Harbour Breton has a magnificent land-locked harbour and is one of the oldest and largest fishing centres on the south coast of Newfoundland. This land-locked and ice-free harbour is located near the southern tip of the Connaigre Peninsula on the north side of Fortune Bay.
The early history of the old "Capital of Fortune Bay" goes back to the Bretons (from Brittany, France) based at Placentia who fished from Hr. Breton in the 17th. Century. The 1687 French map of Nfld. shows Hr. Breton as Havre Bertrand and a census of the same year shows that it had no resident French families but it did have 36 fishing servants stationed in the harbour. In 1693, one fisherman, Pierre Germy was a resident of Havre Bertrand. A common French surname in Placentia was Bertrand and hence the French name for Harbour Breton. After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the English dominance in Fortune Bay shows Havre Bertrand as Harbour Briton.
|Photo Courtesy of Doug R. Wells|
Captain Taverner's visit to Hr. Breton in 1718 describes the community as a "rugged mountainous land, with a good beach, a planters house and stage, and it is about 20 years since the French had fished there."
During the 18th. and 19th. Centuries, Hr. Breton served as a base for English colonial fishing ventures and settlement in Fortune Bay. After the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Jersey and Poole merchants were impelled to shift their south coast bases at St. Pierre to suitable harbours in Fortune Bay, such as Hr. Breton.
In 1776, Captain James Cook describes Harbour Breton as "the principal harbour in Fortune Bay, with a good bottom and the place convenient for wooding and watering, and room for a great number of mercht. ships, and many convenient places for building of stages, landing and drying of fish." Cook also mentions that Thompson Beach in Hr. Breton was occupied by Clarke & Young of Poole, where they built new buildings and made other improvements, making it quite suitable for carrying on a fishing and trading business.
Bishop Edward Field, July, 1848 made a visit to Hr. Breton in the church ship Hawk and he wrote: "I was refreshing my admiring recollection of this picturesque harbour, so completely land-locked that a stranger could hardly guess the passage to the sea, and surrounded by hills of a bold and fantastic outline, which, could, I think, be produced by nothing but fire and fusion."
Rev. Philip Tocque (1878) was also struck by the landscape of the harbour, noting that "towering cliffs of sienite, some hundreds of feet in altitude, appear in their wild sublimity, against which the ocean bellows roll, wrapping their base in sheets of spray and foam."
Soon after Clarke & Young had established in Hr. Breton, William Waldren of Poole also established premises there, and eventually formed the new firm of Waldren Clarke & Young, establishing Hr. Breton as the mercantile centre of Fortune Bay.
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Newman & Company
Waldren Clarke & Young were succeeded by the English firm of Spurrier, whose premises were later acquired by Robert Newman & Co., a London based firm which had other stations along the south coast. Through its operations in Newfoundland, the Newman & Co. had formed partnerships with various firms, especially with T.A. Hunt and P. Nicolle of Jersey. During the 1820(?), the Newman & Co. made Hr. Breton its Newfoundland headquarters and went on to control commercial life in the community for over 100 years.
|The Newman Company's barquantine ''Retriever'' arriving in Harbour Breton with a cargo of port wine ca. 1892Photo Courtesy of Newman Wine Vaults, St. John's, NL|
Through the 19th. Century, the company relied heavily on the importing of fishing servants from England and Ireland. The Newman Plantation in Hr. Breton was indeed impressive, containing all the essentials for carrying on a large scale fishing and trading operation. The company constructed impressive brick and wood stores, warehouses on the prime beach front, a large kitchen, a cellar, wholesale and retail stores, workshops for carpenters, coopers, blacksmiths, and other tradesmen. The premises also contained a doctor's residence and a church. Cannons on the beach facing the entrance to the harbour acted as protection for the plantation. The famous Newman's Port wine was stored on the premises for aging and maturing before shipment to the markets of Europe. A Mr. Hardy was a long time Port Wine storekeeper. In 1848 Bishop Feild describes the Newman premises as "complete, comfortable, and consequential as wealth could make it." The Newman & Co. had very strong ties with the Church of England and before a church and school were constructed they made it possible for services to be held in the sail room, and another room was lent for the school, complete with seats and desks. The first school teacher was Mrs. Elizabeth Trood (1843/1844). In 1849, Rev. Philip Tocque noted that "Newman & Co. commenced the cultivation of a large tract of land at the head of Hr. Breton arm, growing potatoes, wheat, and tobacco."
|Newman (right) with his wife and guide during a fishing expedition to the Codroy Valley in 1905|
Photo Courtesy of Newman Wine Vaults, St. John's, NL
By 1871, the Newman & Co. employed about 100 people in salting, drying, packing, and shipping fish to Europe, Brazil and the West Indies, and was managed by a Mr. Gallop. A large business was done with the Americans during the winter seasons, through the sale of bait. In 1865, the Newman & Co. exported 14,699 cwts of saltfish from its firm in Hr. Breton. Four other companies in the harbour exported 14,944 cwts in total that same year.
The Newman & Co. had many years of prosperity in Hr. Breton but by the early 1900s, their fortunes had declined and closed its operation in 1907. This marked the end of an era in the Nfld. saltfish trade, for the Newman & Co. was the last English based fishing firm to operate in Nfld. "That Newman & Co. survived in Nfld. for so long can be attributed chiefly to their ruthless efficiency in dealing with their agents, their painstaking scrutiny and careful examination of the account books, and their specific and detailed instructions regarding all matters. When an agent's work was unsatisfactory, he was usually invited to London for a conference and, if necessary, dismissed while there." (S. Ryan, "Fish Out of Water.")
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An 1840's Love Story Gone Wrongas researched by Loretta Ridgeley
Somewhere deeply embedded in the earth of Harbour Breton, lies the remains of one dashing and lofty Englishman, a parody of love's triangle, his heart a severed composite of her soil. And in foreign lands across the way, lie the remains of the components of a web of love, lust, crime and deception.
Trading his beloved England for lands unknown, young Paul Langstone, unable to control the tides of fate or master the changes of time, allows the sea to divide, the distance to part and falls victim to his own destiny.
The Newman era in Harbour Breton saw the development of history with a personal touch, portrayed through the revelation of an 1840's love story evolving around Mildred Baxter, a renowned young English lady, and her fiancee, Paul Langstone, a clerk with the Newman firm in Harbour Breton. Upon learning of his infidelity in Harbour Breton, Mildred adopted the disguise of a man, journeyed to Harbour Breton, plotted her revenge and redeemed her grace.
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AFTER NEWMAN & CO.
|Newman Plantation, Harbour Breton c1900, Photo Courtesy of Memorial University Library|
After Newman & Co. pulled out of Hr. Breton their premises were bought by Job Brothers, and Jobs soon sold the premises to Arthur Bouthilier of Halifax, forming the National Fish Company in 1914. By 1924 the Bouthilier interests were acquired by Gorton Pew & Co. of Gloucester, Mass., who then sold the premises to Hugh Coady of Hr. Breton (late 1920s).
From the 1930s and beyond, Hr. Breton's commercial life was centred around the Grand Banks fishery, from processing salt cod to a new fresh cod processing plant in the early 1960s. Seasonal employment was obtained by many Hr. Breton fishermen on schooners out of Lunenburg, N.S. and Grand Bank, Nfld. before the new plant was built. Hr. Breton still continues to be a regional service centre for the whole north shore region of Fortune Bay.
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Harbour Breton was first recorded in the census of 1836 with a population of 149, the majority of whom were fishing servants. By 1845, the population had reached 241 and by 1857 it reached 361, forty-seven of whom were born in England. From mid to late 1800s, Hr. Breton was "still absorbing emigrants from Dorset, Sumerset and the Channel Islands."
|Photo Courtesy of Doug R. Wells|
In 1871, the population of Hr. Breton continued to rise, and was the chief town of Fortune Bay. "There was little crime in that year, a few occasional assaults, and no serious sickness. The inhabitants were about two-thirds Protestant and one-third Roman Catholic, and the place has a minister of each denomination, and also a surgeon and a stipendiary magistrate."
According to the Encyclopedia of Nfld. and Labrador, early known permanent settlers were Benjamin Chapman (1824), Samuel Hutchings (1835), James Taylor (1851), Richard Longmead (1851), John Strickland (1853), James Stone (1853), George Rideout (1853), James Hunt (1853), James Holley (1854), William Herrott (1854), William Tibboe (1858), George Burns (1859), and James Hardy, storekeeper (1859).
|South Side, Harbour Breton c1900, Photo Courtesy of Memorial University Library|
By the late 1800s, a large part of the population had either settled in Hr. Breton permanently, moved to other stations on the south coast which were connected with the Newman & Co. or returned to their country of origin. By 1891, Hr. Breton's population had reached 484. Of them, 443 were Nfld. born with the remainder from England, Ireland, Scotland and other British colonies.
Hr. Breton was designated as a "growth centre" in 1965 and the government encouraged people living in isolated communities to relocate to the town in order to receive better public services and opportunities for employment. From 1965 to 1971, a total of 700 people had moved to Hr. Breton. Its 1971 population was 2600 people. People had moved from such communities as Jersey Harbour, Sagona Island, Miller's Passage, Little Bay West, Great Harbour, Red Cove, Pass Island, Grole, Stone Valley, Muddy Hole, Pushthrough, Piccaire, Round Harbour, Broad Cove, and Brunette Island to take up a new life in Harbour Breton.
Today Harbour Breton is still a vibrant community with many modern facilities. The fishery, although operating on a seasonal basis is still the mainstay of the economy. Harbour Breton with its 2079 people is a proud and progressive community with a strong sense of history and culture and looks to the future with optimism.
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HARBOUR BRETON HISTORY TRIVIA
1799 - Governor Waldegrave, Governor of Newfoundland visits Hr. Breton 1844 - Mrs. Elizabeth Trood hired as Hr. Breton's first school teacher. 1848 - Consecration of St. Bartholomew's Church of England Church in Hr. Breton. Located on the Newman & Co. Plantation. 1859 - John Cox and his five sons, of Hr. Breton, lost at sea near Brunette Island. 1872 - St. Joseph's Convent opens in Hr. Breton. 1895 - St. Bartholomew's Church of England Church burns down. 1907 - Newman & Co. closes its business in Hr. Breton, the last Newman & Co. firm in Nfld. 1907-1910 - Construction of an elaborate Queen Ann style residence by a local fish merchant Mr. John J. Rose. Known today as the Sunny Cottage Heritage Centre. 1935 - Loss of the schooner Alsatian, taking 10 lives from Hr. Breton. 1936 - Cottage Hospital built at Hr. Breton. 1963 - Electricity comes to Harbour Breton. 1965-1971 - Period of a major influx of people to Hr. Breton through the government resettlement program. 1971 - Hr. Breton linked to Trans Canada Highway by road. 1973 - Landslide on south side of Hr. Breton, killing 4 Hickey children. 1997 - The Matthew, a replica of John Cabot's vessel (1497), visits Hr. Breton. 1999 - Bluenose II visits Hr. Breton as part of Soiree 99. 2000 - Islandinger visits Hr. Breton as part of the Viking Celebrations.
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History section courtesy of Doug R. Wells.