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The Fishing Industry in Victoria



The Annie S Clarke

by: Frank E. Clarke

Though it is an inland community, Victoria has had a very strong attachment to the fishery.    Some researchers have concluded  the community probably began because there was a thriving fishery in the nearby communities of Freshwater (1696), Crocker’s Cove (1675) and Carbonear (1614).  A study of early topographical maps of the area give evidence that Victoria must have been frequented very early.

If one examines the availability of wood, a much needed commodity, it becomes clear that the only places in which wood was available in any large quantity was Carbonear-valley and what was to become Victoria-valley.  Nowhere around the coast, from Spout Cove to Carbonear, was there a supply of wood large enough to provide firewood; building materials for homes, boats, wharves and flakes and the many sundry uses such as gaffs and killicks.  A study of early maps of the area also verifies two important facts.  The first is that Victoria satisfied the “law” that no one could settle less than a few miles from the water (Salmon Cove (1680), Spout Cove (early 1800s), Otterbury (late 1700s), Flatrock (1857), Crocker’s Cove, Freshwater, and Carbonear).  Secondly, that the valley was close enough so that coastal liviers could easily walk into the "woods" during the day, cut wood and return home with it by the end of the day.

It has been established that many of the early settlers in Victoria were from fishing families. Both men and women of the community were involved in the Labrador fishery and shipped out each year on vessels from Carbonear.  In the late 1800s, scores of people from Victoria signed on with merchants, such as the Moores’s, Udell’s, Rorke’s and Churchill’s from Carbonear, and with others from Harbour Grace and  Port de Grave, for the Labrador fishery.  When they arrived in Labrador, they stayed in places such as Chateau, Forteau, Battle Harbour, Henley Harbour and Bateau. Quite often young women from Victoria were signed on to cook for crews  who stayed in  Labrador for the season.*   The Clarke’s, who had established a business at Victoria in 1921 were one of the many families to prosecute the Labrador cod fishery.

It is known that at least two schooners that fished on the Labrador coast were owned by men from Victoria.  Little is known, at this time, of The Austur a schooner owned by Nathaniel Cole circa 1925.  What is known, is that Mr. Cole built two small boats at Victoria which he transported to Carbonear on a horse and double cart he had constructed for the purpose.  These were placed on his boat and used in the Labrador Fishery for a number of years.

It is well documented that in 1922 Leonard and Reuben Clarke commissioned a schooner which they named in honour of Annie (daughter of Reuben) and Sarah (Sadie) (daughter of Leonard) Clarke.  The vessel was officially named the Annie S. Clarke.  She was built by the Parsons Company of Glovertown in the year 1922.  Mr. George Parsons from Freshwater. C.B. travelled  to Essex, N.B. to look at the types of vessels being built there.  He was struck by  the beauty and grace of such ships as the Bluenose and committed to memory the details of the ship that he would build for the Clarkes.  When he returned to Glovertown he was joined by Mr. Reuben Clarke, Mr. Leonard Clarke and Mr. John Nicholl of Victoria who helped in the supervision and construction of the ship. The men worked many months building the schooner to specifications.  When she was finished, she  was 65 feet long,  20 feet wide and drew 7 feet of water.  She carried two masts, had a net weight of 42 tons and a gross weight of 48 tons and was known to be one of the fastest schooners of the day; often arriving in Labrador several days before the other vessels that left the same day that she did.  The schooner could sleep a crew of 5 - 7 depending on the purpose for which she was used.

 The first captain of the vessel was Leonard Clarke, the grandfather of the writer’s wife.  The first crew members of the Annie S. Clarke were:

Wilson Clarke, Carbonear
William Wallace, Carbonear
Fred McCarthy, Carbonear
George McCarthy, Carbonear
John William George. Carbonear
Walter Cole, Victoria

Both Leonard and Reuben prosecuted the Labrador fishery until 1927.  They usually left early in the spring and returned in the fall.  The vessel normally carried a cargo of 500 quintals of dry salted fish which was transported to St. John’s and sold to Job Brothers Ltd.,  for an average of $2.50 per quintal (112 lbs.).  The price paid for the fish depended on the “culler” who examined the fish, and graded it.

During the winter the schooner was anchored in Hr. Grace.  While she was wintering, the Clarke’s took the sails off her and carried them to a government-owned building on the Carbonear wharf.  Any needed repairs to the sails or other equipment were done at this time. Usually Mr. Reuben Clarke did this job  using his horse “Dane” and a large box-cart. 

When Leonard fell ill the family decided to get out of the Labrador fish business.   At that time Harold Clarke, (Leonard’s Son) Reuben Clarke and his son John returned to Henley Harbour in Labrador on board the Segona where they sold their fishing gear.  In 1929 the Clarkes  sold the vessel to A.H. Murray & Co. Ltd., St. John’s, Nfld.  They used her for a year and in 1930 Mr. George Parsons, the builder from Newtown, Bonavista Bay, Nfld. purchased her.  Mr. Parsons used her in the Labrador fishery very successfully for eight years.  In 1938 he sold her to Samuel Howell of Carmanville, Nfld. who used her in the Labrador fishery for a further seven years.  In  1945  Mr. William Whelan of Little Hearts Ease purchased her.  Mr. Whelan used her for about a year and in 1946 she ran aground off Little Heart’s Ease.  She was refloated and repaired by Moses Martin of Little Heart’s Ease.  It was reported that when repairs were being done to her the main spar was altered and she lost much of her speed.  Mr. Martin renamedher The Eldon John Russell.  Few details of the activities she was engaged in after that time are known except that she was used to carry cargo along the North East coast.  However it is known that in 1957 she was again resold to Mr. William J. Vaters of Frenchmen’s Cove, Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.  When Mr. Vaters purchased her, he decided to put an engine in her.  He did this by removing part of the stern, keel and rudder.  He used her for a number of years, both in the fishery and as a cargo vessel.  She was lost off Larkin’s Point, Bay of Islands, January 18th 1960 while carrying a load of lumber to the mainland.

In 1978 Mr. John E. Clarke along with Manuel Sutton attempted to find out what had happened to her.  They travelled to Bonavista Bay to try to find some trace of her.  They were successful when they reached South Point.  Here they managed to get some information about her and retrieve some of the wood that had been removed from her when the engine was put in.

Little remains of the stately sleek schooner today.  Mr. John Clarke has in his possession the "spyglass" used on her that belonged to his father.  He also has a piece of wood from the rudder. In his kitchen hangs a mantle, made by Manuel Sutton, on which sits a clock that his father bought in the United States in 1913.

Though few people go to Labrador fishing today, many residents of Victoria can recall stories told to them about their ancestors who fished there on a regular basis. 

*Of note is that two women from Victoria shipped out to Labrador on the Annie S. Clarke; Ms. Betsy Snook and Ms. Annie Mabel Clarke, the writer’s aunt.

The writer wishes to thank Mr. Harold Clarke, Mr. Gordon M. Clarke, Mr. Roland Clarke and Mr. John Clarke for contributing information for this story.




Contributed by: Frank E. Clarke
Revised: July 2002 (Terry Piercey)


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