NL GenWeb Place Information

West Coast - Codroy District

Introduction


Codroy Valley can boast of having the earliest recorded evidence of settlement on the West Coast. In 1822, when W.E. Cormack crossed the island he commented on the number of settlers in the Valley.

"......W.E. Cormack, who travelled about the island in 1822, and who indicated that there were five families living at Codroy, five families (28 persons) at what is now Searston, ten indian families along the Great Codroy River, and two families (17 persons) along the Little Codroy River."
It is thought that the earliest white settlers in the Valley were the Gale brothers from West England. Four brothers came from England and settled in what was later known as Grand River Gut. As this area was exposed to winter storms, the brothers moved to what is now presently Millville in an area close to the river or the sea, which were to a great extent, the source of their livelihood. In a sheltered area the brothers cleared the land and built a new home. The land they cleared is still occupied by their descendents of the fourth and fifth generations.

The period from 1825-1845 saw a great influx of settlers from Cape Breton Island who were largely Acadians, Scots, Irish Catholics, and English Protestants. Most of the early Protestants had been converted to the catholic faith by the turn of the century - excepting only the Protestant fishing village of Codroy. This was largely due to the stationing of a resident priest, Father Alexis Belanger, some 55 miles away at Sandy Point.

Some of the early settlers were; the Bruces who came to Nfld via St. Pierre, from St. Malo in Brittany, the McLeans from Mabou, Cape Breton, the McIsaacs from Inverness county in Cape Breton, the Aucoins or O'Quinns also from Cape Breton, the Ryans from Margaree, Cape Breton, the Halls from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and the McDougalls, whose origins are uncertain.

"....the lure was the stories that traveled to Nova Scotia of the wonderful fertility of the soil in many parts of the West Coast of Nfld. It was also well known that it was easy to get a block of land which was gratis if one could hold it. Taxes were almost unknown. These facts, coupled with the then scarcity of land in Cape Breton, resulted in the emigration of many families from that locality and their taking up residence in Newfoundland."
Although some French, Gaelic and MicMac were spoken, the area was predominantly English. Gaelic was also common, however, and Father Belanger, who was a French speaking priest, encountered a great deal of trouble with the language barrier. In fact in 1865, a petition was drawn up by Father Belanger and his Gaelic speaking parishioners and it was forwarded to Bishop McKinnon. It asked the Bishop to send to the area every now and again a priest who would be able to hear confessions and instruct in Gaelic.

This was answered by the coming of Father Shaw in 1866 and 1867, and then by the coming of Father Chisolm and Father Fraser in 1868. They would stay for periods of several weeks before returning to their home parishes. When Father Belanger died on September 7, 1868 ( exactly 18 years after he arrived in the diocese) he was replaced by Father Thomas Sears. Father Sears arrived in Sandy Point on December 14, 1868.

In 1872 there still was no government representatives, no civil law, no roads, carriages or wheeled vehicles and no mail service. The Valley was isolated from the rest of the world except for travel by sea. Monsignor Sears began pressing for mail service in 1869 and in 1872 some mail was provided to the coast. The telegraph was extended to the west in 1878, the same time that the court house was set up in St. George's. In 1881, Sir Frederick Carther, announced that the Newfoundland government was now authorized to make land grants on the French Shore, thus officially opening up settlement. He also ordered that the residents of the West Coast elect 2 representatives to the House of Assembly.

The West Coast was now eligible for government grants for development. The first area of concentration was on road building. Under Monsignor Sear's guidance, roads connecting all parts of the Valley were built for free labor. By 1885 these were completed. The railway came though in 1897. Around the same time, the Valley gained telegraph service and a Justice of the Peace. It was at this time that the first people not dependent for a living upon agricultural production or fishing, moved to the Valley. These people directed maintenance of the railway line. Around 1905 the paper mill opened in Grand Falls and the iron ore mines re-opened in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Then people began moving out rather than into the Valley.

Monsignor Sears died in 1885. Although various priests spent varying periods of time in the Valley, a cousin, Monsignor Andrew Sears was the next priest to spend a long period of time in the Valley-from the first decade of the 1900's to his death in 1944. Monsignor was especially noted for the great deal of construction which occurred during his residence in the area.

When cars came to the area in 1921, the roads became wider. Thomas Blanchard in Searston had the first car, and in 1924 six cars, all Model " T " Fords, came to the Valley. The owners of these were Tom Doyle, John Doyle, Michael Tompkins, Tom Blanchard, Duncan McIsaac and Jim Tompkins. On January 2nd, 1947, cars were driven for the first time on the right hand side of the road, not the left as formerly had been the case.

Up until 1942, patrol men were paid to care for a section of road. Each man had so many miles of road that he was responsible for the upkeep of, and he was paid by the government. A horse, cart and shovel were his only tools. In 1942, the government men and trucks took over this responsibility. A government garage was built in 1958. In 1953, the roads were kept open in Codroy by machinery during the winter for the first time. On March 23rd, 1950, the first days work on the Trans Canada Highway was done. By 1958, the first 10 miles of pavement between Codroy and Port aux Basques had been laid. By 1963-1964 the road was paved through to Codroy Pond and in 1965 all work was completed. In 1970, the first pavement in the Valley itself was laid. By 1971, the road had been paved from Upper Ferry to Searston. By 1976, all pavement in the Valley was completed.

A weather station was constructed here in 1942. Originally there were four buildings, but the school board purchased two and joined them together to make a convent. It was then hauled to Upper Ferry. The other two buildings are owned by Dr. Farrell and Dr. Simpson.

Electricity came to the area in 1962. Prior to this, (kerosene) gas lamps, also called Aladdin lamps, were used. Telephones came to the area in the 1920's. Crank telephones, or eggbeaters as they were commonly known were used until they were replaced by the dial system in 1963. Television came to the area in 1966. One channel was available, channel 6, CBC, which originated from Halifax. In 1970, CBC began broadcasting from Corner Brook. In 1973 CTV or CJON arrived.

Limestone was found in O'Regans and coal in South Branch, although not in sufficient quantities to mine. Two years ago, oil was drilled in the mountains in the Cape Anguille area.

The first doctor in the area was a Doctor Whalen who left in 1921. The closest doctor was then at Port aux Basques, and one would travel there by train. In 1935-36 the English nurses arrived. Each stayed for 1-2 years, some of them were; Mrs. Stocks, Miss Whitley, Miss Myre and Miss Miles (who later converted to RC and became a nun). In 1941, the Newfoundland nurses took over the medical duties of the Valley. Rose Farrell was the first and then Nurse Roach (who married Frank Cormier and resides in Corner Brook). Next was Nurse Cooper, next Nurse Battcock, and lastly Margaret Hull from St. George's. The doctors took over the duties again. In January of 1948, Dr. Brian O'Brien arrived. Next was Dr. O'Leary and then Dr. Kilbain. This was in Monsignor Kerwin's time, and the Monsignor bought an old store and renovated it into a clinic. There were three nurses at the clinic and Beth Kelly was the third of these. This system was then discontinued. Debbie Downey was the only baby born under this system.

In 1960 an English doctor, Dr. King, was chosen by The Medical Committee. The doctor was subject to this committee and when the committee and Dr. King fell out, the entire medical committee resigned. Public Health of Newfoundland took over.

The doctors residence was built in 1959 and the first doctor to reside there was Dr. Goulem from the Belgium Congo. He later went to St. George's and died there suddenly from a heart attack while on a fishing trip at Flat Bay River. Both Dr. Goulem and Dr. O'Brien are buried in the Valley. Dr. McSearraigh came November 5th, 1966 and left in 1971. Dr. Clark and Dr. Domion Currans (from Ireland) came next. Dr. Bernard Ring arrived after their departures, on September 12, 1972. He left in June of 1977. Next came a Dr. Pangia who stayed for several weeks. A Dr. Coo arrived next and was the doctor as of August 5, 1977

GRANDMOTHER'S STORY AS TOLD TO URSULA TOMPKINS BY HER MOTHER-IN-LAW, JUDITH TOMPKINS

During the fall of 1882 my husband and I decided that the place for us was Newfoundland. The tales coming from there, of the beautiful fertile land of the Codroy Valley just waiting for the plough, of the delightful mountains and scenery, the climate, all tended to enkindle the pioneer spirit which we had possibly inherited from our parents who landed in the wilds of Cape Breton about eighty years previously from Ireland.

When we approached my mother and father (John's parents had been dead some years) with this sad news, we felt badly. Just how badly, only those who part with their loved ones can realize. Both were aged, my father almost blind. I shall always see them with the remaining members of our families standing almost helpless with grief as the boat took us away from the shore of the mouth of Margaree River. As I feared then we did not meet again. My dear old mother and father did not long survive that sad day. My brother James had been living in Grand Codroy about one year, and no doubt his anxiety to have us come too helped greatly in our decision.

We arrived the 6th of June, 1883 and with joyous acclaim did we watch the sun coming up over the Long Range Mountains as we sailed on through the North West Cove, up to the mouth of the Little Codroy, landing at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Augustine MacIsaac who welcomed the new family with a cordial, heartfelt, hospitable welcome. My husband was waiting for us at our new home, about five miles up the river. After partaking of a luncheon of delicious home baked bread, homemade butter, tea with cream, cottage cheese and bakeapple jam, my four children and I were well fortified and enjoyed so much that boat row.

Richard, the eldest was nine of age, Bridget seven, Mike five and James two years, six months. We landed directly near our home which consisted of a log cabin, which although rudely built, afforded us comfortable shelter and as it was then June with the summer months ahead, we knew that before winter we should have at least more space. We lived in that hut for four years where we were always very cozy and entertained many visitors. At one time Dr. Howley, afterwards Archbishop Howley of St. John's, was our guest for two days. "When you have ample beds and bedding", my next door neighbour, who lived two miles away, used to say to me "you can always take the passing stranger." I did not feel quite happy about entertaining such a distinguished visitor, but he very kindly calmed my fears saying " I wish you could see where I stayed last night. I thoroughly enjoyed my meals, my nice clean sheets, even the crying of that little rascal." Our new baby cried all night long and I felt terribly sad knowing well the poor priest, after his long walk from the Highlands of St. George's, needed the sleep which my baby was keeping off. Our priests of that day knew well the hardships of life in our new country without railroad, highway or comfortable steamboats. They had to walk from thirty to fifty miles in rough weather; in calm weather there was the open boat plied with oars, or, if one was lucky to find conditions suitable, there was a sailboat.

Monsignor Thomas Sears, our resident pastor at that time was failing in health. He was most interested in our coming to this country for he was most anxious to have more families come, and was very insistent that we settle on the north side of Grand River on the farm adjoining his place. But my husband wanted to settle where the railroad would come in due time. I remember well my husband discussing with the monsignor and pointing out to him just where the railroad would come. However, the poor priest did not live long enough to enjoy the coming of the railroad for he passed to his eternal rest just a year or so before the survey was made. Our first sorrow was Monsignor Sear's death. May he rest in peace.

We loved the spot we had chosen. When I look back over the years and picture in my mind's eye how tall the woods were all around us, tall spruces, firs and birches right where we are now standing. I would not let the children out of my sight fearing I'd never find them. There was a nice large garden which our predecessors had cleared and with the fertilizer which had been lying idle in our stables. We planted lettuce, peas, corn, beans, cabbage, turnip and potatoes. Everything grew like wildfire and in less that six weeks I had greens for the table, rasberries and other wild fruits. From the proceeds of that garden we had our vegetables for one whole year and sold cabbage, turnips and potatoes sufficiently to procure our flour, sugar and other necessities which one has to have.

We had two cows, some sheep from which we had our butter, cheese and meat. My husband made shoes for the children from the hides and I clothed them with the wool from the sheep. We lived entirely from the proceeds of the farm for several years. As time went by we had more and more lands cleared, more stock, and then the roads began to appear. In the meantime our family had grown in size and numbers. There were nine altogether.

You ask me how we succeeded in clearing the land. Well for many years we could not get much cleared. My husband was always a rather delicate man. For years he taught night school for adults. He had quite a few pupils who were most grateful for this great advantage and as compensation they cleared several lots of land. The people of that day were a kindly, good living people who appreciated any little acts of kindness.

Many of the old folks who have long gone to their eternal reward would tell you of the successful teaching of their old friend John Tompkins. No doubt about it, he was the first adult teacher in the Codroy Valley. Had Monsignor Sears lived to see that he would have seen one of his dreams come true. After a time the people built a little school in which my husband taught. We had no schools then.

We were part of the French Shore and there was no such thing as government legislation. The men worked for us as compensation. Bridget, Richard, Mike and James knew no teaching other than their father's. Sears and the younger girls went to St. Bon's and the convents later. Our people as I said before were a kindly, upright people. As well they were deeply religious. If you could but see today the manner in which the priest was greeted by the parishioners when he mad his bi-yearly visits. All who could would turn out to meet the priest and his coming was heralded by the music of the bagpipes. Our house was a mission house, that is the priest stayed with us and mass was celebrated in our living room; everyone coming to receive the Sacrements. For two days during the priest's stay with us not a thing was done other than attend to their 'duties' and follow the priest. This house of ours has been blessed with the celebration of mass, time and time again and the Sacrements Penance, Holy Eucharist, Baptism and Matrimony administered.

Now during the early years and before the railroad the angler would come along looking for trout and salmon. Gradually one brought another until there were so many fishermen we began to add on more rooms, so that is how we have what is now known as 'Afton Farm House'.

My husband lived to see the family all grown up. He died on May 14, 1904. My oldest son was his successor and was proving to be a very good man, but his health began to fail in the summer of 1906 and I saw another pass to his eternal reward. James, your husband, was left by Richard to take care of us all and I hope and pray that our divine lord will give him the grace to carry on the good work started by his good father.

In conclusion I would like to say that too much praise can never be given to Mrs. Tompkins. She must have been a wonderful woman to have lived and loved such a time of privation. Her home in Nova Scotia had been one of comfort. She had never known the feeling of want in her young carefree days, but how nobely she followed her delicate husband who was a victim of asthma, and came to this country where he knew he could be free of the discomfort of this trying disease.

Although she has never said to me, her children have told me 'Mother was the man at the helm' and died in her sleep August 1st, 1937. My husband, her son died on April 21st, 1948. The above is 'Grandmother's Story' to me.

"TOWNSHIPS" IN BAY ST. GEORGE

There was a somewhat unusual project undertaken in 1883 on the west coast. The colonial government decided to establish townships in St. George's Bay south. Surveyors and laborers under the eminent geologist James Howley went into the area and began their boundary line work. Howley's preliminary report on the land and the people living on the land makes interesting reading. To block off the land into townships, a base line was secured which involved a line running parallel to the coast and running inland for the required distance. Howley's total area was from Sandy Point at the Head of Bay St. George to the base of the Anguille Mountains.

Ten townships were bounded in all, six completed and four broken by the Anguille and Long Mountain ranges. These ten proposed townsites comprised an area of 340 square miles of which, Howley estimated, 220 were capable of a high state of cultivation. The geological formation of the region was chiefly carboniferous, which meant, said the surveyor, that the soil was part of the best of Newfoundland and on a par with many areas of Canada. Howley's report added: "The district is also richly watered. Streams such as Crabbs, Barachois, Robinsons, and Flat Bay Brook - rivers that should be designated - flow from the Long Mountains to Bay St. George. Though shallow, they are quite smooth flowing, except at the head. They are full of fish and run through excellent land, which is covered with large timber, principally birch, spruce, fir and poplar." Howley explained that Crabbs Brook region was especially good land and was the northern boundary of a settlement of Cape Breton Scottish people who had immigrated to the coast between Crabbs and the Anguille Mountains. Reported Howley: "These Scots are very thrifty and have carved out comfortable homes from the forest primeval. All their women have looms and weave from wool of their own growing all the clothing they need or use. North of them and extending to the Barachois there is a large congregation of Englishmen who chiefly came from the south coast of this island, some as long as 60 years ago. Upon the whole their land is superior to that of their Scottish neighbors, but they are not so thriftily or comfortably circumstanced."

The Englishmen, apparently, occupied their land in common and a large amount of it wasn't cultivated. Howley induced them to agree upon a division and mark the boundaries of each lot. He told them that if they wished to continue to hold their land, they must cultivate each lot. It was supposed to be the beginning of the "townships" on the south-west coast.

In his report Howley said that north of Robinson's the nationality of the settlers was "rather mixed." He found some French and Scottish families, some English and "one Dutch or German." In surveying the township lines, allocations were made by the surveyors for future roads. Howley reported: " At the last session of the legislature (1883), a grant of $200.00 was made to aid the Scottish near Crabbs Brook to build a road to their back lands. With this small sum they have constructed a good wagon road three miles long, a fact which attests to the level and agricultural character of the land and to the energy of the Scots."

In the overall development of the area, Howley noted, the lack of good harbors was a drawback. Vessels of 50 tons, he said, could harbor in the mouth of Crabbs Brook, but larger craft could find no place to enter south of the extreme head of the bay where there was good anchorage. He said a railway would find an outlet at Codroy, but only small schooners could avail of it. Channel would be the nearest port at which vessels of large size could load and unload.

Townships, roads and the railway were desperately needed for the area, said Howley. The region had vast deposits of coal and other minerals. He estimated that if 250, 000 tons of coal were taken from the St. George's coal beds every year the deposits would last for 150 years. Yet all mineral wealth lay dormant because there was no railway. He proposed a railway line from the head of St. George's Bay to Channel, a distance of 100 miles, and this would permit mining and export of coal. Another part of his proposal for railway service said: " A railway could be extended from St. George's Bay, pass the head of the Bay of Islands, up to the Valley of the Humber and connect with the head of White Bay or Hall's Bay with the line now building north from St. John's." Geologist James Howley, born in St. John's in 1847, championed west coast development as few other men had done.

WOES OF SPREADING THE GOSPEL

The traveling clergyman ministering to his flock in western Newfoundland a century ago was indeed a rare breed of man. His life was filled with dangers and hardships while getting to and from the widely scattered settlements, and yet he endured. Such a man was Monsignor Thomas Sears. He traveled the coast for 15 years until his death in 1885 at the age of 61. A good idea of traveling conditions in his time can be gleaned from a report he wrote in 1877 in which he described a rather harrowing experience in traveling the Cape Anguille Mountains.

In the time of his writing there were about 3,000 persons dispersed in detached settlements over 800 or 900 miles of sea coast. There were no roads to allow safe passage from one hamlet to another and the traveler had to go through the trackless forest or walk the sea-beaten landwash. There was the alternative of, what the Monsignor called, "going in an open boat or a cranky fishing skiff along the whole coast." But this was equally an unpleasant and sometimes hazardous means of getting around the far-flung mission.

It had been suggested to Msgr. Sears that a sturdy schooner or yacht be obtained as a mission vessel. He maintained that, even if financial circumstances permitted such a luxury, the method would be impracticable. He reasoned that the striking peculiarities of the coast would render the acquisition of a mission boat unfeasible...."there being several hundred miles of our coast without a harbor, and our seas at the conflux of the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence are so boisterous that the greater portion of the coast where the people inhabit, is unapproachable by a vessel."

While summer travel had its share of difficulties, the winter season, when navigation was closed, presented greater obstacles for the traveling missionary. Msgr. Sears told of an experience he had while traveling in the St. George's Bay area for a few years after he first arrived on the coast. At 6 o'clock one March morning he left Highlands in company with "several able young men" as guides. They were bound for Codroy traveling on snowshoes, the priest said:

".....Our way was first through dense forests ascending the Cape Anguille range of mountains. This took us till near 9 o'clock, the ascent being over seven miles. The snow was from five to six feet deep, but the young men beat the path so well that I had no difficulty in getting along with a lighter set of snowshoes. This I would need as I was never accustomed to walk on them before that winter. On arriving at the summit we found that the snow, which had been retained on the mountain-top by the shrubbery, was rendered as hard and slippery as solid ice by the heavy winds of such an altitude, about 1,500 feet. The culmen of the mountain was an undulating plain yielding only a low shrubbery, now over-topped with snow. The passage this way was very dangerous in the event of a storm. There was no shrub or landmark to point out the way, and no place to take shelter."

As the priest and his party advanced some loose clouds obscured the sun and snow began to drift. One of the guides, who, the monsignor said, seemed inclined to anticipate danger when there was none imminent, took alarm and began to run. This movement of fright spread to the other guides and they began to run. "I was at a disadvantage," Msgr. Sears later recalled, "for I could not keep up with these athletic men, and what was worse, the Eskimo boots worn to suit the snowshoes, were as slippery as the ice itself, and there was no chance even to take time to provide a remedy." In a stampede, the priest and his companions ran about nine miles and reached the opposite slope where any danger, if it existed at all, was felt to be over. Another hour's walk brought them into a dense forest. Here they halted, built a fire and had something to eat. They resumed their journey and in two hours were at the Great Codroy River. Monsignor Sears wrote: "I could see why it was called the Great River. It was here wide enough for 12 teams of horses to go abreast and that width extended to the mouth, and so level was it and clear of rapids that it was all frozen over and formed a fine winter road the whole distance."

The party still had about 24 miles to travel before getting to the first house. Said Msgr. Sears: "We had to get there before taking any rest, or else take the alternative of remaining under a tent such as could be formed with a few boughs of evergreen on the deep snow all night." The priest said that he disliked doing this as he "feared the consequence of taking a cold." He had perspired freely in the stampede over the mountains. At sundown they lit a fire, had another mug-up and resumed their journey along the broad frozen river. Shortly after midnight, men from the nearby settlement who had been expecting the priest came along with a horse and took the little band to the village. The ordeal was over, another priestly mission was accomplished.

CODROY VALLEY WOOLEN MILLS

The idea of a woolen mill in Codroy Valley has been around for several years, and it finally became a reality in July of 1976 when construction started. The mill was officially opened on June 3, 1977. Eight people are presently employed at the mill. The hours of operation are 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday. Wool is purchased from all over the island. A deal is purchased from the Avalon Peninsula and much is local wool. The going price for wool is 70 per pound unwashed and 95 per pound washed. It is cheaper for the mill to buy unwashed as it is likely that it will have to be rewashed anyway. It takes 3/8 of a pound of wool to make one skein. The woolen mills are capable of processing 300 pounds of wool daily so they are producing a sizable amount of wool per week. The machinery used was not purchased new. It was purchased second hand from various places, the oldest piece is the carder, which was built in 1929. The newest piece was manufactured in 1963. A Young Canada Works Project added an extension onto the Mill this summer. A relative of the present manager, Mr. Gale, operated a carding mill in the Codroy Valley earlier in this century.


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