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Petty Harbour, Brigus,
  Pool's Island

Newfoundland, Canada

Petty Harbour, Newfoundland
woodbullet.gif (174 bytes)History and Map of Petty Harbour, Brigus and Pool's Island
woodbullet.gif (174 bytes)History of Pool's Island/Badger's Quay
woodbullet.gif (174 bytes)History of Brigus
woodbullet.gif (174 bytes)Maps, Photos and Population Statistics of Brigus, Badger's Quay and Petty Harbour


Thrust out into the waters of the North Atlantic, this irregularly-shaped peninsula once was a part of the European continent that drifted westward 400 million years ago.  It was flooded by oceans, scoured by glaciers, and landscaped into an amazing geographical creation with rocks, cliffs, coves, and bays without number.  This fishing and farming environment was started by colonists from England and Ireland who came here as early as the 1600s.  Because the Avalon was one of the first areas of the province to be settled, it is filled with tales of the early adventurers who laid claim to this New World and the men from many nations who fished here.  

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Situated approximately 15 km by road south from St. John's, the community of Petty Harbour is set deep into the head of Motion Bay.  While the harbour provides good shelter for the small boats, its access is made perilous by submerged rocks; the rocky bottom affords no holding ground and its shape channels heavy swells inward (in a 1966 storm 90% of landing facilities were destroyed). Petty Harbour is 4 miles to the west of Cape Spear - the most easterly point of North America.

Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove is a very proud community; it's beautiful scenery is a must to see by all who visit Newfoundland. Though Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove has suffered from the current Cod Moratorium, Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove was built from and has been sustained mainly by the inshore cod fishery. Fishing activity for over 500 years includes crab, lobster, lumpfish and cod. 

When John Cabot came to Newfoundland in 1497 and claimed the island in the name of England, there were already fishermen here in Petty Harbour and along the Southern Shore. These people were from Portugal, Spain, and France, and were using Petty Harbour as a summer fishing station.  Petty Harbour was originally named by the French, "Petite" meaning "little or small."   

By 1500 "Pettite Harbour" was probably already a regular seasonal base for the Basque fishery, and by the 1600s the English had taken it over. Richard Whitbourne records a decisive "set-to" between English, who were probably royally licensed privateers, and Portuguese at "Petyte Harbour" in 1619. An excellent base for pirates, Petty Harbour afforded a good hiding place for their small ships, intent on attacking vessels approaching St. John's (as late as 1791 two Yankee privateers were captured there). In 1621 control of Petty Harbour was shared by William Vaughan, George Calvert, and the London and Bristol Company, although none of these absentee owners attempted settlement or regulation of the fishery. In 1637 David Kirke's settlement brought by-boat keepers (landowners who hired fishing servants) to Petty Harbour, and this practice continued after the settlement attempt failed. The anglicized spelling of the place name was soon established - in his 1604 Journal, James Yonge records a journey overland from St John's to "Petty Harbour” to “look after our men". From this period until the nineteenth century, the economy of the area was dominated by "Newman and Company”, a West Country firm, which owned and rented out most of the land and controlled trade.  From 1664 to 1850 the Newman and company, and English West Country owns most of the lands and controls the trade in the fishery.

Though the migratory fishing interests discouraged settlement, “Berry’s List" of 1675 records 5 planters 3 wives, 1 child, 39 servants, 10 boats, 4 stages, 3 vats and 6 cattle. Early settlement was, however, subject to difficulty and danger. From 1676 to 1678 migrant fishermen seasonally razed settlers' houses and premises.  The presence of this settled fishery so close to St. John's was a red flag to migratory fishermen anxious to protect their privilege of "freedom of fishing" and in 1676 and 1678 rooms at Petty Harbour were destroyed by crews of fishing ships. 

In 1696 Petty Harbour was attacked and destroyed by the French. Lemoyne D'Iberville met his first resistance from 30 fishermen from Petty Harbour, who retreated behind the Petty Harbour River to a trench they had constructed.  The fishermen were quickly overwhelmed by the soldiers, but managed to inform St. John's of the invasion.  Two days later a force of 80 men sent out from the capital were also handily defeated by the French.  Some 36 fishermen were killed in the battle and others were taken prisoner.  When the French confronted the small winter garrison at St. John's, they scalped one prisoner, William Drew, to strike terror into the hearts of the St. John's men and the capital surrendered. 

Daniel d'Auger de Subercase assembled a group of raiders composed of Mi'Kmaq and Canadians from Québec to help in the campaigns against British settlements. They captured Bay Bulls and Petty Harbour in January 1705 and then marched on St. John's.  In 1789 the brig Duke of Leinster arrived in the night leaving 12 women and 102 boys in Bay Bulls and Petty Harbour.  These were Irish convicts whose original destination was Australia, but with high shipping costs, Newfoundland was deemed a more economical place.  Increases in crime and typhus in St. John's lead to the deportation of the convicts back to Dublin three months later. In August 1796 a French squadron under Admiral de Richery threated St. John's and destroyed the settlement of Petty Harbour and Bay Bulls, seriously disrupting the the bank fishery.

Among the earliest settlers were the Chafe family (who probably settled 10 years after D'Iberville's raid).  The Chafe's relied on St. Thomas's "Old Garrison" Church at St. John's for benefit of clergy until the 1840's - even though a chapel had been built in the community as early as 1800.  In about 1846 St. Andrew's Church of England was built and Petty Harbour has its first resident clergyman.  The current church, St. George's was erected in 1937.  Among the Kielly family, tradition has it that clergy out of St. John's regularly said mass in their home from about 1794.  In about 1835 Bishop Fleming of St. John's, who was a regular guest in the Kielly home, arranged to have lumber from the old Catholic chapel on Henry Street donated to provide a church for Petty Harbour (perhaps to repay the community for having given the Bishop sanctuary during an epidemic in the capital).

St_Georges1.jpg (68991 bytes)Nevertheless settlement gradually increased. As the by-boat keepers who had been forced to occupy the south side were mostly English and Protestant, and the Irish who settled the north side were chiefly Roman Catholic, the community was accidentally segregated on sectarian lines from an early time. The 1794-95 census records a population of 255 in 50 households, with 16 "heads of households" Newfoundland-born. There were 133 Protestants and 122 Catholics. Prominent surnames included Angel, Chafe, French, Kennedy, Matthews and Welsh. Most people were occupied in the fishery, and there were two carpenters, two coopers, two laundresses and a surgeon.  A Church of England church as built about 1800, and a Roman Catholic Church in 1832.  By 1857 Petty Harbour's population had risen to 747 (29 of whom were born in Ireland and 22 in England), nearly twice as many Catholics as Protestants.  There were two churches, over 100 dwellings, two schools with some 105 pupils, premises for salting fish and three cod oil factories.  Education was in the charge of the interdenominational Newfoundland Scholl Society.  In addition to the three R's, sewing and knitting were offered for girls and net-making for boys. 

One of Newfoundland's best known folk songs - the Petty Harbour Bait Skiff was written about Petty Harbour men who drowned in June 1852, while returning from Conception Bay with a load of bait.  It was composed soon after the tragedy by John Grace of St. John's, where there was "crying and lamenting in the streets" on learning of the fate of Skipper John French and his crew "all on the eighth of June".  Only one of the crew, "young Menshon", was saved by "Jacob Chafe that hero brave."

By the 1850's the population (747 inhabitants) had begun to exceed the capacity to support it: shore space and housing sites were taken up, and the wood supply was exhausted. Some residents moved inland to Doyles and the Goulds to supplement their earnings by logging and farming. When it became clear that the growing population could not be sustained even by these measures other people began to move, first to nearby Maddox Cove and then to the arable farmland of the Goulds. While the Goulds formed its own community, Maddox Cove continued its close connection with Petty Harbour. With new room for expansion of the population of Petty Harbour (now usually counted to include Maddox Cove) continued to grow, reaching 1053 in 1891.  At this time 60% of the residents were Roman Catholic, 30% Church of England and 10% Presbyterian; and 250 students attended four schools. 

The turn of the century saw changes in the community's economy and character. In 1898 the "Reid Newfoundland Company" built Newfoundland's first hydro-electric generating station.  It began operation on April 19th 1900, delivering power for St. John's streetcar system and commercial lighting.  A wooden flume 3,300 feet in length, 8 feet wide, square inside, open on top and made from 500,000 feet of timber ran along the side of the steep hill and disappeared into a tunnel which was blasted through solid rock of Gulf Hill fro a distance of 350 feet.  The water carried through the flume then dropped 180 feet through a 6 foot diameter steel pipe to power the generators.  This brought alternative employment to the area, as well as relatively cheap electricity, but controlling the water supply created practical difficulties and health problems.  At this time, with the Goulds woodlands depleted, the sawmills at Petty Harbour closed. The 1909 rail link between St. John's and Trepassey increased contact with St. John's, and the 1932 road made feasible daily commuting to the city for wage work - a practice that has grown in importance to the community.  Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove were incorporated in 1969.  In the late 1970's local improvement programs led to a revitalization of the local community by funding expansion and modernization of the fish plant and the installation of water and sewage facilities.  A 77 lot subdivision was begun in Maddox Cove, most of the residents working in St- John's. Both denominational schools in Petty Harbour closed in 1987, the students now attending school in the Goulds.

Petty Harbour is perhaps the most photographed and filmed place in Newfoundland.   This is because of the harbour's undeniable scenic charm and proximity to St. John's.  It is recognized across Canada as a postcard scene or a backdrop for many newscasts concerning the fishing industry, such as the opening sequence of a CBC television series Land and Sea. The quite town of Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove has been disrupted a couple of times by major movie projects. Most notable was the Hollywood follow-up to Jaws, a whale movie called Orca (1977).  This big film came into town with a full budget and movie-stars including Bo Derek and Richard Harris. This caused quite an uproar in the life of a small community.  Other movies included Whale for the Killing (1980 starring Peter Strauss) and John and the Missus (1987 starring Gordon Pinsent).

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Settlement in Badger's Quay-Valleyfield-Pool's Island began on Pool's Island, called Fool's Island until the 1850's.  The island, like Greenspond, the Gooseberry Islands, the fair Islands, the Flat Islands and the islands about Cape Freels, was visited in the late 1700's and settled about 1800 by land based seal fishermen and inshore cod fishermen.  According to Charles W. Sanger (1977) these headlands and island locations in northern Bonavista Bay were situated along the principal migration route of the harp seal and emerged as the focus of the land based seal hunt in the early 1800's.  Pool's Island was first settled by English fishermen and their families who came to the island via Bonavista, Borrow Harbour and the flat Islands in the early 1800's.  Anne Jeans was a resident in 1815.  By 1821 William Knee (later a sealing captain out of Greenspond) was listed as a resident and by 1823 Jacob Preston had come to Fool's Island.  In 1830 infants named Jane Barfet and Sarah Feltham were baptized on Fools', as were James Gillingham (aged 35), Nathaniel King (age 23) and Thomas Brown (aged 18).  John Sheppard was baptized (aged 43) in 1843 and John James (Jeans) is listed as a resident in 1846.  In the 1850's and 1860's other families - named Kean, Ayles, Pope, Dalton and Davis - came to Pool's Island, many of them from Flower's Island .  Lovell's Newfoundland Directory (1871) lists a number of new family names - Hallett, Hoskins, Holloway, House, Howell, Dick, Kent, Stoke and Rogers - who came to Pool's Island via the Roman Catholic communities on the west side of the Bonavista peninsula, although there were a small number of Roman Catholics (9 of 112) recorded in the first census of the settlement in 1836.  

The first church was built on Brown's Island in 1840. A new church was started in 1862 on inner Pool's Island, was consecrated in 1865, and named St. James Church. This church, which is still in good condition, saw many sealing services because it was the church in which the sealers and ships of the Bonavista Bay area were blessed before they left for the hunt each spring. The first service for sealers was held on March 7, 1887 by Rev. Weary, with the text: "There Go The Ships." Other important services include: a memorial for Queen Victoria on January 22, 1901 by Rev. T. W. Upward; the marriage of Caroline House to Rev. C. Clench on August 18, 1907 by the bishop; the unveiling of a monument in the church for Private Obediah Hoyles who lost his life in the Great War, by Rev. Upward; the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the church on November 26, 1965; the largest funeral of the history of the church - the double funeral of Walter and Hilda Sheppard on November 7, 1969. The first marriage of the church took place between Thomas Wicks and Mary Spurrell in December 1895. At one service, directed by Rev. Howe, the minister saw smoke coming out of one of the pews, and shouted, "George White, believe you are on fire."'  Mr. White shouted back, "Damned if I didn't think so parson." He had been smoking his pipe before he entered the church, and had put his pipe in his pocket.

According to the census in 1845, there was a church and school operating on Pool's Island and by 1857 the Church as Roman Catholic.  Between 1845 and 1869 the population of Pool's Island rose dramatically, from 177 to 524.  This tremendous rise can be accounted for by the growth of the Labrador seal hunt.  According to Sanger (1977) there was a preference by the late 1800's, on the part of steam vessels owners, to hire experienced sealing captains from the most northerly communities.  This meant that the Labrador sealing captains spread from St. John's and Conception Bay north to Pool's Island, Badger's Quay and the Cape Settlements of Brookfield and Wesleyville.

Henry George Chafe at Pools IslandThere have been three St. James' schools on Pool's Island. The first school known as the "Cottage Roof" school, was built before 1862 on Brown's Island. Another school, known as "thee old school" was built on Pool's Island, and was dedicated on January 2, 1883. In 1958 the "New School" was opened, and a piece was built on in November, 1963.

The first teacher on Pool's Island was William Murch from England. Captain William Kean of Pools Island was selling seals in St. John's when he met Mr. Murch who was a tallyman, He saw that the young Englishman was well educated, so he hired Mr. Murch as a "winter man" or servant to teach school on Pool's Island. Mr. Murch taught from 1858 to 1873, when he died on November 20. The schools on Pool's Island have had 14 male teachers in the 100 years they were in operation. The school on Pool's Island was closed in 1972. 

Poll's Island became the point of congregation for schooners bound for Labrador from the 1870's to the early 1900's and these ships, moored on the north side of the tickly "three abreast" were then sent off with a special Sealing Service held in St. James Church  (consecrated in 1865), a custom which ended in 1918 (Abner Kean quote 1976).  However, the growth of Pool's Island led consequently to the settlement of the adjacent mainland as the small island could no longer accommodate its growing population.  Badger's Quay was first recorded in the Census in 1891 as Badger's Key and with a population of  87.  Valleyfield was listed in the same census as the Northwest Arm and has approximately 11 families living there.  According to Marlene and Otis Burton (1971) the Valleyfield area was settled on the north and south sides of the inlet by families from Greenspond and Pool's Island.  According to oral tradition the first settlers were Ricketts, Welcher, Stratton, Burry and in the 1890's, Stratton.  Later in the 1900's other families - Winter, Starks, Sturge, Kean, Blackmore, Hunt and Roberts - came from Pool's Island, Flower's Island, Capes Island and Wesleyville. 

In 1898, the schooner Walrus was jammed in the ice in the Pool's Island  tickle. The practice at that time was to blast or saw the ice to clear the ship for movement. The gunpowder was cold and damp so they put it in the galley stove to dry, but it overheated and exploded. Two men were killed, involving John Tomms who was passing the galley door at the time. 

In 1901 there was a church of England school in Badger's Quay (called Badger's Bay in the census).  In the 1950 there was a small Pentecostal congregation.  In 1961 the Badger's Quay Anglican and Valleyfield United Church School integrated with Kindergarten to grade three attending the school in Valleyfield, and grades three to seven attending the newly built school in Badger's Quay.  The Methodist church was built in Valleyfield in 1903 and there was also a Methodist chapel on Pool's Island.  In 1933 a new United Church was built in Valleyfield and in 1951 a Pentecostal Church was built in North West Arm.  This church was floated to Valleyfield in 1956 when Northwest Arm was abandoned, a new church was built in 1957.  

A chapter of the Orangeman's society was started on Pool's Island on January 16, 1905, and a lodge was built in 1907.  This lodge served the entire area, from Safe Harbour to Wesleyville. There was a peak membership of 90, but interest has since declined and only about 40 members now survive.

In July, 1936, Stephen Noble of Pool's Island was "beating" around Shoe Cove Point after coming out of the his two sailed punt when suddenly the punt capsized. Mr. Noble drowned and was lost. On the 9th of August of the same year, his body was found in a cove in Greenspond by a group of children picking blackberries. They ran to the nearest house, and someone came to pick up the decaying body. 

Although the land based seal hunt and later the Labrador seal hunt were the main reasons for the settlement of the communities, it did not sustain them after 1920.  After the decline in the Labrador fishery, families turned to the inshore fishery (cod, capelin, squid, herring and some lobster) or logging.  In 1930 a salt-fish plant was built on South West Island, which was later taken over by Fishery Products' Ltd.  Fish has also been sold to local merchants or a Wesleyville and Greenspond.  Saw-milling, mainly pit-props and pulpwood cutting for large firms in Central Newfoundland and for the Bowater operation at Indian Bay became important sources on income.  At this time the North West Arm families were resettled in Valleyfield, and South West Island and Tinkers Island were connected to Badger's Quay by bridges.  In the 1950's Badger's quay itself became the community through which the Straight Shore highroad passed, resulting in a centralization of community services, which were then linked to communities as far north as Deadman's Bay.  Between 1954 and 1955 the remaining 19 families of Safe Harbour resettled in Badger's Quay under the Centralization Program. 

After the early 1960's the fishing, fish-plant work and service industry jobs were the main sources of employment in Badger's Quay-Valleyfield-Pool's Island; as a devastating forest fire all but wiped out the forest industry.  

On January 1, 1954, the bridge to Pool's Island was completed, and was called the J. R. Smallwood Bridge. The Federal Government funded the construction which started early in the summer of 1953. The centre and end blocks were completed, then the bridge span was constructed on the Pool' Island side and pulled across the blocks. Construction was completed early December, 1953.

The road on Pool's Island was widened by the town council in 1946, and on June 27, 1979 the first load of asphalt for paving was dumped on Abbott's Hill. All roads were paved by the 29th of June.  Electricity arrived on the island on August 17, 1962. Telephone service followed soon afterward. Water service was provided in 1972.

The first post Office on Pool's Island was opened in 1868 by Peter House, who ran the office in his retail store up until his depth in March, 1920. Mr.  House was also a lumber inspector, lobster inspector, and tallyman for the seal fishery. He was a well educated and much respected man in the community. In 1920 the post office was taken over by Annie Kean until 1959, then it was run by Minnie Barefoot until 1971, and then by Margaret Kean. A teacher's resident was built in 1882, and was first occupied by Thomas Connors. A new residence was built in 1961, and was first occupied by Michael Moss. The last teacher to live in the residence, and the last teacher to teach on Pool's Island was Gerald Batstone. In 1972, the school on Pool's Island closed for good, and all students were bussed Badger's Quay or Wesleyville.

In 1957 an experimental fish plant had opened which operated until 1966 and employed from 30 to 40 people.  In 1967 this plant was leased as a commercial operation and became the economic mainstay in the town.  In 1981 the plant, which first processed mostly salt-fish, as a fresh-frozen operation which employed about 200 people a peak season.  All fish was bought from local inshore fishermen and the plant's main products were ground fish (frozen and shipped to the US), some salt fish (sold to the Canadian Salt Fish Corporation), herring, lumproe, crab and meal.  In 1981 Badger's Quay was the site of a branch of the Protection Division of fisheries and Marine Services for the Department of Fisheries.  All the grassy, rock strewn islands of Badger's Quay-Valleyfield-Pool's Island were connected by bridges, and most roads were paved.  The town was governed by a town council.


Just when Brigus was settled is uncertain. That there were plantations there soon after John Guy settled in Cupids, there can be little doubt.  In any event Brigus is a very old settlement. It has had a number of spellings such as, Brigue, Breckhouse, Brighouse and Brigus.

Settlers1.jpg (21216 bytes)Long standing tradition in the Spracklin family has it that their ancestors purchased "half the harbour of Brigus" in 1612 from John Guy, governor of the Cupids colony, extending from Battery Brook to the drawbridge.  In 1675 the Berry Manuscript recorded that 34 people lived at Brigus harbour, where they had erected three fishing rooms.  By 1677 the Poole Manuscript reported three families had established a total of five fishing rooms there and had begun to keep sheep and some pigs.  In that season the community produced 580 quintals of fish.  When William III was on the Throne in 1695 a party under Boisbriand, one of D'lberville's Lieutenants, was sent to burn Brigus (repeated again in 1705).  This would indicate that Brigus was a growing settlement at that time.  The Brigus planters (fishermen) were very shrewd and built their houses among the woods, but it is given as tradition, that when the enemy on this occasion, were leaving the village of Brigus, the barking of a dog brought them back to finish their work of burning seven houses erected at Frog Marsh, the south side of Brigus.

Stephen Percy was the first notable merchant of Brigus.  He was established there by the 1720's.  In 1760 Azariah Munden arrived at the community, already a bustling centre of fishing and trade, as an agent for a Dorset firm.  Marrying into the Percy family, he eventually took over the business and became the town's chief resident merchant.  In 1819 his son William Munden has a brig Four Brothers built for the 104 ton seal hunt - the largest vessel built for sealing for that time.  From 1768 Brigus ships were taking part in the increasingly profitable seal hunt and the town soon developed a reputation for producing master mariners - perhaps most notably member of the Bartlett family.  Bartlett noted that Munden's crew took 10,000 seals at a hunt in 1798.

By 1775 the population by an in flux, particularly from England, Ireland and Wales progressed considerably.  Brigus became the most progressive and prosperous settlement in Conception Bay.

Brigus pioneered the Labrador fishery (using the same vessels developed for the seal hunt) and became one of the chief ports for this business.  In 1825 Charles Cozens of Brigus established what was then the most northerly fishing station on the Labrador coast, at Indian Harbour.  When the first House of Assembly was elected in 1832, Cozens was returned as one of the members for Conception Bay.  John Leamon (1804-1866) came to Brigus as a agent of Cozens and eventually took over much of the business.  He originally built his home, Hawthorn Cottage, near Makinsons, but in about 1834 moved the cottage overland to Brigus. 

Brigus was all alive in the early decades of the 19th Century, and her property was the envy of Conception Bay.  But the introduction of steam gave Brigus a staggering blow, as it did to many fishing villages along the coast.  But by 1845 the population of Brigus and nearby Frogmarsh had grown to 1,582 residents from 1,218 in 1836.  Of the 140 boats at Brigus 39 were sealing vessels. In 1847, 66 sailing vessels left Brigus for the seal fishery, and 33 of them were under the command of Brigus Masters.

In political life Brigus played an important role.  Her local men represented the people for quite some time.  Men like Charles Cozens, Robert Brown, John Leamon, John Bartlett. Capt. Nathan Rabbits won the District in 1874. He was followed by Capt. Nathan Norman. The men of Brigus could manage a ship in the angry sea, and keep the House of Assembly from running on the rock of political misadventure.

There were many Arctic Heroes that came from Brigus.  Capt. John Bartlett was an Arctic Hero with the American Explorer Hayes, and also with Admiral Peary. Capt. Sam Bartlett (younger brother of John) also took his place with Peary.  Capt. Robert Bartlett was in charge of the S.S. Roosevelt on the great occasion when Peary claimed the North Pole.  There were other Arctic Heroes that left their mark upon the town, Capt. Arthur Bartlett, Capt. William Norman (of the Battery) Brigus, who rescued Admiral Greely when they were at death' s door from starvation.  Capt. Isaac Bartlett another relative of the famous Bartlett family rescued Capt. Tyson and crew after drifting on an iceberg for 1500 miles.

By 1803 a resident of Brigus, John Percy, was ordained as the first native born Methodist minister in Newfoundland.  By 1845 Brigus has three schools with an enrolment of 226 students.  The first school was started by clergyman and schoolmaster Percy.  The Roman Catholic church also operated a school, erecting a church in 1832 and 1861and the first Mercy Sisters arrived in Brigus, from Ireland, in 1861. In 1870 St. Georges Church of England opened.  The Brigus United Church was dedicated in 1875.  St. George's Anglican Church was built in 1876, replacing a chapel built in 1851. The cornerstone of this chapel can be found near the basement door of the present building. The first service was held in December, 1877. The building is of Gothic design and was constructed under the supervision of George C. Jerrett of England. 

Perhaps her most prosperous period was from 1830-1880.  During those days Brigus was regarded as one of the money centres of the island.  Rev. Philip Tocque wrote of things as they were then, "the Mundens, Normans, Perceys, Whelans, Bartletts, Roberts and Wilcoxs reside here, who are some of the richest planters in Newfoundland.  Brigus is well cultivated and for the extent of population has a large number of good residences."

Census returns for 1857 show Brigus retained its prominence in sealing and the fishery, in that year operating 167 boats and 38 sealing vessels.  The population of the town as 1,975 by 1874 and in that year the total of 1,179 men took some 22,140 seals.  In that year Brigus fishermen caught 1,443,776 kg of cod.  The seal hunt declined in 1868 to 1884 and this decline had a great effect on the community.  In 1868 the Brigus fleet consisted of 27 ships and 1,751 men.  In 1872 only 15 ships hunted seals for Brigus.  The decline was due to the advent of steam vessels and low seal prices.  From the late 1870's to 1884 fewer than 25 vessels voyaged to the hunt from Brigus.

An early engineering feat that took four months was accomplished in the summer of 1860 by the Cornish miner John Hoskins in order to provide easy access to Abram Bartlett's wharf. Holes formed by steel spikes driven into the solid rock and filled with black gun power was the method employed in the blasting process which resulted in a passageway measuring approximately 80 feet long, 8 feet high and 8 feet wide.

Extensive surveys conducted in the 1880's located non-commercial gold finds in quartz veins and slate at Brigus.  By 1901 the population had decreased to 1,162 and many of the other traditional means of livelihood began to decline including the once prosperous Labrador fishery, though many mariners continued to sail from Brigus.  

Brigus was a fishing community, and life was centred around the rocks and coves: large fish stores and businesses were in evidence everywhere and sailing vessels and blacksmith shops were always a bee-hive of activity.  Those who travel in the Town today can still see some of the old homes, rock walls and foundations, marking the place of yesterdays.  Brigus today can still boast of buildings over one hundred years old in use as institutions of learning and for worship.

mercyconvent.jpg (59521 bytes)The convent of Mercy at Brigus was built about 1860 by an Irishman named Roy Lane.  This date is partially confirmed by the date on the bell (made by Murphy's of Dublin, Ireland) which is also 1860.  Until 1976 the Brigus convent was one of the few that survived intact.  However, in that year, the bell cote and two chimneys were taken down which somewhat diminished the effect of the building.  The facade with its interesting window arrangement has not been altered and the whole structure is well set-off by its combination of red, white and green paint.

hawthorne.jpg (42045 bytes)Unquestionably the most important house in Brigus is Hawthorne, the home of Captain Robert A. Bartlett, famous for his work as Peary's navigator in the journeys to the North Pole. Bartlett came from a long line of Brigus sealing captains and was himself a noted sealer. He came to his Arctic work through a relative and accompanied Peary on the Polar treks including the one which saw the discovery of the North Pole. In addition he went with Peary on an unsuccessful expedition to the South Pole. Hawthorne contains, in the Arctic Room (the Drawing Room), numerous mementoes of Bob Bartlett's journeys of exploration and these are kept with the house as a Bartlett memorial.

thompsonhouse.jpg (45898 bytes)Set high on the edge of a rock overlooking the pond, the Thompson House is the most striking house in Brigus.  But for all that it is also a very typical house.  The saltbox shape of the roof, the two-and-a-half stories, and the centre hall plan all make it a fairly standard Nineteenth Century Newfoundland house. The chimneys are unusual in that they are set within the house, behind the roof ridge and have wickets (small, roofed structures designed to prevent leaks).  The rounded roof form found on the front porch was once usual in Newfoundland (it is found on the 1819 Commissariat in St. John's) and is seen on at least one other Brigus house.  It is said that James Whelan built the house for himself about 1872.  After Whelan it was occupied by a Dr. Duncan and acquired by the Thompson family sometime before the turn of the century. The history of the house itself is as interesting as that of its most famous occupant.  Originally constructed in Cochrandale, further inland, it was moved on rollers to its present site in the winter of 1834. While such house-movings are and were not unusual in Newfoundland, this one must have had something extra as it inspired a ballad, "Squire Leamon's House Warming". Originally called "Whitehorn Cottage" the house remained the property of the Leamon's until 1886 when Mary Leamon left it to her daughter, the mother of Bob Bartlett. It was the Bartlett's who changed the name to "Hawthorne".

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In 1921 Brigus' population was 936.  There were seven vessels fishing from Brigus and 17 small boats involved in the inshore fishery.  With the onset of the depression the community suffered much hardship,  The census figures for 1935 and 1945 indicate a stable population of about 885.  During this period the community did basic garden farming and inshore fishing. 

According to L.G. Chafe (1923) Brigus became a principal base because: the situation of the harbour, with a wide mouth, its high lands and deep waters right to the cliff gave ice no chance to hold on when the westerly wind blew and therefore the craft found their way out much more easily than from other harbours in the bay. "

At the outset of WWI an American artist, Rockwell Kent began renting a cottage in Brigus.  The eccentric Kent came under suspicion as a spy (as he spoke German) and he was eventually deported.  In 1968 Premier Joseph Smallwood invited Kent back to Newfoundland to apologize for his deportation. 

In an effort to diversify its industry a knitting mill was established in 1953, however it was closed three years later.  

The Town of Brigus was incorporated in November 1964.  Brigus has a Regional Library, a Fire Hall, a Volunteer Fire Brigade, Knights of Columbus, Royal Canadian Legion, Ambulance & Funeral Services, Post Office, LOL Lodge, and retired Judge Rupert Bartlett, a native son, and a nephew of Capt. Robert Bartlett, whose name rang around the world in connection with his explorations.

The Town also has paved roads, water & sewer system, street lights, etc and each summer many tourists visit the small park at Bishop s Beach, to view the historic tunnel.

The fishery has declined over the years, but still a large number of people, directly or indirectly are connected with the fishery (cod), and find employment at the fish plant operated by J.W. Hiscock sons limited.

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Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove, Newfoundland (1996): 954, dwellings 345
Brigus, Newfoundland: (1996): 902
Badgers Quay-Valleyfield-Pool's Island-Wesleyville-Newton, Newfoundland: (1996): 3,061

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Petty Harbour

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Brigus and harbour area

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Badger's Quay, 1939-1945

Maps of Brigus, Badger's Quay and Petty Harbour

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April 20, 2020