Tag Archives: Placentia

Looks like a good Christmas on the Cape Shore

December 7, 1884

“A derelict schooner, drifted ashore at St. Bride’s … “

As Christmas 1884 approached, the people of St. Bride’s, Placentia Bay, were thinking it would not be a prosperous Christmas.  It had been a poor year in the fishery. Their fortune was however about to change unhappily born on the pain of other families from Placentia Bay.

On  December 7, 1884 residents of St. Bride’s  stood on ‘the bank’ overlooking Placentia Bay  watching as a “a derelict schooner, drifted ashore at St. Bride’s, dismasted and waterlogged…”

There was much excitement in St. Bride’s, it was quickly realized that “Sixty three barrels of flour and six puncheons of molasses” was aboard the vessel.   It was theirs to salvage, they would take it home.

In the days following the salvage effort, St. Bride’s fell silent.  James E. Croucher, the Wreck Commissioner stationed at Great Placentia had arrived in the town on December 10.  He immediately began a search for the cargo of the ill-fated schooner, but to his dismay only found   “24 barrels of flour broken and in a damaged condition, and two puncheons of molasses …”   

Thirty nine (39) barrels of flour and four (4) puncheons of molasses were not accounted for.

Croucher,  as the Wreck Commissioner was obliged by law, under the Consolidated States of Newfoundland to travel to St. Bride’s to investigate the loss of the Schooner, he could only conclude: “the remainder of the property being distributed amongst salvors by a person or parties who had no authority from me to do so.”

As he sailed out of St. Bride’s for Great Placentia the residents of St. Bride’s no doubt celebrated. With their newly acquired abundance of flour and molasses, it would be a good Christmas.

The people of St. Bride’s also mourned, they knew that their gain came at the loss of the crew of the Schooner Stella, a crew of nine men out of nearby Oderin, Placentia Bay.  It is said that she was wrecked in the “terrific gale of November 1884.”

Ever respectful of the dead, it is reported that All the clothes that had belonged to the lost men that had been taken from the Schooner were carefully dried and forwarded to their families.”

What was St. Bride’s Like?

The 1874 census listed a population of 140 in 29 families. Thirteen residents were from Ireland and one from Scotland.  The 79 fishermen had 22 boats. The 13 farmers had 203 cattle, 30 horses, 139 sheep and 113 swine on 200 acres of land.  Products included 60 bushels of oats and 5,460 lbs. 01 butter

By 1891, the population had increased to 256, including four from Ireland. The 66  fishermen-farmers. The community also had a priest, a teacher and a merchant, and 65 of the 122 children were in school.

What about the name?

The name of St. Bride’s is quite modern, and was given from the titular Saint of the Church of St. Bridgett.

On more ancient maps it  (St. Bride’s)  was called La Stress, apparently a French name which became corrupted into Distress.

This name “Distress”  in 1876   was reported by the newly arrived  priest Reverend Charles Irvin  as “not being of pleasant sound”  and having the authority of the church the priest  changed the name from Distress to  St. Bride’s .   

Recommended Archival Collection:  The Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. Johns, holds 70% of the Crew Agreements from 1863-1938, and 80% of the Agreements from 1951-1976. The crew agreements include particulars of each member of the crew, including name (signature), age, place of birth, previous ship, place and date of signing, capacity  and particulars of discharge (end of voyage, desertion, sickness, death, never joined etc). http://www.mun.ca/mha/

Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home: At the eastern edge of the continent, bounded by the sea, the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador’s livyers was tied to the fisheries and the North Atlantic. A rich mix of dialects, ways of life, food traditions, story and song developed here. The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4

A New Bridge for Placentia Gut


September 23, 2016

On  October 28, 1961, the Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge was officially opened by Premier J.R. Smallwood.

Previous to the new bridge residents of the area  were advocating for a bridge across the main gut  through petitions presented to government  as early as 1926.


in 1942 a scow was put on the Placentia gut by the Americans to transport vehicles (for travel to the wireless stations they had set up on the Cape Shore). They later replaced this with a pontoon bridge, but because of the strong tides the bridge could not be kept in place.

The original  Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge consists of two approach spans and one centre vertical lift span each 100 feet in length. The total weight of the centre span which can be raised in one and a half minutes is 100 tons. Clearance under the span in the down position is 10 feet, and when raised is 70 feet.

In May 2011 the Provincial Government issued a tender to replace the aging “iconic structure.”  The new lift bridge Sir Ambrose Shea bridge  was built directly adjacent to the existing bridge.

NEW BRIDGE  OPENS – September 23, 2016


The Honourable Dwight Ball, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, joined with the Honourable Al Hawkins, Minister of Transportation and Works, the Honourable Sherry Gambin-Walsh, Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development, and MHA for Placentia – St. Mary’s, Ken McDonald, Member of Parliament for Avalon, along with His Worship, Wayne Power, Mayor of Placentia, and members of the community, to officially recognize the opening.

The lift bridge is staffed year round, 24-hours a day. The bridge is lifted approximately 2,400 times annually for marine traffic and sees about 6,500 vehicles pass over per day. During the busiest spring months when crab and lobster fisheries are at their peak, the bridge can lift over 400 times a month.

The new Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge cost approximately $47.7 million, which includes construction, engineering and demolition and removal of the old bridge. The construction of the bridge saw the placement of 9,200 metres of steel piling, 3,800 cubic metres of concrete, 150 tonnes of reinforcing steel and approximately 976 tonnes of structural steel.

Mayor Wayne Power of Placentia said “Sir Ambrose Shea Lift Bridge provides a vital link for our communities; it also allows access to the harbour and serves as a unique attraction for visitors. The opening of the new bridge is a great milestone and as a community we are thankful for the investment made to make this a reality.”

New Word:  Bascule Bridge from the French word for “see-saw,” a bascule bridge features a movable span (leaf) that rotates on a horizontal hinged axis (trunnion) to raise one end vertically. A large counterweight is used to offset the weight of the raised leaf.

New Word: Scow  – a large flatbottom boat with square ends, used chiefly for transporting freight

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives explore MG 83 the Bradshaw Family collection that consists of 7 files comprised of land grants for Placentia Gut and North East Arm, bills of sale, printed speeches and advertisements. also contains 2 maps, [ca. 1840] The maps are a Map of Ordnance property, Placentia 1806; copied 1881 and Plan of Placentia, 1741.

Who was Ambrose Shea? Read More: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/shea_ambrose_13E.html

Recommended Song: The Bridge at Placentia Gut:  http://www.laval.k12.nf.ca/poem.htm

A grand Newfoundland welcome or a “Placentian feu de joie”

Archival Moment

August 27, 1886

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 1074-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 104-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

There was a custom in all Newfoundland communities whereby the local residents would greet all visiting dignitaries with a ‘loud salute of guns’ also known as “feu de joie.”  If the dignitary was arriving by boat the men of the town would line the wharf with guns aimed to the sky shooting a volley as a sign of welcome.  If the delegation came by road, the men armed with their guns, stood along the road, often near a green bough archway, that was created for the dignitary to walk under shooting the volley  as he entered.

In early August 1886 the men of Placentia gave a loud salute of guns from the “plaza” of Placentia that greeted the ears of Mr. George H. Emerson, MH.A., as he walked ashore into Placentia  from the costal steamer, just arrived from St. John’s. Emerson was well known in Placentia, he had been elected the year previous as the Liberal member of the House of Assembly (M.H.A.) for Placentia and St. Mary’s.

Upon hearing the “feu de joie” the locals noticed that  Emmerson “doffed his sombrero bowing deeply and graciously, acknowledging the compliment extended to him” by the citizens of Placentia.

Emerson was however soon blushing with embarrassment.  A juvenile from Placentia who stood witness to his bowing shouted:

 “The guns are not for you, sir they’re for Mr. Fowlow’s wedding that took place last night.”

It appears that the men of Placentia were not on the wharf to greet Mr. Emerson but rather they were there to ‘salute their guns” to their friend Mr. Fowlow who had just married and was about to depart the town on the same coastal steamer that the young politician had arrived on.

The firing off the guns or “feu de joie“  as a young couple left the church, after exchanging vows,  was a long established tradition in Newfoundland. Another tradition was to fire the guns as they departed the community on their honeymoon.

Embarrassed that he had stolen the limelight Mr. Emerson confidence “drooped and he sought out his hotel.”

Upon arrival at the hotel he quickly” ordered a cocktail, which soon put him in good feather again”.

The Editor of the St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram on August 27, 1886, with tongue planted firmly in cheek wrote:

  “In the sweet by and by when he leads one of his fair constituents to Hyman’s altar, he will be entitled to all the honor and comfort derivable from Placentian feu de joie.”

To take someone to Hyman’s altar was an expression that referred  to taking someone to the altar to marry.  Emerson, the Editor of the Evening Telegram suggested, would not receive the salute of guns  (the Placentian feu de joie)  until his marriage day.

Recommended Archival Collection: The Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language  (MUNFLA) comprises extensive collections of Newfoundland and Labrador folksongs and music , folk narratives , oral history, folk customs, beliefs and practices, childlore and descriptions of material culture. Explore your traditions  at MUN!!

Recommended Reading:  Dictionary of Newfoundland English G.M. Story, W.J. Kirwin, and J.D.A. Widdowson, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, The DNE is a historical dictionary based on evidence taken from printed sources and, in addition, on evidence of tape-recorded speech in the province. After its great popular success in 1982 and widespread published reviews, it has continued in print to the present. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/d7ction.html

Recommended Museum Exhibit:  The Rooms Provincial Museum Division,  Here, We Made a Home: The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery, Level 4. See a short film video “Wedding salute in Fogo.”  The video captures the traditional Newfoundland and Labrador, ‘loud salute of guns’ or a fusillade also known as “feu de joie.”

New Phrases: — n  , feu de joie  a salute of musketry fired successively by each man in turn along a line and back   C18: literally: fire of joy] . The custom continues in many communities in Newfoundland especially on the Cape Shore where guns are fired as the newly married couples leave the church.

When was the last time that you witnessed a ‘salute of guns’ in your community?

When was the last time that a green bough arch was erected in your community to welcome some dignitary?



September 1762

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: MG 85.10; The harbour of Trepassey with Mutton and BiscayBays; The road and harbour of Placentia; St. Mary’s Harbour

In August and September of 1762 if you were sailing about Newfoundland and happened into the harbours of Placentia, Harbour Grace, Carbonear or St. John’s it is likely that you would have met James Cook.

Captain James Cook, (1728-1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy.  He may be best known internationally for his work in the Pacific Ocean, Australia, the Hawaiian Islands, and New Zealand, but it was in Newfoundland where he cut his surveying teeth!! 

James Cook first came to Newfoundland in the summer of 1762 giving six years of his life over to the survey of Newfoundland waters.

When he arrived on our shores, most of the island was known only in shadowy outline. When he left he had scientifically surveyed almost all the unknown coasts. His charts with detailed sailing directions and remarks on suitable anchoring, watering and wooding places would serve well into the 20th century.

Governor Graves of Newfoundland was so impressed by the work of Cook that he reported in 1763 that Cook’s attention to detail was “beyond my description.”  He continued:

“I have no doubt in a year or two more of seeing a perfect good chart of Newfoundland and an exact survey of most of the good harbors, in which there is not perhaps a part of the world that more abounds”.

Two hundred and fifty years after Cook’s arrival in Newfoundland waters it is time to celebrate his accomplishments.

You are invited to view the charts created by Cook on exhibit at the Rooms Provincial Archives and to join the Newfoundland Historical Society for the Cook Symposium.  The opening lecture of the Symposium and reception will be held at The Rooms on Friday September 28 from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.  Please note that that the reception will begin at 7:00 PM with a lecture from Dr. Olaf Jenzen to follow at 8:00 p.m

The Symposium will continue at 10:00 a.m.  Saturday morning  September 29th at Memorial University’s Engineering Building. Parking is free and located in parking AREA 16, adjacent to the building.

The symposium is free and registration is not required. Come for any or all of the sessions.

For more information on the Cook Symposium:  www.nlhistory.ca.

Recommended Website: To view some of Cook’s Charts go to:  http://www.heritage.nf.ca/exploration/cooks_charts.html

Recommended Exhibit: Visit the Rooms Provincial Archives Reference Room where five reproductions of the Cook charts are on exhibit.