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The West Coast of Newfoundland

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The West Coast of Newfoundland from Port aux Basques to Cape Norman has a somewhat different historical background from that of the eastern parts of the province. Its settlement is more recent, its racial origins are more varied, and its economy has had a pattern of development all its own. A No Man's Land for two centuries, then for two more a disputed territory outside the pale of the law, it has been indeed the "sport of historic misfortune" of the most pronounced type.

In the month of June, 1534, Jacques Cartier of St. Malo explored the west coast of Terre Neuve. The story told in the plain language of the sailor has a fascinating appeal. He had gone up the west side of Belle Isle Strait as far as Brest, and then returned to the Newfoundland shore. First they saw what appeared to be two islands, but which were two lofty summits of the Long Range Mountains in the rear of Point Riche. During the following day they coasted southward with a light favouring wind. The mountains rose high and formidable in the background, and between them and the shore was a belt of woodland. Cartier named one lofty summit La Granche, because of its resemblance to a farmhouse. The two ships anchored for the night at Cap Pointu, now named Cow Head. A storm came on, and the cautious mariner ordered his vessels "hove to" in the Gulf. Two days later they were abreast of the Bay of Islands. Thence they explored Port-au-Port Bay, and while there found codfish in abundance. Cartier described the isthmus now known as the Gravels, and the long spit of land to the west he named Cap Delatte. Again stormy weather forced the ships to head into open water, and after three days they sighted Cape Anguille which was named Cap St. Jean. From that point the vessels went westward as far as Gaspe, and returned to France by way of Belle Isle Strait. In the following year Cartier explored the St. Lawrence as far as Hochelaga, now Montreal. He wintered at Quebec and returned home by way of Cabot Strait, and was thus the first to circumnavigate the island.

The Treaty of Versailles in 1783 gave France the right to fish on the West Coast of Newfoundland. That nation claimed it was an exclusive right; Britain maintained it was concurrent. And so they wrangled and met in convention and procrastinated and the island of Newfoundland suffered in consequence. It was not until 1904 that the matter was finally settled when the French relinquished their claims in exchange for a strip of territory in West Africa. The electoral districts of St. George's and St. Barbe were first represented in the Newfoundland legislature in 1882, and customs officers had been appointed five years previously. The project of a railway across the island with a terminus at St. George's was banned by the British Government as late as 1890 on the ground that such terminus would be on what France regarded as her national soil.

While the racial origins of the East Coast are mainly four, the West of New Newfoundland has eight distinct types. These are pure French stock, Acadian, Micmac, English, Channel Islanders, Irish, Scottish and Nova Scotian and French fishermen who deserted from ships of Basque and Biscayan ports. The French had fishing stations on the west of the Petit Nord Peninsula in the latter years of the seventeenth century. Acadians from the Minas Basin of Nova Scotia after the expulsion of 1755 came to Louisburg, and when that fortress fell in 1758 a wandering remnant crossed to Newfoundland and sought peace in the isolated coves of Bay St. George and the Port-au-Port Peninsula. Their descendants still speak a provincial Parisian dialect. Micmacs from Nova Scotia had been in the habit of crossing over to Newfoundland each autumn to hunt for furs, from about 1650 onward. They were on friendly terms with the Acadian French, and when the latter settled on the West Coast the Indians also took up permanent residence. The first English and Jersey traders came about 1770, and settled at St. George's and Bay of Islands. The Irish came west shortly after, and found employment with the merchant traders; lastly, Scottish farmers from Nova Scotia crossed over to Newfoundland about a century ago and began to make homes in the picturesque Codroy Valley.

The West Coast has many attractions for the tourist. It has the finest salmon streams in the province. Its scenery is the best of which Newfoundland can boast, and this is particularly true of the Codroy region, of Bay of Islands with its unrivalled Humber Valley, and Bonne Bay with its encircling mountains.

The heart of the economy of the West Coast lies at Corner Brook where is located one of the largest integrated pulp and paper mills in the world. Around this industrial centre has grown up a prosperous city that bids fair to vie in commercial importance with the position that the capital city of St. John's holds in the East.

The statue stands on a large concrete platform, on which is engraved in large letters an inscription which bears testimony to an historic international friendship; it reads "Gaspar Corte Real, Portugese Navigator. He reached Terra Nova in the 15th. century at the beginning of the era of the great discoveries. From the Portuguese Fisheries Organization as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the Portuguese Grand Bankss Fishermen for the friendly hospitality always extended to them by the people of Terra Nova-May 1965"

 

 

Page contributed by: Bill Crant, April 29, 2000
Page revised: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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