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McAlpine 1898 Community Gazetteer




(A Transcription of)





Published by



Transcribed by:
Peter M. Godfrey
Clarenville, NF.
April - May 2002

Overview of the Island of Newfoundland

NEWFOUNDLAND (or Terre-Neuve), England’s most ancient Colony, is a large island in the Atlantic Ocean, at the mouth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, forming the eastern boundary of said Gulf, between lat. 46º 38' and 51º 40' North, and long. 52º 35' and 59º 35' West. It is separated from Canada on the west and south-west by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and on the north-west by the Straits of Belle Isle, a distance of 9 miles only, at its narrowest points, from the shores of Labrador. It’s south-west point approaches Cape Breton, being only a five hours run for a smart steamer, such as the “S.S. Bruce.” It is bounded on the east and south by the Atlantic. It lies in the highway of traffic between the old and the new world, and is nearer to Europe than any other part of America, St. John’s, the capital and most eastern projection, being only 1,640 miles from Valencia in Ireland, and from its position could be made the Gibraltar of the west, and an outlying fortress for Canada. Newfoundland forms an irregularly shaped triangle, deeply indented with numerous bays and harbours, and surrounded with innumerable islands, and has a coast line of about 2000 miles. Its width, at the very widest part, between Cape Anguille and Cape Spear, is 317 miles. Its greatest length, between Cape Ray and Cape Bauld, is about 316 miles, and has an area of 42,200 square miles. The principal bays are Conception Bay, Trinity Bay, Bonavista Bay, Notre Dame Bay, White Bay, Hare Bay, Bonne Bay, Bay of Islands, on the east and north east coast; Port au Port Bay, Bay St. George on the west coast; Fortune Ba, Placentia Bay, St. Mary’s Bay and Trepassey Bay on the south coast. There are besides these numerous smaller bays and harbours, many of them extensive, commodious and well sheltered, with numerous rivers and rivulets running into them, most of the harbours have splendid anchorage, with safe and good entrances.

Up to 1814 no attempt was made to survey te interior of the island, and practically all of its 42,200 square miles of lad was unknown, as far as the interior was concerned. Since then, fresh information has been added year by year as to the character of the country, its resources and natural wealth. The work commenced by Mr. Murray in 1864 has been carried on by Mr. James Rowley, and to the survey of the latter we are indebted for trustworthy information as to the mineral and lumber resources of the island. The erroneous idea that the interior was utterly worthless, has given place to a more generous estimate of the character ad wealth of the country. The description of large areas of well timbered land, and of soil over a large extent, well adapted for cultivation, led to the adoption of the railway.

The Line of Railway, now completed, extends from St. John’s to Port aux Basques, ad continues from Placentia junction, round to principal bays on the east to Exploits on the north, thence across the country, taking in Grand Lake and Deer Lake to Bay of Islands on the west coast, thence south taking in Bay St. George to Port aux Basques, the terminus, taking in some 600 miles. A branch line extends to Harbour Grace, 83½ miles; and another to Placentia, 84 miles. A branch to Brigus is under construction.

Within the past few years, considerable capital has been invested in perfectly equipped saw mills, and these have produced large quantities of lumber, finding ready markets in England and the United States.

The Highlands are generally rough and uninviting, but are magnificent sporting localities. Th Valleys of all the rivers offer splendid inducements to settlement, large areas of land, especially in the valleys of the Exploits, Gander, Humber, St. George and Codroy, are well adapted for farming, as also are most of the bottoms of the bays. I these valleys and bays, the extent of land available, at a very moderate cost, is very large. The inhabitants of late years are turning their attention much more to agricultural pursuits than they did formerly, proving these to be a great auxiliary to the staple industry, the fisheries.

The Barrens of Newfoundland occupy the interior on the summits of hills and ridges, and are elevated and exposed tracts. They are covered with a scrubby vegetation, berry bearing plants and dwarf bushes of various kinds. These Barrens are the home of the Caribou, and lovers of the gun will find more than enough to satisfy them in the exciting sport of deer hunting.

The sea cliffs are bold and lofty, with deep water close to the shore.

The Rivers are numerous, and though the majority are small, some of them attain magnificent proportions. The largest are the Humber, Exploits, Gander, Terra Nova, the Codroy and St. George. The Humber, flowing into the Bay of Islands, is about 80 miles long, and is navigable about 15 miles for large vessels. The Exploits is about 200 miles long, and navigable about 30 miles, and discharges itself into Exploits Bay, draining about 4000 square miles of country. It abounds with salmon and trout, ad its banks are well wooded. The Gander river is 100 miles long, and discharges itself into Hamilton Sound. The Terra Nova river is a large stream flowing into Alexander Bay and Bonavista Bay. The Codroy, on the west coast, flowing into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is a broad stream. On its banks and in its valleys are to be found the most fertile lands in the Island, and as a pasture land it is unequalled. The river St. George flows into a bay of the same name, and is situate on the west coast, receiving a smaller stream called Harry’s Brook. There are other and smaller streams too numerous to mention.

A number of lakes and ponds are to be found –– in fact, so many that it is said they cover a surface nearly one-third of the Island. The principal of these are, viz. Grand Lake (or pond), 56 miles long by five miles wide, with an area of 200 square miles, contains an island (Glovers Island) in its southern end, 21 miles long by two broad, and is drained by the Humber. Coal has been discovered in the vicinity. Red Indian Lake –– 37 miles by three miles –– with an area of 9 square miles, drained by the Exploits. Gander Lake, which is 36 miles long, has an area of 44 s quare miles and is drained by the Gander River. Deer Lake, about fifteen miles long by three broad, is drained by the Humber River; on its banks can be found large tracts of agricultural and timber lands.

The Laurentian system of rocks is by far the largest in the island. The Cambrian or Huronian crosses the peninsula of Avalon. The Selurian and carbonferons [sic] are largely represented. It is certain that the Island (with the introduction of more capital) will one day become a great mining centre. Immense quantities of copper ore and iron pyrites have been shipped from Bett’s Cove, Tilt Cove, Sutle Bay, and Pelley’s Island, an latterly iron from Belle Isle. Lead, antimony, gold, iron, silver, nickle, and zinc are also found. Coal beds have been discovered in St. George’s Bay and near the Grand Lake. Granite, limestone, sandstone, marble, slate and brick clay are also abundant. Asbestos is also found.

The climate is salubrious, and being insular is not liable to so great changes in temperature as that of the neighbouring provinces, the winter being much milder, and the summer not nearly so warm, the principal objection being the proximity of Arctic ice during the spring and sometimes well into the summer. The mean maximum temperature is 50° fahrenheit. The maximum 54°, the mean 47°; t temperature seldom rises above 80° in the shade during the summer, and in winter rarely drops below zero. The opinion that fogs are continuous in Newfoundland is a fallacy. They certainly exist on the Banks, but as a proof that they are by no means frequent at the shore, there were only 53 days in 1897 on which, according to meteorological observations, fogs were recorded, and some of these but of very short duration, and the rainfall was 4 inches, inclusive of melted snow.

The principal trees are pine, spruce, birch, larch, willow, ash and fir, some of these attain considerable size. Berry growing bushes abound. Agriculture is carried on in several sections of the island, especially in the valleys of the rivers, and in the neighbourhood of the lakes. Potatoes yield well and are of excellent quality. Green crops thrive in many places, and kitchen-garden produce cannot be excelled in quality and flavour. Gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries are grown in large quantities.

The Newfoundland Dog ­­ famous the world over, as also of “Land-sea” fame ­­ is becoming very scarce, in fact few of the genuine breed are to be found.

Among the wild animals may be enumerated the deer (caribou) [sic], wolf, bear (black and polar), fox (black, silver, grey and red), beaver, otter, marten, wild cat, muskrat, and arctic [sic] hare. Rabbits are numerous.

Land and sea birds are also plentiful, the principal ones being the grebe or sea eagle, hawks, owls, kingfisher, robin, sparrow, raven, ptarmigan (called partridge), plover, curlew, snipe, black duck, wild goose, gannet, and the loon (or great northern diver).

Seals are numerous, also whales, grampuses and porpoises. The cod of course abounds, and no place can be compared to Newfoundland for this commodity. Herring, salmon, halibut, turbot, caplin and squid, the latter used for bait, are in abundance.

Lobsters are also abundant, and the canned article now constitute a very valuable export.

The famous Banks of Newfoundland, viz. the Grand Bank, Outer Bank and St. Peter’s Bank, swarm with cod and fish of all kinds. The possession of these banks was formerly a great bone of contention between France, Spain and England. They form the most extensive elevation existing in any ocean, and occupy 6º long. and nearly 10º lat., being 600 miles in length and 200 miles in breadth, with a depth of water from 10 to 160 fathoms. The Labrador Fishery is engaged in during the months of June, July, August, September and part of October, and as many as 20,000 men are employed during these months. The value of the catch is estimated at about $1,125,000. The seal fishery is next in importance and employs about 10,000 men and is prosecuted principally by steamers; but latterly the government has given a bounty to sailing vessels, which it is hoped will bring about the prosecution of this valuable fishery in old-time sealing vessels. The lobster fishery is of rather recent origin, but now takes rank as of great importance, and the export of canned lobsters amounted to over $2,000,000 worth within the last few years. The salmon and herring fisheries might be more profitable if more attention was given to them.

The Imports of Newfoundland consist of all articles used for food and clothing, as well as for domestic and fishing purposes ­­ valued at $8,000,000.

The Exports from Newfoundland and Labrador are: Dried codfish, herring, cod oil, seal oil, seal skins, pickled salmon, preserved salmon and lobsters, copper, iron, iron pyrites, lumber, etc., valued at about $9,000,000.

The following is the Steamship connections, viz. ­­

Allan Line (Shea & Co.) Between St. John’s and Glasgow fortnightly during season, April to December, touching at Halifax and Philadelphia.

Ross Line (Shea & Co.) Between Montreal, Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island fortnightly.

Red Cross Line (Harvey & Co.) S.S. Portia and S.S. Silvia between St. John’s, Halifax and New York about every 12 days, and in summer months take in Pelley’s Island (Pyrite Mines).

Black Diamond Line (Harvey & Co.) S.S. Bonavista and S.S. Coban between Montreal and St. John’s via Charlottetown, P.E.I., and Sydney, Cape Breton every 12 days.

Canada Newfoundland Steamship Company (J. & W. Pitts, Agents) S.S. Ulunda and S.S. Barcelona between St. John’s, Halifax, N.S. and Liverpool, Eng., all the year round.

S.S. Bruce, of the Newfoundland Railway System (R.G. Reid), now runs weekly from Placentia to North Sydney, C.B., and this summer, 1898, will run from Port-au-Basque to North Sydney, C.B., making only a 5 hours’ sea trip and connecting with the Intercolonial Railway System.

The Coastal Royal Mail Steamers fortnightly north and west during summer, connecting with several Bay Steamers and the Labrador Steamer, and during the winter months to Halifax.

The public affairs of the Island are administered by a Governor and Executive Council of 7 members, a Legislative Council of 14 members, and a Legislative Assembly of 36 representatives. The Judicial Department comprises a Supreme Court with a chief and 2 assistant judges, a Vice-Admiralty court and district courts, also circuit courts.

A Representative Assembly was granted in 1832, under Sir Thomas Cochrane, and a responsible government in 1854.

The Public School system is based on the denominational principle, the grant from the general revenues for educational purposes being appropriated to the schools of the different denominations, according to population by last census. This system seems to be objectionable in the smaller places, where sometimes 3 schools will be found among a few hundred people, none of which have the means of providing a competent teacher. Higher education is provided through 4 colleges, all supported from the general education grant, and by tuition fees, and conducted denominationally, Bishop Feild College and Bishop Spencer College, Episcopalian, St. Bonaventure College, Roman Catholic. The others are the Methodist Collage and Presbyterian College. Under a council of higher education a system of examinations has been worked out which has been applied to the greatest advantage. St. John’s is the examining centre for degrees of the London University.

The inhabitants of the Island are principally descendants of the settlers from England, Ireland and Scotland.

The aboriginal inhabitants, known as Beastries [sic], have been extinct for many years. There are still some Micmacs on the Island, but not many.

According to the census of 1891 the population consisted of:

Church of England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69,823

Church of Rome . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72,696

Methodists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 53,276

Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and other denominations . 6,245


Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .202,040

NEWFOUNDLAND is supposed to have been discovered by Northmen about the year 1000. It was rediscovered by Sir John Cabot and his son, Sebastian, on the 24th June, 1497. A settlement was subsequently formed by some Portuguese adventurers, who were in turn expelled by Sir Francis Drake, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. After this period numerous English colonies were established from time to time along the eastern coast, and several French along the southern, in the Bay of Placentia. For a series of years the colony existed merely as a fishing settlement, and was much disputed by the French, until, in 1713, it was declared by the Treaty of Utrecht to belong wholly to Great Britain, the French reserving a right to fish on certain parts of the coast; the rocky islets of St. Pierre and Miquelon being also assigned to them, on condition that they should not be used for military purposes. The first governor of the Island, Captain Osborne, was appointed in 1729, and the first legislative assembly met on the first of January, 1832. The principal town, and capital, is St. John’s, situated on the Peninsula of Avalon, with a population of 29,000.

NEWFOUNDLAND has telegraphic communication with the old world by means of four submarine cables connecting between Heart’s Content, in Trinity Bay (100 miles from St. John’s), and Valentia in Ireland, about 1,640 miles; also with the new world by means of submarine cable from Heart’s Content to North Sydney, Cape Breton, about 360 miles, where a connection is made with the Western Union system ­­ thus opening up communication with Canada and the United States.

In 1876 the Labrador, extending from Cape Chidley (Hudson’s Straits) to Blanc Sablon (Straits of Belle Isle), including Hamilton Basin, was included into the Colony of Newfoundland. Area about 120,000 square miles. Population about 4,106.

The total population of Newfoundland, including Labrador, was 202,040 in 1891, and at the present date, 1898, is estimated to be 210,000.



The Island is sub-divided into the following 18 political districts, viz. ­

DistrictPopulationChief Town
Bay de Verde 9,708 Western Bay
Bonavista 17,849 Bonavista

Burgeo and LaPoile 6,471 Channel
Burin 9,059 Burin
Carbonear 5,765 Carbonear
Ferryland 5,853 Ferryland
Fogo 6,700 Fogo
Fortune Bay 7,671 Harbour Briton [sic]
Harbour Grace 13,881 Harbour Grace
Harbour Main 9,189 Harbour Main
Placentia and St. Mary’s 12,801 Great Placentia
Port de Grave 7,986 Brigus
St. Barbe 6,690 Bonne Bay
St. George 6,632 Codroy
St. John’s (east) 20,776} 
St. John’s (west) 15,251} St. John’s
Trinity 19,872 Trinity
Twillingate 16,780 Twillingate
Labrador (not yet represented) 4,106 Battle Harbour
Total population 202,040 in 1891

Transcribed by Peter Godfrey (May 2002)

Page Last Modified: Friday February 22, 2008 (Don Tate)

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