So what happened to the Newfoundland reindeer? The ones Mattie Mitchell helped herd down the Northern Peninsula to Millertown, who Dr. Grenfell took such great pains to bring from Norway? Everything seemed to be going well for them, but then they disappeared. Arthur Johnson tells the rest of the story in the Book of Newfoundland 3:419-422. Below is the conclusion of his article, from when they arrived in Millertown. Hugh Cole, of the title, worked for the AND Company.
Hugh Cole’s 400-mile Trek with Reindeer
Thanks to great devotion the herd was without mortality. One doe had joined the caribou, one had broken her leg at Millertown after arrival, and the stag bitten on March 13 was to recover completely: a remarkable record in reindeer driving and herding.
The aftermaths are also exceptionally interesting. First is that the A.N.D. Company reindeer were never worked but merely kept on exhibition, and they were visited by everyone from miles around, including people from Grand Falls and even St. John’s, including Governor MacGregor and party who made a trip for the sole purpose. The site was three and one-half miles above Millertown. The does had twenty-five fawns in May, which added to the interest. The animals were highly intelligent and very friendly, and in the later months roamed almost at large.
No forage in Millertown
However, there was discovered to be still another blunder: it was found that there was no reindeer-food of any consequence in the whole area. Actually the reindeer were fed on hay and grass during all the time they were at Millertown. No survey for food had been made because of the presumption that, if the herd could find its own food at St. Anthony, it would do so anywhere in Newfoundland. Suitable moss or lichens must really exist in the area, or the local caribou herds could not have lived there. One suspects that there was little support for the idea of reindeer-herding by the woodsmen and that even in the upper echelons of the A.N.D. Company that initial enthusiasm and novelty wore thin. It was another case of a good thing gone wrong for want of a fair trial.
Reindeer re-gifted to Grenfell
Be that as it may, the reindeer were offered back to Grenfell as a gift. Since the fifty animals had now become seventy-three this was an excellent offer which was promptly accepted. So, late in the year, after the breeding season, the herd was put on the move again, this time to South West Brook, Halls Bay, near Springdale. Hugh Cole went in charge again. In addition a number of A.N.D. Company men went along, such as the noted L. R. Cooper. The reindeer and all the equipment belonging to them went at leisurely pace to South Brook, where they were loaded on local schooners for delivery to St. Anthony.
True to their roaming practice and tradition, however, three of the reindeer wandered off from the herd and missed the boat. They were recovered and they finished the journey in state by the next coastal boat out of Springdale, the Clyde. Grenfell remarked that the reindeer were far from being in prime condition after having been fed mostly on hay all summer.
The Lap herder family, the Sombies, may have gone briefly to Lewisporte (definitely not to St. Anthony). The next record we have of them is their creating quite a sensation in St. John’s for a week as they arrived by the train to catch the R.M.S. Siberian December 18, 1908, en route to Liverpool and Lapland. As we can imagine: “They attracted much attention from the small boys and girls owing to their peculiar dress and high peaked caps. A large crowd assembled and followed them from the station.
Newfoundland Reindeer rise and demise
What happened to Grenfell’s herd? Briefly, the 300 became 481 that same year. They rose to 1,000 in 1911; 1,200 in 1912; 1,500 in 1913. Then came the War. The Laps went home, Grenfell went to France with the Harvard Surgical Unit. Then the widespread poaching of the reindeer stepped up and was engaged in, not only by the people of St. Anthony, but by most of the settlements in the north of the Northern Peninsula, and including fishermen going and coming from the Labrador fishery. These were rough and ready times fifty years ago, and the breed of empire frontiersmen traditionally lived by killing everything that moved in the water, on the land, and in the air. To them, reindeer fell into that category.
When Grenfell got back there were only 230 reindeer left. The dogs got some, and the fishermen the rest.
In disgust Grenfell packed the remainder off to the Canadian Government, who put the 125 survivors on Anticosti Island where they gradually died out. And so ended a noble experiment.
But the Newfoundland reindeer didn’t go directly to Anticosti Island. The government first sent them to the Innu of Quebec’s North Shore. When that didn’t work out, they were sent to Anticosti Island and left to fend for themselves.
The Reindeer Years
From The Reindeer Years: Contribution of A. Erling Posild to the Continental Northwest 1926-1935 (pdf), Patricia Wendy Dathan 1988 MA Thesis, Geography, McGill University, pp ix-x:
In 1917, the International Grenfell Association, short of funds and lacking encouragement from the Newfoundland Government to continue the operation, requested help from the Department of Indian Affairs. The surviving 126 deer were transferred to the north shore of the St. Lawrence near St. Augustin. The Indians who tended them had had no experience with herding and allowed a great deal of interference by people and dogs. In 1923, when wolves menaced the deer seriously and the problems of protecting and handling the animals mounted, the herd was moved to Anticosti Island and allowed to run wild. Although protected from further interference, they did not succeed, possibly due to lack of suitable forage, and by 1939, only 7 reindeer could be counted and were soon believed to be extinct.
Marie Rundquist writes about her journey into her family history. Not the history she heard from her mother and grandmother, although it’s part of the story. The story Ms. Rundquist tells starts with a DNA test she took.
The test didn’t lead to what, and where, she expected. Instead, it took her on a long journey through US archival history and then to Nova Scotia.
Marie Rundquist lives in Maryland and was born there. She decided to do a DNA test to learn more about herself, and the results surprised her. Some genetic markers didn’t add up with what she’d been told. So she started looking for the pieces missing in the family stories but present in her genes. Her tale is fascinating. I read part of it on the Cape Breton University website.
I am bemused by the popularity of DNA testing. It’s interesting, sure. Useful for medical information, of course. But its value for identity, for who you are? As the memes say, if you need a test to tell you that you are X or Y, you’re not.
So I surprised myself when I became engrossed in Ms. Rundquist’s story. Even the scientific bits. She explains DNA testing so that even I can understand it.
The journey starts
Then she starts the story, or stories. One her mother and grandmother told her. The second begins with the mtDNA test. It shows genetics through the maternal line. For Ms. Rundquist, the two didn’t match. Some genetic markers showing place didn’t make sense with the geographic history she had been told.
Like a forensic sculptor, she fleshed out the genetic skeleton. Her clay was archival materials and a community of relatives. The relatives weren’t those she knew. They were the list of genetic matches provided by the DNA testing company.
With their help, archives and her mother’s stories, she traced a journey back in time. She found a new history. Some parts intersected, others were way off. But put together, it’s a fuller story. Still not complete, but with new layers that mesh even if gaps remain.
The gaps are as interesting as the filled spaces in the way Ms. Rundquist writes about what this means for her self-identity. If you’ve ever said “I know I’m X but I don’t know how,” or “I thought I was X but found out I’m Y,” read this.
It shows the beauty of a journey. There are some answers, but best are the loose ends. They invite pondering, by readers as well as the writer, about lost history and the nature of identity.
You can get Marie Rundquist’s books, Revisiting Anne Marie and Cajun By Any Other Name at DNA-Genealogy-History. You can read my DNA Tests for a far less inquisitive look at family origins. Gallery Gevik has more of Sylvia Lefkovitz’s incredible art.
Vignettes of the West, by Don Morris (Apr. 11, 1992)
I was pleasantly surprised by the response to the two-part series on the story of the career, achievements and brief life history of Mattie Mitchell, the Micmac Indian, which appeared in The Western Star March 7 and 14. I got two phone calls from Corner Brook on the day the first column appeared; one from my good friend, Dr. Noel Murphy, who kindly gave me what information he had on Mr. Mitchell and family; the other from a granddaughter of the famed guide and prospector who expanded on Dr. Murphy’s data.
This particular caller said her grandfather had lots of descendants all over Newfoundland and elsewhere and on the very day the first column appeared many of them in the Corner Brook area, the caller informed me, were telephoning each other reporting that the Star “had an article on Mattie.”
Two other phone calls came during the days that followed, including one from John Mitchell who is a grandson of Mattie and whose father, also named John, was the person who travelled from Corner Brook to Curling to fetch a Roman Catholic priest to be at Mattie’s side at the time of death. This was one of Mattie’s last requests.
And letters came in also, including one from the United States. But probably the most informative of the phone calls and letters was a written communique from Ms. Irene Doucette… However, before dealing with Ms. Doucette’s letter, it is appropriate to state briefly here something about the man of whom I wrote.
Noted prospector and guide
Matthew Mitchell was undoubtedly the most noted of Newfoundland’s Micmac people. He was born either at Hall’s Bay or Norris Point about 1851. He was the son of a Micmac Chief whose ancestors came to Newfoundland in the mid-1700s from Cape Breton. He became widely known in the early part of this century as the prospector who, in 1905, discovered the rich ore bodies at Buchans River in the interior which was the beginning of the thriving town of Buchans.
While that made Mattie famous, (although not rich), his celebrity grew in 1908 when he was chosen by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company to act as guide in the most unusual wildlife venture in the island’s history. The company, builders of the Grand Falls pulp and paper mill, had ordered from the Grenfell Mission at St. Anthony 50 of the 300-reindeer herd which the mission had purchased in Scandinavia as a supplement to caribou as a big-game animal for the northern population.
Men from the AND Company went to St. Anthony, accompanied by Mattie, to escort the animals 400 miles southward to Millertown. It was intended to make this unique “reindeer drive” over the sea ice. However, vicious winds and heavy seas made this impossible and the only alternative was to herd the reindeer down The Great Northern Peninsula. This was accomplished in the very difficult month of March when the land was constantly swept by blizzards and the weather was most times below zero. However, the trek was completed without the loss of a single animal. Mitchell then went on about his usual business as a popular, eagerly-sought guide and prospector whose clients included some wealthy and influential American, Englishmen and Canadians.
Irene Doucette’s letter
Now to Ms. Doucette’s letter which, because of the apparent popularity of the Mitchell articles, I shall quote in full:
“Dear Mr. Morris: I just had to write to you and let you know how surprised I was when I read The Western Star today (March 7) about the amazing career of Mattie Mitchell. The reason for my surprise was that Mattie Mitchell was my grandfather and to me he was a Newfoundland legend and more should have been written about him. But thanks to you it is now coming to light.
“I didn’t know my grandfather. He died in 1922 before I was born. He was 72. But I have heard so many wonderful stories from my father, John Mitchell (evidently Ms. Doucette is the sister of the John Mitchell who telephoned me) and my mother, Agnes Mitchell, with whom he resided, that I just had to write and give you the additional information you requested.
Mattie Mitchell and Mary Ann Webb
“Mattie was married to a woman named Mary Webb. She was from Flat Bay, St. George’s Bay. She died when she was about 60. It was then that my grandfather went to live with my mother and father here in Corner Brook. My father told me that Mattie was a great fur trapper. He would cure all his own fur skins. He was a very big man, six foot four and he wore size 14 shoes. I guess back then they were called moccasins. I have in my possession a walking cane that he made and to me that is a priceless object. I also have a picture of Mattie, also priceless.
“My mother told me that Mattie was a very gentle man. She told me she never heard the man say a bad word; he was a very religious man and had a Micmac Bible which he carried with him at all times.
“My grandfather had six children: three boys and three girls. My father, John, was the youngest. The other boys were Matthew and Laurence. The girls were Margaret Rumbolt, Bridget Sheppard and Lucy Duhart, and, of course, there are numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. My mother and father raised eleven of us. My father worked at the paper mill in Corner Brook for 40 years and he was very proud of his father. When my grandfather discovered Buchans’ mine he worked for the AND Co. and from what I understand he was given $2.50 (for the find). I also read somewhere that he was given a sack of flour for the discovery. I hope that the story about Mattie Mitchell hits the St. John’s papers as I have two sons and a daughter living out there. Thanks again for that long overdue story about my grandfather.”
More letters and calls
The other letters I received are similar to the one from Ms. Doucette, and all the writers are descendants of Mattie Mitchell. The one from the States came from John Alexander Atkins, a great grandson of Mattie. Apparently, the MItchell columns were sent to him by his mother, Helena Atkins of 29 Crescent Way, Corner Brook… This young correspondent said he worked as a logger and during his life had travelled to many places. He said he always wondered why he was so adventurous. May I suggest, John Alexander, the trait runs in the family…
Included in the phone calls I received was one from the west coast from a man who said he was a grandson of Mattie Mitchell. Although he gave me his name I shall not use it because he had some rather curious things to say which were not in keeping with all the other information I received on Mattie Mitchell. This particular caller said that Mattie Mitchell was of Beothuk extraction; was not at all friendly with the Micmac Indians; in fact detested them; and that he was not of the Catholic faith. I repeat, what this reader had to say goes against everything all other calls and letter writers have to say.
In any event, I wish to thank most sincerely all those who contacted me about the celebrated Mattie Mitchell. I agree with one writer who said that a monument should be erected to him and a definitive book written about his amazing career.
Newfoundland’s most noted Micmac Indian, Mattie Mitchell, passed away at Corner Brook in the autumn of 1921 at about the age of 71. He became locally renowned during his lifetime as the prospector who, in 1905, discovered the rich ore bodies at Buchans River in the interior which was the beginning of the thriving mining town of Buchans.
That was Mattie’s greatest claim to fame. But three years later, in March of 1908, he was chosen by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company to act as guide in probably the most singular wildlife venture in local history. The AND Company, builders of the Grand Falls pulp and paper mill, had ordered from Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, founder of the Grenfell Mission, head-quartered at St. Anthony, 50 of the 300-reindeer herd which the medical missionary had purchased in Scandinavia. The animals were intended as a supplement to caribou as a food source for the northern population.
Reindeer in harness
However, the AND Company wanted 50 of them for an experiment; to see if reindeer could be used in harness for hauling logs in the lumber woods. These were originally intended to be landed at the convenient harbor of Lewisporte. However, when the overseas steamer arrived with the animals and their Lapland herders, it was found that Lewisporte was ice-choked and the deer were then landed at Cremaillere Bay near St. Anthony.
The mill builders sent a team of men north, under supervision of a key employee, Hugh Cole, to escort the reindeer south to Millertown. Mattie Mitchell was contracted to act as the guide for the company men and the reindeer. Because the sea ice was unsuitable, it was decided that the “reindeer drive” would be down The Great Northern Peninsula. The project was a first (and only) of its kind in our annals.
Reindeer drive route
It had been a long and severe winter. From the outset the drive showed promise of being an arduous undertaking. On March 22, the unusual caravan, which included four Lap herdsmen and their trained dogs, had reached the headwaters of Cat Arm River inside White Bay, after 20 days of torturous travel. Because of storms and sub-zero weather which had slowed both men and deer, provisions were now practically gone.
Forced to turn eastward in an effort to survive, the hikers and their charges reached an empty logging camp at Sop’s Arm River March 28.
20 miles in 52 hours
At Cole’s direction, Mitchell and another man headed by dog-team to the village to find food. When the pair reached the settlement, they found it deserted. The inhabitants had moved across the bay to their more sheltered winter quarters. The men pushed ahead, reached the people, obtained some supplies and returned to Cole’s camp. It took them 52 hours to make the round trip of about 20 miles. The party and the deer then continued towards Deer Lake.
At the foothills of the Long Range Mountains caribou were encountered and the trekkers dined on welcomed venison. Thirty days after leaving St. Anthony, the Cole party and deer had reached the summit of the great peninsula’s mountain range. But sub-zero temperatures and storms made travel appalling. When they eventually descended and again reached foothills on the other side of the range, the most difficult part of their journey was over. The intense cold and severe gales persisted, but there was more shelter and now the waterways were opened, permitting the herd to swim across St. Paul’s Inlet.
Reindeer on railway cars
Bonne Bay was reached April 23, after 53 days on the trail. Cole left his party and made a sled trip to the railway depot at Deer Lake where he took a train for Millertown to arrange building of corrals for the reindeer. Mattie Mitchell stayed with the party in his capacity as guide. Cole returned to meet his crew and the reindeer at a point halfway between Bonne Bay and Deer Lake. Then the animals were loaded into railway boxcars and eventually reached Millertown. The long, unusual journey was completed by April 30. They had been on the trail 58 days and covered 400 miles of the most grueling nature.
After a while the AND Company lost interest in the experiment of using reindeer as beasts of burden. But the animals, together with the Laplanders clad in their attractive native garb, proved to be a showpiece at Millertown and attracted visitors from as far away as St. John’s. Even the colony’s governor was curious enough to organize a party to go and view the novelty. Eventually, the reindeer were donated to the Grenfell Mission and shipped back to St. Anthony. The Laplanders returned home and Mattie Mitchell went about his business as a fishing and hunting guide and prospector. It is said he did not lack for clients.
Mattie married to Mary Ann Webb
Mattie Mitchell was married to a lady named Mary Ann Webb. They had a large family. One of their sons, also named Matthew, became a well-known guide and prospector in his own right.
Mattie, Sr. was a local celebrity when he died at Corner Brook. One of his last requests was that a priest be at his side in his final moments. This was fulfilled when one of his sons, John, travelled to nearby Curling and returned with a clergyman.
A Roman Catholic priest was at the veteran woodsman’s side when he breathed his last.
As disclosed in last week’s column on Mattie Mitchell, he was born either at Hall’s Bay or Norris Point about 1851 and was the son of a Micmac Indian Chief whose ancestors came to Newfoundland in the mid-1700s from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Information on Mattie’s parents or on his early years and on his own wife and family are indeed scanty.
I would be keenly interested in hearing from any reader who can shed more light on the family and career of this remarkable man. Are any of his descendants still residing in Newfoundland? If so, a letter from them would be greatly appreciated.
A highly interesting footnote to this two-column series on Mattie is that, according to several reference sources, family tradition has it that this particular Mitchell Clan had a presence in Bay St. George during the early days of the French migratory fishery and that Mattie’s great grandfather was given a vessel by the king of France in order… “to facilitate the movements of the Micmac on the water in the interests of France.”
In Mr. Morris’ next column, a Mitchell family member responds. I will post it next week. (Last week I posted Part 1 – Buchans.) The reference to Mattie’s great grandfather is from Frank Speck’s Beothuk and Micmac 1922 (Internet archive). For more on the Mitchell forebearers, see ‘father,’ ‘grandfather,’ ‘Captain Jock’ in sidebar of The Mattie Mitchell Webpage. Reindeer in Newfoundland as well as the 1966 Newfoundland Quarterly article is in a pdf newsletter 2010 from the Dept. of Environment and Conservation.
With the Lapps… 1907-1908
Interestingly, while looking through Amazon books, I found With the Lapps… A woman among the Sami, 1907-1908 by Emilie Demant Hatt (tap image to see more).
So, at the same time as Mattie Mitchell was herding reindeer with Saami herders in Newfoundland, a Danish woman was with the Saami in Northern Sweden and Norway herding reindeer.
Mattie Mitchell was a Micmac Indian with strong western Newfoundland connections. It was he who, in 1905, discovered the valuable ore lodes which gave rise to the mining town of Buchans. And it was Mattie who, three years later, acted as guide for an unprecedented “reindeer drive” down the Great Northern Peninsula from St. Anthony to Millertown, a distance of 400 miles. The man became a legend in his own lifetime.
Yet, frustrating, little is known about the early years of Mitchell. The Dictionary of Newfoundland Biography states he was born about 1851 at Hall’s Bay. The Smallwood Encyclopedia gives two possible birth places – Hall’s Bay or Norris Point. I was surprised to learn during research that Mattie (his given name was Matthew) was of Indian aristocracy. He was the son of a Micmac Chief whose ancestors came to Newfoundland in the mid-1700s from Cape Breton. It is obvious that Mattie gained an intimate knowledge of the local interior in his youth. It was this cognition of the Newfoundland wilderness and its resources which brought him fame in later life.
Before his discovery of the Buchans River mineral deposits and his subsequent guiding a group of white men and their herd of reindeer down the Great Northern Peninsula, Mattie was already renowned as a superb woodsman, fishing and hunting guide and his clients included many wealthy and influential American, Canadian and English sportsmen.
In the early 1900s Mattie was commissioned by the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company, builders of the impressive Grand Falls pulp and paper mill enterprise, to prospect for mineral deposits on their land grants which the English concern had obtained from the Newfoundland government. The company had sulphur particularly in mind; it being an essential ingredient in the pulp-making process.
Accompanying the Indian on a January, 1905, prospecting trip to the Buchans River area was William F. Canning, an English assayer who had studied mining engineering at McGill University. With some prior knowledge of the mineral characteristics of the region, Mitchell succeeded in locating the ore deposits which would one day give rise to the thriving mining town of Buchans.
The company was very interested in the rich ore bodies and claimed right over them. They held the ore bodies under concession for over a decade.
Then, in 1915, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) learned about the Buchans River mineral deposits of copper, lead and zinc and began experiments for the separation of sulphides. In 1925 ASARCO was successful in concentrating the minerals and smelting them. The following year the American company made an agreement with Grand Falls mill builders by which ASARCO would manage and process the property. Two years later, in 1928, the mine milling operations began and the first shipment of lead and zinc was sent to Botwood. A 22-mile rail line was built to carry the concentrates to Millertown where the main railway took the ore to the Botwood seaport for overseas markets.
The town of Buchans had been born. The early employees lived in bunk houses and log cabins but by the end of 1928 the fledgling town had 60 houses, a post office, a hospital and churches. Schools and other facilities were to soon follow. By this time, Mattie Mitchell had been deceased for about seven years.
After the discovery of the Buchans River valuable mineral lodes, the enterprising Mitchell became involved in another historic adventure and this was also associated with the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company. But more directly concerned was the Grenfell Mission at St. Anthony established in 1892 by the famous medical missionary, Dr. Wilfred Grenfell.
Grenfell had bought in Scandinavia a herd of 300 reindeer to augment the food supply of the northern Newfoundland people. Fifty of the animals were earmarked for the AND Company which wished to try an experiment – the use of reindeer in harness for hauling logs in the interior. It was intended that the company’s portion of the herd be landed at the convenient harbour at Lewisporte. However, when the steamer arrived that port was ice-blockaded and the reindeer, accompanied by their colorfully-dressed Lapland herders, were landed at Cremaillere Bay, near St. Anthony.
A party of men from the company, under the direction of Hugh Henry Cole, a prominent employee with the mill builders, left for St. Anthony for the unique “reindeer drive” southward. And it was only natural for the company to choose Mattie Mitchell to guide the men and animals down the Great Northern Peninsula to Millertown.
At the Grenfell Mission Mattie and the AND Company men were joined by four Laplanders for the southward drive. This event, unmatched in the colourful, long history of Newfoundland, began on March 8 (1908).
Overland on Northern Peninsula
It was originally intended to drive the herd over the sea ice, but this surface was broken by violent storms. The alternative was the high, windswept plateau of the Great Northern Peninsula, a formidable route in summer weather, let alone in a harsh, punishing winter. But that was the only route if the company’s goal was to be achieved.
The men, particularly Mattie, were aware that it had been a late, lingering winter with the land being constantly swept by blinding blizzards. The herd consisted of 40 female reindeer all heavy with fawn, and 10 male deer. The Laplanders had four trained reindeer herd dogs which they had brought over with them, as well as six local huskie sled dogs.
It was, indeed, a very strange caravan which headed down the long peninsula towards the destination of Millertown, 400 miles distant.
NEXT WEEK: Conclusion: the arduous trek, final success and the passing of Mattie Mitchell at Corner Brook.
Published in the March 7, 1992 Western Star, Corner Brook. This column is the first of three that Don Morris wrote about Mattie Mitchell. I will post the others over the next two weeks. For more on the Buchans mine, see Buchans Miners Museum. To read more about the ore deposit and mining operations, see Great Mining Camps of Canada 3, The History and Geology of the Buchans Mine by J. Geoffrey Thurlow (2010). See Fred Powell’s Mattie Mitchell Webpage for more on the man himself.
In July 1835, Archdeacon Edward Wix joined a night fishing party at the Main Gut, Stephenville Crossing, and described it in his diary. In his Vignettes of the West column, historian Don Morris told the story.
A moonlit sea-trouting scene
All was not work for the English Church of England missionary, Archdeacon Edward Wix, when he toured settlements along the south and west coasts of Newfoundland in 1835. Certainly, he attended most conscientiously to his priestly duties of marrying, baptizing, interring and holding church services in the various little hamlets he visited. But he also took time out to see first hand how the people went about their routine industry.
On one occasion he accompanied salmon fishermen to their site of work and he indeed experienced a singular scene. Before describing this in his diary, he wrote under the date of Sunday, July 5, (1835) the following:
“Three full services at Sandy Point (St. George’s Bay) so well attended that I regret exceedingly there should be no missionary stationed among this very teachable quiet people. This harbor and the barrisways, with an occasional visit to the Bay of Islands, and the settlements at Codroy Rivers and Island, would constitute a pleasant and no idle charge; and a school, as I found on an enumeration with one of the inhabitants, might in Sandy Point alone, congregate 70 children if it could be opened tomorrow.”
Following that entry for the Lord’s Day of July 5, the archdeacon penned in his journal:
“Monday [July 6, 1835] –
Went this week to visit the salmon fisheries, which are upon the Main Gut. Three or two families reside there. One night, as some of the families and an Indian boy were going out just at the rise of high tide, five canoes in all, to spear trout and eels, I joined them in the excursion. It employed us till an hour or two after midnight.”
Archdeacon Wix described the scene as an “animating one”. He wrote that a brilliant moon hung over the hills, which were finely wooded to the very cliffs and sand at the edge of the water. He continued his account: “Bunches of birch bark were packed together, a dozen in each packet. These were stuck, one at a time, as required, into a stick which was cleft at the top to let in this rude flame, in which a light was applied. The stick with the ignited birch bark was then put upright at the bow of the canoe; there, also, the man stood up, most insecurely balanced, as would seem, with his ‘nighor’, or eel-spear, a pole cleft at the bottom with a spike inserted. This, on his striking a fish of any size, would open and admit it till the spike perforated it, and then closing upon it, would press it and prevent its escape.”
The archdeacon continued his fascinating account: “The sandy or stony bottom of the river in the shallows, – for in deeper water this sport cannot be pursued, – was seen as clearly as in the day, and every fish in it. The fish seemed at least bewildered, if not attracted by the light; and the quickness of eye, and adroitness of the man who used the nighor, impelling as he did, the canoe with the thick end, and every now and then, reversing it to strike, was surprising. He struck successfully at eight out of 10 of each of the fish at which he aimed, and shook them off into the boat with a sudden turn of his arm, which left him at liberty to strike at two fish within a second or two.
Kept his balance
“He kept his balance, also, with great niceness, when he seemed to have poised himself so far over the side of the light canoe, that he must, it seemed to me, have gone overboard, or capsized our crank bark. the light of the flambeau in the other canoes, as they came round the projecting points of leafy green, and the shade, as we again lost view of them behind the tree or rocks in the distance, was most imposing.”
Archdeacon Wix went on to say that 400 trout were thus speared in the canoe in which he was an occupant. He added that some of these fish were of such a size, that they would have been taken, as they frequently were, in the salmon nets.
The archdeacon concluded his account of this unusual “excursion” by penning: “In the five canoes, above 1,000 (fish) were taken in a little less than two hours. I had the curiosity to weigh six of them, which together weighed 22 pounds, and had a barrel of this night’s catch salted that I might take them with me to St. John’s.”
Held more services
During the last days of July, Archdeacon Wix went about his duties, holding three full services at “The Barrisways” on Sunday the 19th.
The entry for his journal, Friday, July 24, said: “A new schooner belonging to my kind friends, Mr. Horatio Forrest and Joseph Pennall, for the launching of which I had been anxiously waiting, being now rigged and ready for sea, I took leave of the worthy inhabitants of St. George’s harbor – of whose kindness I shall ever entertain an affectionate recollection – in an evening service which was very crowded.”
He sailed from Sandy Point Saturday, July 25, at five in the morning, headed for Port aux Basques. No doubt his moonlit sea-trouting excursion was still fresh in his mind.
Who was fishing at the Main Gut?
Archdeacon Wix does not name those with whom he went fishing. However, Kirk Butt in Early Settlers of Bay St. George Vol. 1 writes about who it likely was:
The 1838 List of Inhabitants showed four settler families living in the area that is now known as Stephenville Crossing… Jean Pillet and Jean-Marie Luca/Lucas were included on the 1838 List of Inhabitants and it was indicated that both men had been at the Main Gut for 15 years (since 1823)… François Benoit’s time of residence in the area was given as 50 years. This number was also rounded off. He had actually been there for just under 49 years. James Young Jr. (Jacques LeJeune Jr.) was correctly entered on the list as having been there for 8 years (since 1830)…
During this period, there are known to have been Mi’kmaq families from Seal Rocks [St. George’s] who lived in the vicinity of Stephenville Crossing during the summer months in order to participate in the salmon fishery… In addition to the settlement at Seal Rocks (Anse des Sauvages), his map [Lieut. Vauhello 1819] showed two families a few kilometres away at the mouth of St. George’s River (the east end of Stephenville Crossing)…
The two Mi’kmaq families at the Main Gut would only have been living out on the point during the summer as that area was exposed to somewhat fierce winds and storms in wintertime. They may have returned to Seal Rocks in the winter. By about 1830, however, there were MI’kmaq families from Seal Rocks in permanent residence at Stephenville Crossing. [2007:279-280]
Mr. Butt says that the family of Jean Marche also lived in the Main Gut but was omitted on Captain Polkinghorne’s 1838 List of Inhabitants (2007:218).
How to make an eel spear
Should you wish to make your own eel spear, Kerry Prosper of Nova Scotia shows you how on YouTube.
This story is about Terrenceville, Fortune Bay, about 140 years ago. It was told to the late Esther Mary Cox by her grandmother and namesake, Esther Mary (Myles) Mitchell. Mrs. Cox passed the story on to Calvin Hackett when he interviewed her many decades ago. Mr. Hackett and Sheila Parsons Cox told me the story, and it’s one of my favourites. I’ve changed nothing of what they told me, other than to add a bit of context.
Esther Myles (1861-1927) married Michael Mitchell, born Dec. 1845 in Burin. They had seven children.
Summer visits to Terrenceville
Years ago in the summer, during much simpler times, the entire Conne River Mi’kmaq band would travel from Bay d’Espoir down Fortune Bay to stay in Terrenceville. From there, they travelled across the Burin Peninsula to hunt in areas such as Swift Current and Sandy Harbour. In Terrenceville they camped at a place called “River Garden”. It was at the end of the “The Meadow,” close to a barachois called Koskaecodde by the Mi’kmaq ancients.
Some of these Mi’kmaq visitors eventually stayed in Terrenceville. They intermarried with European families and have many descendants in the area today.
Esther Mary Myles was the daughter of a European settler family in Terrenceville. She was born about 1861 to Elizabeth and Robert Myles (or Miles). When a young girl, she played with the visiting Mi’kmaq children. They developed strong friendships despite cultural differences and being apart much of each year. The years passed and they became young women, but they all remained close friends.
“Do up on them”
One summer in the late 1870s or early 1880s, the Mi’kmaq camped as usual at the “River Garden”, at the home of a Mi’kmaq man named Joseph Saunders.
Esther overheard the adult white people say that they had planned to attack the Mi’kmaq at the encampment. They wanted to drive them out of the area. Realizing the seriousness of this, Esther didn’t search out her female friends. Instead she went directly to the camp of their chief. She entered his tent, sat down and explained what she had heard. The men from the area were going to “do up on them,” she told him. Esther pleaded for him and his tribe to take up their camps and leave.
See, at that time, the European settlers were upset that the Mi’kmaq would come every year and take away ‘their’ hunt. The Europeans considered the Mi’kmaq to be stealing from them. This, despite the fact the Mi’kmaq had been hunting in the area for much longer than any Europeans had lived there.
Esther pleaded that their leaving would eliminate the pending danger to all. The chief’s first response to Esther was silence. But then he withdrew his large hunting knife. Still silent, the chief began to cut off portions of every different kinds of fresh meat that he had. Next, he placed the meat into a bag and passed it over to her, in appreciation.
Early next morning, Esther’s first thought was to check the meadow from her house window. She was overwhelmed to see that there was not a sign of a tent left on the meadow. Her Indian friends had moved on before the first hint of daylight. Not long after, it was reported that the Mi’kmaq were seen paddling up the bay.
No more visits
From that point on, they no longer visited the area. The ones who stayed had already intermarried with the Europeans, so today their descendants make up the new Mi’kmaq of the area. Those Europeans who had differences with the Mi’kmaq are long gone, and over 95% of Terrenceville now is of Mi’kmaq descent.
Mrs. Mitchell, her granddaughter Esther said, was very proud of this story. She always remembered with great affection her Mi’kmaq friends who departed all those years before.
John G. Edgar provided me with details of Mary Park Brooks from his research. She was born about 1758 in the Burin area, according to 1838 List of Inhabitants of the Bay of Islands. Her birth family name is unknown. She first married Robert Park. Their children included Mary, James Charles, Richard, Thomas, Robert and John. There are possibly other children, including Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Beverley. Mary Park’s second husband was John Brooks, a widower, and they had no children together.
Descendants of Mary Park Brooks maintain she was of Mi’kmaq origin, and several records describe her descendants as being native. Recently an mtDNA test was conducted, with a family history verified by several local genealogists including Mr. Edgar. It shows that her maternal line matches that of Elizabeth (Joe) Blanchard, Elizabeth Saunders, and several known ancestral Mi’kmaq women. This indicates she is a close relative to these women, possibly a sister, aunt or other maternal relation.
Charlotte Jeddore Cox
Charlotte (Jeddore) Cox was born about 1825 in Conne River to Mi’kmaq parents. A young Frederick Cox was working in Bay d’Espoir in the logging industry and met Charlotte. Against her parents wishes, Charlotte moved away to the Burin area with Frederick and married him. She took the name of her neighbours, the Riggs, in Creston South, Burin to apparently hide from her family. She may have changed her first name also, to Charlotte.
It isn’t completely clear why her parents didn’t approve of her marriage to Frederick Cox. Some of their descendants say that some of her older brothers found her, in her new life, sometime in the late 1800s. However there are conflicting stories of what happened as a result of this skirmish.
Charlotte and Frederick had several children, and their descendants live on today along the Burin Peninsula and elsewhere. Charlotte’s mtDNA test has been completed. It shows that she shares the same maternal line as Elizabeth (Joe) Blanchard, Elizabeth Saunders and Mary Parks Brooks, all ancestral Mi’kmaq women.
Mary Josephine Brown Murphy
As stated in my first article on Fortune Bay, Mary Josephine was born 1854 and married John Murphy. Their children were known as Mi’kmaq. They grew up in wigwams or tilts around the Piper’s Hole area, before moving to St. Joseph’s and Parker’s Cove along the Burin Peninsula.
The results of a recent mtDNA test confirm Mary Josephine’s maternal line arises from northern Eurasia, which would be modern day Siberia and Scandinavia. This could point to the direct maternal line being Native American as Natives travelled from Siberia to North America. There are no matches to the mtDNA test. So until another full sequence mtDNA match from Newfoundland appears, it is not known who her relatives were due to an absence of records.
SAUNDERS FAMILY UPDATE
There may have been another Saunders sibling, child of John & Elizabeth Saunders. A few years ago, I found an adult baptism in the RC Church in Burin for a Mary Saunders in 1837. Her sponsors were people from Terrenceville (then Fortune Bay Bottom). Being that there was only one Saunders couple in the area at the time, this seemed peculiar.
I could not find what happened to Mary or who she was, however, until now. A great great granddaughter of a James and Mary Hare of Burgeo completed a DNA test. Her results matched several descendants of the Saunders family out of Fortune Bay, as cousins. Through further analysis, this was undoubtably a Saunders relation. The Hare family had come from Fortune Bay, Belleoram area specifically, prior to living in Burgeo. Mary, wife of James Hare, was born about 1821 and passed away on April 26 1908 in Burgeo. They had several children and have many descendants across Canada.
In 1925 Joseph Small completed his diary of Burgeo which detailed the families in the area. Joseph Small believed that Ann Saunders (daughter of John and Elizabeth) who married Esau Rhymes had come from Fortune Bay with the Hare family. This further displayed the probability that Mary Hare was a Saunders. It’s likely the two sisters, Ann and Mary, came to Burgeo together from Fortune Bay. An mtDNA test for a direct female descendant of Mary is being worked on to confirm this theory. So if anyone has any information on this Hare family, please comment below!
FUTURE mtDNA RESEARCH
An mtDNA test is currently in process for a direct female descendant of Ellen (Unknown) Hollett. She married William Hollett (b.1786) and lived on Woody Island, Placentia Bay. Ellen is suspected to have been of Mi’kmaq origin. However, as of yet there is no proof. Autosomal DNA has pointed towards a relation to the Saunders family. An mtDNA test will be interesting to see for more of this story. I have been told that a Hollett descendant has a two page lexicon of words from an unknown aboriginal group. It’s possibly a connection to the Beothuk tribe.
The Smith (of Argentia) and Salmon (of Long Harbour) families are next to be tested. Their Mi’kmaq origins are likely to be discovered.
ANCIENT MI’KMAQ VILLAGE IN PLACENTIA BAY
In 1680, a French report on the topography and hydrography of Placentia Bay and the South Coast of Newfoundland had noted a Mi’kmaq village near Placentia that was occupied by a group of about 240 Mi’kmaq… The report went on to identify another Mi’kmaq village of two hundred people that was situated on the south coast of Newfoundland, a little further west of Placentia.
Everts cites M. G. (Jerry) Wetzel’s 1995 LLM thesis for this 1680 reference to south coast Mi’kmaq villages. It may well be that the latter, west of Placentia, is Miawpukwek. The former, “near Placentia”, is not as readily identifiable but it could mean it’s in the Burin area or anywhere in Placentia Bay.
Could the Park, Saunders, Jeddore, Joe, and Brown ancestors have all originated out of this village? Mary Parks Brooks was only born 75-80 years after the date of this French report. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to connect her to this community. She was from the Burin area, after all. We also know that the Bernard, John and Barrington families as well as many others frequented the area of Pipers Hole and Upper Placentia Bay in the 1800s.
Also see 2nd part by Devon, Terrenceville Mi’kmaq (June 8/18), a story about Esther Mary (Myles) Mitchell
by Rev. Canon J. T. Richards, O.B.E, to The Newfoundland Historical Society
(The Newfoundland Quarterly, Sept. and Dec. 1953)
The march of the peoples of the world westward from the cradle of the human race was irresistible. For a while it was held up by the Atlantic Ocean… Although there are indications that Newfoundland was visited by daring adventurers – Basques and Jerseymen – as early as 1450, its real and undoubted discovery is attributed to John Cabot in 1497. West Country merchantmen found in its waters, alive with fish, a source of great profit, and naturally wished to reserve the Newfound Isle as a fishing post only… The French, too, were strong competitors for ownership… Those rights became recognized to such an extent, that the coast line from Cape Bonavista to Point Rich, was known as the French Shore. Afterwards the limits were changed and the French Shore included all the coast from Cape John to Cape Ray,- nearly half of Newfoundland… There was a tendency, however, to favour the French fishermen to the detriment of the struggling English settlers, and we can safely say that, except for the Red Indians and the few Esquimaux who crossed the Strait of Belle Isle, not a single settler was to be found on that long dreary coast from Cape John to Cape Ray for about two hundred and forty years after Cabot’s discovery…
The First Settlers
The history of a country is the history of its people. So we ask, who were the first English settlers on the French Shore? I am convinced that one named Robert Bartlett was the very first, and that Anchor Point in St. Barbe’s Bay, was the first place permanently settled. Thomas Genge, born at Anchor Point in 1827, died in 1914, gave me the story. As Bartlett was his father’s great-uncle, if we allow only twenty-five years for each of the three generations, we can be safe in assuming that he settled at Anchor Point, St. Barbe’s Bay, not later than 1850. As a matter of fact he placed the date at 1740. Here is Thomas Genge’s story.
Robert Bartlett, on board a fishing schooner on the north side of White Bay, went ashore with a companion to get wood. They rambled a distance from the shore and were captured by a company of Red Indians, who compelled them to carry their loads all day. At night they formed a ring around a camp-fire with Bartlett and his companion in the ring, and fell into a deep sleep. The two prisoners, who were not tied, crept out of the ring and escaped. They travelled as fast as they could until the sun arose, and, hearing the Indians in pursuit, they hid in the thick underwood all day. When night came they went on again. After a few days they came to the salt water in what proved to be St. Barbe’s Bay, and saw the spars of a schooner over the low land to the north west. On travelling out around the shore, they came to an ideal little harbour about one hundred yards deep and twenty yards wide, sheltered from the wind and sea by a long low point extending a half mile to the westward.
Here, snugly moored, was an American fishing vessel, the crew of which were making their fish. In the fall Bartlett’s companion sailed away in this ship, but Bartlett, himself, having obtained provisions from the American vessel, decided to stay all alone. By his companion, he sent a letter to a nephew of his in England… Next year the nephew, Robert Genge, arrived, and there they were, a pair of Englishmen, first settlers on that historic portion of Newfoundland known as the French Shore. How long they lived there alone is unknown, but it must have been several years… Bartlett, and his nephew, hunted along the shore as far west as St. John’s Bay, where Bartlett’s Harbour is named after him…
Bartlett sent to Yeovil in Somerset for another nephew, Abram Genge. He was young and enterprising and soon saw possibilities of the coast. Gradually English youngsters coming out to Labrador were attracted to the long low strand across the Strait, and employed by Abram Genge, who was now the leader of the little band…
Robert Bartlett, an old man with plenty of means, returned to England where he died. Robert Genge was a great furrier, and stayed on as head man on Anchor Point room, until he died of old age. Bartlett never married, nor did his nephews. In fact there was no woman on the coast for anyone to marry. At this point there appeared on the scene one family, by name, Watts, having two sons and two daughters. The father seems to have been employed by Abram Genge in a section of the coast near Boat Harbour, four miles west of Cape Norman, and gave his name to a river in the vicinity now called Watt’s River. About this time William Buckle with his son William came to Anchor Point, and Abram Genge sent them to St. Margaret’s Bay. The following winter the father died, and the son William went back to Labrador where Slade and Co. asked him if he would go on to Belle Isle to see if there were any furs there…
Buckle had not forgotten St. Margaret’s Bay where his father had died, and went back to Anchor Point to see his old friends and his employer Abram Genge. Here too, he met one of the two beautiful daughters of the Watts family,- the only marriageable girls on the coast, and married her. They were the ancestors of all the Buckles on the coast of Labrador…
About the time that Buckle married one of the Watts sisters, a Scotchman lieutenant on board the British warship patrolling the coast happened to land at Anchor Point, and saw the other sister… Embracing every opportunity of seeing her, he became so enamoured that he resolved upon the dangerous step of deserting his ship and settling on the coast. For many years, Duncan was a hunted man, and when the time came around for the warship to come back, he had to exercise the utmost vigilance to escape…
The marriage of Alexander Duncan and Mary Watts about 1795 or 1800 resulted in the birth of three sons and no less than fourteen children, who grew into beautiful girls. This seems to have been ordered by providence, for by now, more and more English and Scottish youngsters were trickling into the coast, and these girls, half Scotch and half English, became their wives.
Abram Genge, now an old man, sent to Yeovil, England, for a brother’s son, and William Genge came and settled at Anchor Point. A sister’s son, Absalom Robbins, also came out. He was a great favourite with the settlers, and was called Rabby. He never married. William Genge met a daughter of William Buckle, whose family came to Buckle’s Point in St. Margaret’s Bay every winter. They were married and became the ancestors of all the Genges in the Strait of Belle Isle. When Bishop Feild made his first episcopal voyage to Labrador in 1848, he visited Anchor Point, and was loud in his praise of Mrs. Genge…
She was the mother of Thomas Genge, who gave me the history of the first settlers on the French Shore. On this visit Bishop Feild consecrated at Anchor Point the first cemetery to be used in northern Newfoundland.
The first settler in St. John’s Bay was a giant of a Highland Scotchman named William Griffis. He was always called Big William. In the employ of the North West Company, he fell out with another big Scotchman. A challenge was given and nothing could induce those two men of kindred blood, away from home in the wilds of Labrador, to shake hands and forget their quarrel…
It was found that the knockout blow had been fatal, and Big William, really a kind-hearted man, was stricken with grief over what he had done. That night he disappeared, and was never seen in those parts afterwards. He made his way south, crossed the Strait of Belle Isle, and visited Anchor Point. From there he went to the bottom of St. John ‘s Bay and settled at Castor River, where he lived alone for many years…
Big William was succeeded in Castor River by an Englishman, Jesse Humber, two of whose sons, William and Andrew, were living there when I first visited it in 1905. The other son, called after the father, Jesse, went up the coast, and there are descendants of his at Boone Bay today.
William Dredge and George Coombs
William Dredge and George Coombs were the first settlers at Black-duck Cove on the west side of St. Barbe’s Bay. They married two sisters, daughters of Lieutenant Alexander Duncan, who deserted from his ship to marry Mary Watts. He had adopted his mother’s surname “Gould” on his desertion, so that all his descendants were called Gould.
All the Dredges at Black-duck Cove are descendants of William Dredge, and are of a very kindly disposition. George Coombs moved a little further west to St. Manuel’s Bay, where he was joined by a nephew from England, whose descendants were among the first settlers of Shoal Cove West, New Ferolle.
The first settler on Current Island was William Toop, followed shortly after by James Williams and his brother William. Then, John Gibbons, a sturdy Englishman, most sterling and capable qualities. As an illustration of their mettle, the eldest son, John, went to Hamilton, Ontario, about 1900. He could neither read nor write, but secured work as a common hand in the Hamilton Steel Works. In about ten years after entering the mill he had attained the highest post, and became the manager with a secretary to do his writing. He retained this position until his death. (To be continued)
The First Settlers On The French Shore – Part 2
The first settler on Forrester’s Point was Bill Williams, a desperate character, one of the brothers mentioned above. He married a full-blooded Esquimaux, and many are the stories told of the vicissitudes of this union. On one occasion Bill decided to get rid of his wife Hannah. He took her out in a boat, and was putting her overboard to drown her, when another boat came to the rescue. The occupants of the other boat, before intervening to save Hannah, called out, “What are you doing with your wife, Bill?” “Be gobs, Jack, I’m goin’ to get rid of her, boy. She’s got me druv crazy.” “But who’s goin’ to cook for you, and mend your socks, and wash your clothes?” “Be gobs, Jack, I did not think of that!” said Bill, and forthwith pulled her into the boat again. Both the old Williams had died before I went to the Straits in 1903. Old Hannah still survived, and was regarded by the next generation with a certain amount of awe. Uncanny powers of witchcraft were attributed to her, and the younger folk dared not incur her displeasure…
James Chambers was a splendid type of Scotsman. He married Jane Buckle, daughter of old William Buckle, and settled in Bear Cove, three miles west of Flower’s Cove. In summer he moved out to Seal Island, which was also called French Island, because it had been a favourite resort of the French fishermen. What is now called Flower’s Cove, was first called French Island Harbour…
George Gaulton, first settler in Savage Cove, married one of Duncan’s daughters. White and Coles, English youngsters, each married one of the same sisters, and were the first permanent settlers of Sandy Cove. Thomas Mitchelmore’s first wife was a Duncan. She died young, and he married a daughter of the first settler of French Island Harbour – Whalen – by whom he had five sons. He was the first settler of Green Island Cove. Philip Coates, first settler of Eddy’s Cove East, married Sarah Duncan – Aunt Sally Coates – and had many children and grandchildren. Joseph Woodward, English youngster, married a Whalen, and was the first permanent settler of Boat Harbour, six miles west of Cape Norman.
James Dempster came out from England as clerk on Bird’s room, Labrador. He came of a well-to-do family, and was engaged to an English girl who left him to marry another. He… came to Labrador in a Jersey vessel.., married an Esquimaux widow and had one son named John. He died comparatively young and was buried in Doury’s Cove near Hawke’s Harbour.
John Dempster came across the Strait of Belle Isle, and was the first settler at Flower’s Cove, one mile east of French Island Harbour, which became the port of call for the mail boat. Flower’s Cove now includes both harbours.
Other English settlers were George Caines, first settler at Shoal Cove East; Charles Godfrey, who settled at Bear Cove, and was the maternal grandfather of the merchant brothers Angus, Charles and Isaac Genge; John Pittman, first settler at Seal Cove, and great grandfather of the Pittmans now living at Blue Cove, Darby’s Tickle. Blue Cove was originally called “Blue Guts Cove,” but when Dr. W. W. Blackall first visited it, he advised that “Guts” be omitted from the name, and it has been called “Blue Cove” ever since.
After the Englishmen, a few settlers from the south of Newfoundland came along. The first of these was from Brigus, named Henry Whalen in the year 1850. He was the first settler in French Island Harbour – now Flower’s Cove.
Henry Whalen was a brother of the great seal killer, Captain William Whalen, who never missed the seals. Skipper Henry was a great codfish man, but could make no hand of seal fishing. On the sealing voyages he noticed the land on the Newfoundland side of the Strait of Belle Isle, and heard that its waters abounded in cod. So he made up his mind to leave Brigus and take his family in his vessel, and make a new home near the fishing grounds. He persuaded John Carnell of Catalina to follow him in his schooner…
Elizabeth Whalen, a little girl of twelve, accompanied her father and could read. Her father could neither read nor write. Before she died in 1928, at the age of ninety, she related to me as follows:
“…We crossed Pistolet Bay to Cape Norman… until we came to Savage Cove, and I was reading the Pilot Book. So I said to father ‘There is an island off Savage Cove’… After we anchored and went ashore, father said, ‘This seems like a fine harbour. I think we will settle here.’ Shortly after this old George Gaulton came around the harbour where we were. He was the first and only settler in Savage Cove at that time, and lived in the extreme south west corner. Father said to him, ‘I think we will settle down here, Mr. Gaulton.’ The old man got very angry, and said ‘No you won’t settle here. There is no room, no room.’ Savage Cove is a good mile around, and he was not in the real harbour at all. Then father walked to Flower’s Cove, and went on a mile further to French Island Harbour. When he got back, he said, ‘We will go to French Island Harbour.’ Although Mr. Gaulton would not give consent for us to settle in Savage Cove, he was very glad to avail of the services of a mid-wife – Mrs. Noseworthy – who formed one of my party. That night a twin of boys was born to Mrs. Gaulton.”
They were still living when I was there in 1904, and were called Billy and Dickey Gaulton. Neither of them ever married…
Betty Whalen’s narrative continued:
“We left Savage Cove, followed by Carnell, and entered French Island Harbour. We were in first, and father and Richard Percy and my small brother John, landed right where Whalen’s wharf is now. There was a skeleton of a whale there, and they stuck up a rib to mark their place.
“Carnell followed and stuck up another rib where his wharf is now. My mother could not come in the spring as she was about to be confined. During the summer Sarah was born. She was the youngest child of our family, and when she grew up married Matthew Coles. In the fall father went back to Brigus for mother and the baby. The Carnells left Flower’s Cove again and went further west. After a few years wandering about, they returned and settled down…”
Canon Richards lived in Flower’s Cove from 1904 to 1945. I chose only the parts of his speech that spoke of specific people. He talked at greater length about the geography and economy of the area. The complete article is in Memorial University’s digital files. In the September 1953 issue, it is pages 17-19, 44 and in December 1953, pages 15-16 and 23. You can read about Canon Richards in a 2013 Labradorian article about Irving Letto’s book Sealskin Boots and a Printing Press (Amazon link below).
Newfoundland archivist and historian Don Morris wrote about Louis John in his Vignettes of the West column in The Western Star. The photocopy I have of the article is difficult to read, so I’ve typed it out. Unfortunately the date of publication is not on it. It would be between 1974 and 1989, the years that Mr. Morris wrote for The Western Star.
The great caribou-skin canoe journey
By Don Morris
One of the greatest outdoorsmen and hunting and fishing guides who ever trod and explored the pristine Newfoundland wilderness was a Micmac named Louis John. Born in Conne River in 1868, he entered the guiding business at the age of 18 under the expert tutorage of his father, Peter John.
During his long career as woodsman par excellence, Louis gained the respect of all who loved the great outdoors. He acted as guide to sportsmen in all walks of life, including affluent St. John’s merchants, well-heeled visitors to our island and to ordinary local folk who wanted to know the best fishing and hunting grounds. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the vast and – to some – forbidding Newfoundland interior and its wildlife long before any train began snorting its way across the island. When he died in 1957 at the age of 89 he was already a Newfoundland legend.
Paddled hundred of miles
His stories of his experiences in the wilds captivated young and old alike. One such adventure was about a remarkable journey he and a partner, Micmac guide and trapper Noel Mattis (Matthews), made from St. George’s to Bay d’Espoir where they lived. They made the trip in a canoe of caribou skins and paddled many hundreds of miles of interior waterways without a single portage.
Mr. John related that they left St. George’s and trekked along the Lapland River and over the mountains until they came to the base of the Anniopsquotch Mountains. Heading northeast, they came out at the head of Red Indian Lake by a place now called Lloyd’s River. They made camp there for a few days. They set their camp between what Mr. John described as “two old Red Indian houses.” He was obviously referring to the remains of Beothuk Indian abodes.
He said he couldn’t sleep well that night and was always waking up, explaining that “in those days, I guess, I was pretty scared of spirits and superstitions, because I thought those Red Indians were always after me.”
Killed caribou with rock
The men built a raft and poled their way down Red Indian Lake until they came where it emptied out into the Exploits River. One Sunday when they were out of meat Louis suggested to Noel, who apparently was older than Mr. John, that they shoot a caribou. The older man objected strongly that they hunt on the Sabbath Day and hid the rifle under the bed in camp.
Louis told his companion that they would have meat anyway. He picked up a heavy rock. One caribou looked over his shoulder at some others. Louis took aim and threw the rock with all his might. Recounted Louis in later years: “I hit him (the caribou) hard and he fell down. Quickly I leaped on him and cut his throat, dressed him and put him on my back and walked up to the camp.”
“The old man”, as Louis described his companion, was surprised that Louis had the animal as he had not heard a gunshot. Louis explained that the “gun” he used made no noise. He said that he threw the rock with such force that he had to dig it out of the caribou with his knife. The “old man” chuckled and remarked that they would not go hungry if there were rocks around.
The two men decided to build a canoe out of the hide in which to continue their overland journey. In later life, in describing this experience, Louis explained that the method of making the canoe was simple and used by many guides and trappers in the old days.
Louis and his companion cut a keel, tied a stem to the keel with roots. The caribou skin was laid out flat and the keel placed under it. Side timber and ribs were cut from crooked spruce and tied together. The ribs were placed under the hide, which was punctured on one side to hold the frames. They used spruce roots to tie the whole canoe together, and it worked very well, tight and buoyant.
Louis and his companion then paddled down river to Paul’s Brook and made camp. While there, they made a pine tree “dug-out” to carry them in country to the south and eventually home. With the dug-out Louis and his friend made their way up Noel Paul’s Brook and by hitting smaller tributaries eventually reaching Bay d’Espoir, covering a total of about 400 miles of water routes. Mr. John boasted as he recounted the adventure to his eager listeners in later years: “We never made one portage during the entire trip with the raft and boats.”
Louis John, when an elderly man, said that in one season he killed 50 caribou. He estimated that he had killed more than 1,000 in his lifetime and he packed every pound of meat out of the woods, leaving nothing to waste.
It would take a series of “Vignettes” to recount all the experiences of this remarkable man of the forest. For the material for this particular column I am indebted to William Peter Dugan of Gordon Terrace, Corner Brook, who is the great grandson of Louis John. Mr. Dugan is intensely interested in his genealogy and the history of the Micmac people in Newfoundland. It was said at the time of the death of Louis John: “The John Micmac ancestry is worn as a proud banner.”
Louis John 1868-1957
The Atlantic Guardian published a long and interesting obituary of Louis John (pp 27-32). Above is the first page. Also, his daughter Kathleen (Cassie) Humber talks about him in Calvin Coish’s Stories of the Mi’kmaq (pdf pp 9-26).
The caribou skin canoe pictured above was made by the late Michael Joe and Martin Jeddore, of Miawpukek. It was part of the Newfoundland Museum Mi’kmaq material culture project Traces. The construction method, as I remember, was just as Mr. John described. All photography for the project was done by Dave Quinton.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.