NL GenWeb Place Information

West Coast - Codroy District


SSearston was once known as Grand River. It received its name because the community was settled on the banks of the larger of the two rivers flowing in the Valley. In the days of Monsignor Andrew Sears, the name of the community was changed. Early settlers of Grand River were the MacLean family, Hugh and his two sons Captain Dan and John. They landed at a place known as " The Block " about 150 years ago.

"........W.E. Cormack, who traveled about the island in 1822, and who indicated that there were..........five families (28 persons) at what is now Searston."
In these days, the main source of a living was fishing. A little bit of planting was done. However, one had to clear and burn the land so this was done gradually. The brooks and rivers served as guides for travel. If a person was traveling in the woods, he would blaze a trail, so that he could find his way home again. When the community was first settled, people built along the shore of the river. Log-huts served as houses, with the doors facing the water. People fished cod and salmon, which would be salted and sent to Halifax by schooners. This was traded for winter supplies.

The first store was operated by Bill Rowe and owned by Mr. Colin Campbell from St. John's. The next store was operated by Sandy Gillis for George MacQuart, a St. John's merchant. Other early stores were owned by Jim Keating from Port aux Basques and Duncan McIsaac. Willy McLean and Clem Gale operated stores at the same time, sometime in the 1920's. At these stores people could buy and trade fish. Some of these stores were stocked from St. John's while other store owners went to Halifax to pick up their supp lies.

A very popular annual event held at Grand River was the horse races. These races were held as soon as the river frozen over enough to support the weight of the horses. The race consisted of a half mile course, and often bets were laid. These races were a big attraction and many people turned out each year to view the event. While no prizes were awarded, it was taken quite seriously. Before the actual event, much time was spent training and grooming the horses. It was quite an honor to have the fastest "stee d" in the Valley.

"....The horse races came off last week on the ice of Grand River, near McKinnons. The horse race was won by Peter Gales horse from Searston."
These races took place between the years 1910-1940. As the older generation died, so did the interest in the races. The first school was a log building located by "The Block" at least 95 years ago. Some early teachers were Miss Maggie (Margaret) Kenny from the United States, Elenor Boland from Curling, a Mr. James from the southeast coast, Mr. Walker, Farquahar McLennon, and Mr. Hugh McDougall, from either Cheticamp or PEI. The school would have a teacher for perhaps only five or six months of the year. Once he or she left, it would be difficult to find a replacement. Most would arrive in summer and teach until Christ mas. When they went home for Christmas holidays many would not return. The log cabin was torn down and classes moved to a frame school built next to it. On the same site a third school was built between the years 1905-1910. This school burnt sometime around 1944 and was replaced by a school which was built across the road from the church. In 1968/69, the school system was centralized to Upper Ferry and the children were bussed from all over the Valley. The school in Searston was sold and the materials were used by the buyer.

St. Anne's RC Church, Searston

St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church circa 1930, Searston

Photo compliments of Stan Smart, British Columbia

The first church in Searston [St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church] was built by Doctor O'Regan sometime in the 1890's, before 1898. It had a 95 foot spire which was struck by lightning on September 8, 1930. A priest house was built at the same time as the first church, about 100 feet to the right as you face the church. It was a large two storey building with an attic. Construction on the second church began in May of 1931. This church was in use until 1976 when a new church was erected in Upper Ferry. Befor e either of these churches were built, a log church on the north side of the Grand River was used by the people of Searston.

About 66 years ago, Dr. McDonald visited the area to vaccinate for smallpox. Some early midwives were: Mrs. Gillis, Mrs. Joseph MacDonald, Mrs. Esther Blanchard, and Mrs. Minnie (William) Keating. When Rev. Thomas Sears arrived in 1868 there were no roads on the west coast, but by the time he died in 1885 there were path roads connecting most parts of the Valley. It was during the time of Andrew Sears that the roads were improved. The roads throughout the Valley were finally paved in 1970. The first vehi cle in the Valley was owned by Tom Blanchard. In Searston the first telephone was owned by Duncan McIsaac. Others were: Tom Blanchard, William MacLean, Monsignor Sears, and Alex O'Quinn. These phones were all of the crank type. They were all party lines.

The early post offices were kept in people's houses. The first man to keep the mail was John Doyle who also ran the telegraph. It was then moved to Tom O'Quinn's store. After the new school was built by Rev. Thomas Sears, a part of the old school was used as a post office. Today the post office is rented in people's houses or delivered to mail boxes. Years ago the mail was run by schooners or steamers in the summer and dog teams in the winter. The mail was collected along the coast about once a month and brought to Port aux Basques for delivery. When the mail was brought to the River it was distributed by a mailman. One of the first mailmen was John Downey. Mr. Downey would only deliver in the summer. During the winter when the mail was hauled on a sled, the team of dogs would follow the telegraph lines for guidance. A team of 8 dogs would make the roun d trip from St. George's and often it was necessary to camp overnight along the trail. When a doctor was needed he would be called from Port aux Basques. One of the first doctors was a Dr. French, but his first name was not known. In later years, Dr. Whalen was stationed in the Valley. Around Christmas of 1962 electricity came to the area of Searston. This was followed by television in the winter of 1964.

There were Poultry clubs organized on the West Coast about 40 years ago. According to newspaper reports, these were set up in the communities of Tompkins, Searston, and Doyles in the Codroy Valley.

"......Under the direction of the poultry expert, S. Earle, a meeting was held at Upper Ferry when arrangements were made for the organizing of a poultry club. Although the club is not absolutely decided on at present, there seems to be good prospect of its birth and hope of having incubation going on here next year on a large scale."
Apparently these plans were realized as only seven months later a newspaper account reads;
"......Messrs. L Earle and William Meadows of St. John's are at present busily engaged setting up the incubators at Tompkins, Searston and Doyles. If their hatches are run off in each place it will require 5,480 hatching eggs. This is the beginning of a new industry and here's wishing the best of luck to the poultry clubs."
Less than one month later the "new industry" was well underway. "......The incubator of 450 egg capacity at Tompkins struck the first notes for the poultry clubs when over 200 chicks piped up for the first time." And only slightly over one month later, the poultry clubs on the West Coast had organized to the following extent: "......The poultry clubs that are now operating on the West Coast will sell their eggs and dressed poultry cooperatively. These products will be sold on a graded basis only and pack ed in attractive packages."

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