Decks Awash, in 1983, published an issue about Gander Bay and Hamilton Sound. Below are the pages about Charles Francis of Clarke’s Head in Gander Bay. He was a Mi’kmaw from Pictou Landing, Nova Scotia. In 1821, when he was maybe 12 years old, he settled at Clarke’s Head, where the Gander River meets the bay.
Click or tap the images to enlarge them. You can see the entire magazine online at the MUN Digital Archives.
Gander Bay area
…For the most part this 10-mile-wide bay, which was once part of the French Shore was overlooked by settlers until the early 1800s. This is perhaps because Newfoundland was valuable as a base for the fishing industry, and Gander Bay is shallow and too far from the fishing grounds of Hamilton Sound to have been seen as a suitable area for settlement…
The first settler was a Micmac Indian, originally from Nova Scotia. The first white settlers arrived via Fogo and Change Islands in search of farm land and timber, and by all accounts lived in harmony with the Micmac settler. In fact, intermarriage occurred and many residents of Clarke’s Head and other communities in the vicinity are of Micmac descent…
Clarke’s Head, Gander Bay
Sometime in the late 1700s a Micmac Indian and his mother arrived in what is now Clarke’s Head by way of Conne River. Near the mouth of the Gander River he cleared a plot of land and set about trapping furs to earn a living. He also fished for salmon on the river to provide variety in his diet. His name was Charles Francis.
But his solitude did not last long. A few years later John Bussey came from Fogo in search of land suitable for farming. Being an industrious sort, he cleared an entire point and called it, not surprisingly, Bussey’s Point. He planted vegetables and raised livestock, and like his Micmac neighbor fished for salmon. His attempt at immortality did not succeed, however, for the area later became known as Tibbey’s Point and today it is no longer distinguished form Clarke’s Head at all.
Gradually, more settlers came, and by 1838 there were eight houses at Clarke’s Head with a population of 68. Somewhere along the way Charles married into the white community, taking a Gillingham woman from Greenspond for his wife. Their only problem was that he was Roman Catholic and she was a member of the Church of England. They brought that situation to a happy conclusion by agreeing to raise half their children in her faith and the other half in his. It is possible, however that Charles’ mother was none too pleased with the arrangement for she returned to Nova Scotia.
As time went on Clarke’s Head became known for its lumbering. A shipbuilder named Saunders from Blackpool, England, came to Clarke’s Head in the 1890s and set up business premises. He invested in the fishery including the Labrador and operated a large sawmill which exported rough lumber. The operation of the mill continued until the 1950s. At about the same time a George Phillips obtained leases for 270 thousand acres of virgin timberland on the banks of the Gander River and began to operate mills at Botwood, Glenwood, Norris Arm and Campbellton. In the winter he employed between 200 and 300 men in his woods’ operation near Clarke’s Head. But the operation literally died with him in 1905, just ten years after it began. It was purchased by the Newfoundland Timber Estates which closed it down soon afterwards. Perhaps because of the importance of the woods’ operations, the fishery in Clarke’s Head began to die.
Clarke’s Head has the distinction of being the site of the first church in Gander Bay. In 1905 an Anglican Church was finished to provide a place of worship for the community’s 221 members of the Church of England. The Roman Catholic Church maintained its presence of 36 members which grew to 42 over the next 30 years. There were also 13 Methodists in the community.
Clarke’s Head is the place where the first moose was landed in Newfoundland. In 1875 the HMS Eclipse landed a buck and a doe to see if the animals could survive in the area. The following year the fisheries officer aboard the HMS Bullfinch arrived to find that the buck was dead and the doe had wandered off. At this point the oral tradition surrounding the story becomes interesting. One version has it that a man traveling by horse and sled to Clarke’s Head struck the buck and injured it so badly that there was nothing to be done but put the poor animal out of its misery. A more plausible version claims that the unnamed gentleman killed the moose intentionally for the supper table perhaps starting the tradition of setting out in winter to hunt for moose in the woods around Gander Bay. It was not until several years later that more moose were landed in the area.
It is also said that there was a great fire in Clarke’s Head in the 1890s which wiped out all the houses in the community. The fire is said to have cut a path a mile wide for a distance of five miles to an area known as Charles Cove.
One final note of distinction at Clarke’s Head is the development of the Gander Bay river boat. In appearance it is remarkably like an Indian canoe with a few modifications. it is designed to withstand rough waters and, since it does not sit very deep in the water is ideal for use in the shallow waters of Gander Bay and the Gander River. Today, the boats are made by Gander Bay Woodcrafts at Clarke’s Head operated by the local Indian Band Council.
Some definite opportunities
Calvin Francis, above, is the great grandson of Charles William Francis, eldest son of Charles Francis and Caroline Gillingham. He represents Gander Bay on the Qalipu First Nation council.
Children of Charles and Caroline Francis
Charlie and Caroline had seven children, all born in Clarke’s Head. They are:
- Charles William Francis, born about 1855. He married Rachel Wadden, born about 1862 in Change Islands. They had three sons and one daughter: Herbert, Simon, Edgar and Althea.
- Peter Francis, born about 1856 and died 1922. He married Dorcas Gillingham, born 1866 and died 1950. They had seven children: Theodore, Angus, Katie, Ida, Beatrice, Florence and Elijah.
- Fanny Francis, born about 1859 and died soon after her marriage to Azariah Snow, born about 1858 in Hare Bay, Fogo Island.
- Thomas Francis, born about 1862. He married Julia Peckford, born 1865 in Change Islands. They had nine children: Caroline, Lewis Aquilla, Frederick Pierce, Alberta, Laura Bridget, Chesley, Winifred, Thomas Riley and Sidney Ralph.
- Mary Ann Francis, born late 1860s. She married Levi Stuckey, born about 1860 in Herring Neck, New World Island in Notre Dame Bay. They had three daughters: Maud, Lillian and Daisy.
- Andrew Francis, born about 1869. He married Isabelle Pinsent, born about 1885 in Pilley’s Island, Notre Dame Bay. They had three daughters: Henrietta, Amanda Matilda and Evelyn.
- Edward (Ned) Francis, born 1869 and died 1948. He married Sarah Anne Taylor, born about 1875 in Carbonear. They had 4 children: Helena, Peter Alphonsus, Melvin and Veronica.