlier, the following names are to be found in the Codroy Valley: McNeil, McIsaac, McLean, Murphy, Farrell, Ryan. These names were common in Codroy Valley in 1854 and there is good reason for thinking that they dated from 10 years earlier. As time went on many more families from the same part of Nova Scotia, some remaining at Little River and Grand River, several others going as far as Bay St. George, making their homes at the Highlands at places adjacent to Sandy Point, as well as on the Port au Port peninsula.

They were mostly given to farming though a little fishery was carried on. As I have already said, Fr. Belanger visited the Rivers at regular intervals. He had a little church erected on the north side of the Grand River and beside it a little log cabin which he used as his home when on missionary work in that section. The priest at that time invariably came by sea from Sandy Point, sometimes in a sailing boat and not infrequently in a rowboat, a distance of about seventy-five miles. As the number of Scotch settlers increased Fr. Belanger, who was a French speaking priest, was faced with a very obvious difficulty in his pastoral work, particularly in the confessional. This was the language difficulty. The settlers who had come in from Inverness, Cape Breton, almost without exception used the Gaelic language as the language of the home. Though many of them had a passing knowledge of English they had not sufficient command of it to make their confession with facility and to their own satisfaction. None was quicker to see this difficulty and none could be more ready than the good priest to take measures to have it remedied; he heartily co-operated with the Gaelic-speaking people in their endeavor to secure at least a yearly visit from a priest versed in the silver speech of the Gael, the mother tongue of so many of his people.

Old men whom I have met and who well remembered the then situation tell me of the earnest endeavors of Fr. Belanger to provide for his Scotch parishioners in this matter. Indeed, it would appear that he was almost continually striving to secure an assistant with these qualifications but in vain. In the year 1865 a petition drawn up by Fr. Belanger and signed by him and the Gaelic-speaking people was forwarded to Bishop McKinnon. It asked the good Bishop to send them now and again a priest from his diocese who would be able to hear confessions and instruct in Gaelic. The petition was not answered immediately, but in the next year when Fr. Belanger landed at the Gut at Grand River, the people who always assembled to meet him and escort him to the church, noticed that he was accompanied by another gentleman. The old missionary, as if to spring a pleasant surprise on the people, made no introductions nor any reference to his companion till the church was reached and then, in the words of one who was privileged to be present, I shall describe what happened: " Fr. Belanger bidding the people rejoice at the presence of two priests in their midst introduced to the congregation Fr. Shaw who had been sent as the result of negotiations between Bishop McKinnon and Bishop Mullock from Arichat to confess the Gaelic-speaking people. Fr. Shaw stayed a week and then went to Bay St. George, returning to Grand River he remained for two weeks. At the end of this time he left for Channel and from there some of the men from the Rivers landed him back at Ingonish."

The visit of Fr. Shaw was repeated in '67 and '68 by Frs. Chisholm and Fraser respectively. It was in the Fall of this year that Fr. Belanger died and the people of the West Coast were once more left without a `sheppard.' Father Patrick Brown served the Doyles-Upper Ferry area sometime before 1900. Rev. Doctor Cornelius O'Regan, who married Sister Teresina Bruce's parents was drowned while on his priestly duties in a shipwreck shortly after coming to the Valley in 1899 or 1900. Even today in many houses can be seen the framed "write-up" from the Western Star, a newspaper published at Curling, now part of Corner Brook, concerning the untimely passing of the young cleric. Monsignor William J. Brown was there in December, 1902 as he baptized Sister Teresina Bruce. Sister made her first confession to Monsignor Brown in 1909, but received her first holy communion from the new parish priest, Monsignor Andrew Sears in 1910. Monsignor was the nephew of Monsignor Thomas Sears.

One of the early doctors to serve the area was Dr. Barlow, who would come from Port aux Basques when called. Other doctors were Dr. Gill who later moved to Brigus, Conception Bay, and who is the father of H. Burnham Gill, the Provincial Archivist and Dr. Whelan, who moved to Bay Bulls. Both doctors were stationed in Port aux Basques. Father Joseph P. Palmer, a priest and medical doctor was stationed in the Valley for some years. There were other doctors in the Valley before Dr. Gill and Whelan but Sister Teresina remembers both these gentlemen. In 1939 nurses Stocks, Whitley and Myles came from England and stayed one or two years aiding the sick. Nurse Myles is now (in 1978) in the Presentation Order. Beginning in 1941 nurses Hall, Mills, Roach and Badcock assumed nursing duties. These nurses "belonged" to the Newfoundland Department of Health and were referred to as the "Newfoundland Nurses". Some of the midwives in the Valley were Mrs. Matilda MacIsaac, Mrs. Maggie Hynes, Mrs. Will Keating, Mrs. Esther Blanchard and Mrs. Mary Gale also helped out when necessary. Mrs. Keating around 1940 had a six week midwifery course in St. John's. The midwife's fee was $3.00 per child and they remained till the mother could resume her household duties.

One home remedy used for relief from a cold was boiled cherry bark (or dogwood bark), mixed with ground juniper. This mixture was taken orally. A remedy used as a treatment for exema was a mixture of balm buds boiled with balsam producing a waxy, sticky substance which was applied to the sore.

The first member of the Newfoundland Ranger Force to serve the Valley was Ranger Thompson who was followed by Ranger Tilley, both of whom were stationed in Port aux Basques. Before the Rangers " the law " came from St. George's. Sgt. Goodland of the Newfoundland Constabulary and Magistrate McDonnell are still remembered by the older citizens. The first road in the Doyles-Upper Ferry area went through in 1908. The first vehicle, a Model-T Ford, was owned by Tom Blanchard who purchased it for $600.00. John Doyle, the postmaster's son owned the first "crank" telephone and the first radio in the area was owned by Mr. Mike Martin. Sister Teresina remembers a crystal set at Philip Luedees and listening to the broadcasts using earphones. A son of Mr. Luedee had sent the set from the United States. Mr. Luedee's residence was halfway between St. Andrews and Tompkins, which was some miles from Doyles-Upper Ferry.

The Upper Ferry Co-Op was in operation in 1937, although the exact date that it opened is uncertain. Our informant, Mr. Walter Gale, became a member of the co-operative in 1939 when he was first married. He can remember, however, his father and mother shopping at the co-op for some years before this. It was then a " buying club ", run by the Credit Union. According to one source, the first collective club activity was to purchase a seven pound caddy of tobacco. "..Some good savings were made. After that they went into groceries, dry goods, etc., and eventually, the store." It is interesting to record an article which appeared in a local newspaper. "...A large shipment of feed was landed last week for the Model Buying Club at Codroy Valley, which is the clubs first venture into this line. "

The organization actually began when the credit union began using any spare money in the union to buy goods and resell them to members at cost price, or wholesale. It started out on a very small scale, and involved only Upper Ferry in its early years. Today there are approximately 150 members from all over the Valley. There was a great deal of co-op organization carried out in the Valley in the 1940's. At various times in the 40's, there were credit societies at Codroy, Woodville, Millville, Upper Ferry, Tompkins, St. Andrews, and South Branch. All that remain now are two - one at Tompkins and another at Millville. Given today's means of transportation and good roads, one society would have sufficed, but in the days of horse and buggy with mud up to the axles, each place would have their own.

The Model Consumers Co-op Society Limited made application for registration on or about January 9, 1941. The signatures on the application to register were as follows:

George Cormier ~ Doyles
Angus McIsaac ~ MacDale
Angus McLellan ~ MacDale
Theo(?) McNeil ~ Doyles
Duncan McIsaac ~ Doyles
Toby(?) McIsaac ~ Benoit's Siding
William Aucoin ~ Tompkins
Walter McIsaac ~ Doyles

When the co-op was incorporated in 1941, it sold items at a profit and returned the dividends back to its members. However, this system has changed in the past six or seven years, and the store has since become direct charge. Each member contributes $75.00 capital and pays $3.00 service charges per week. This enables the store to sell goods to the members at a very cheap rate which is usually close to wholesale. The first manager of the Society was Mr. Walter McIsaac. Mr. McIsaac owned the building that the organization operated out of. He managed the co-op throughout the 1940's The next manager was a Mr. Mike McNeil. Frank McArthur was another manager of the store. Mr. bill Bailey managed the operation for a period of six months. He also returned sometime later in 1971 to manage the store during years of direct charge. Mr. C. Ledwell spent ten years with the co-op. (1956-1966) He was instrumental in seeing that the co-op movement of Upper Ferry did not die away into extinction. There was also a fieldman, Joe McIsaac, who was actively engaged in the movement in the Valley and adjoining areas for years. At the Highlands, a small group organized and called their society the Joe McIsaac Memorial. This society has since fallen apart.


The above data was written by unknown high school students from a school in the Stephenville area in 1978, transcribed by Brenda Janes and posted to the Internet in July 1999 by Stephen Baker.

© Brenda Janes & NL GenWeb

Codroy District