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Early History Early Economy

 

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The Bellburns connection

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Welcome to Bellburns

For those with a connection, past or present to the tiny community in Newfoundland that we like to call home. 

Introduction

   Bellburns is a small community on the Great northern Peninsula (approximately 150 miles north of Corner Brook and 200 miles south of St. Anthony ) of the island of Newfoundland. Until the summer of 1958 the only means of travel to and from the community during the winter was on foot, by dog team, horse and later years by snowmobile. During the summer, people either walked, went in small open boats or by coastal boats.

 Since it is one of the youngest communities in Newfoundland its history is not extremely difficult to uncover. Bellburns was at one time a progressive little community. However now it can be referred to as a dying community as a result of the younger people having to move due to economic reasons.

The site of the early settlement is a small beachy cove, bounded by hills and cliffs carved out of faulted granite. From the Northeast end of the cove a small stream empts itself into the sea.  Extending back from the sea is a 100 m rocky beach that in early years of settlement provided a natural flake for drying fish. Inland from the top of the hills and cliffs, the terrain is fairly flat and completely covered with forest, except for a few ponds and tiny ponds locally known as flashets

 

Early History

There are no written records describing the settlement or early life of Bellburns, nevertheless an oral history of the place has been handed down through the years.  The name of the settlement is linked to a man by the name of William Burns, who passing by boat and seeing the small river empting into the cove decided to replenish his supply of fresh water. 

The first settler was Jock Druggit who settled here with his family around 1830. His origin is unknown but it appears by name that he was of Scottish ancestry or perhaps could have migrated from England to serve on some Jersey room (a fishing establishment operated by Jersey Island fishermen at several places along the coast. Its not know how long the Druggit family lived at Bellburns but it appears that they lived here for some time, as they had a log cabin by the beach for a summer house and another in the back-woods for a winter house. It wasn’t until 1956 that the people gave up this idea.  The family cleared land and grew vegetables, signs of which were still evident around 1920. The Druggit family derived a living from the salmon fishery, supplemented by their land produce. The Druggits eventually moved to the Bay of Islands, where descendents still live today.

 The next settle to take up residence at Bellburns was Levi House, one of five brothers that came out from Devonshire England. Levi also came to work on a Jersey room. After his apprenticeship at another settlement, Levi (1820-1880) came to live at Bellburns with his wife, Sarah Payne (1819 –1860) from  Cow Head, another small settlement south of Bellburns. Like the Druggit family, the House family cleared land, grew vegetables and was highly dependent upon the salmon fishery. To Levi and Sarah House were born four sons and one daughter, some of which were destined to be the ancestors of the present House Family now living at Bellburns.

Settlers were first attracted to Bellburns by its excellent stand of timber, its trapping opportunities and its proximity to good lobster, salmon and cod fishing grounds. The first settlers fished on a small scale and cleared land to grow vegetables. For many years the settlers fished during the summer and trapped wildlife in the winter to help supplement their livelihood. Not until 1928 did the people begin to saw lumber to sell. The pattern of life changed as a result of this logging operation and it remained practically the same for the next 30 years. Successful logging operations were carried out with from three to eight sawmills operating at various times in the 1940s and the 1950s. 

The men would fish for lobster in the early spring and cod in the summer and fall. In their spare time prepared the ground and set their vegetables. During August they would be busy making hay to feed their cows, sheep and horses. Between September and December depending on the weather the men would cut logs for sawing during the winter. A week or two before Christmas, enough firewood would be cut and hauled to last a year. Christmas time was a time for taking it easy. Come the middle of January, whole families would “shift in the woods”. During this time the logs would be sawn into lumber, then hauled to the sea by horse to await shipment to market by vessels. 

After the high road went through the settlement in 1958 the pattern of life changed again. The demand for lumber dropped and very little has been sawn since except for local use. Methods of fishing changed but nevertheless it was the main source of employment in the early 1970 and today. 

Between 1901 and 1911 the first school was built and education was considered by the parents to be important to the child’s future. However the child had little opportunity to see this in every day life. The ordinary tasks in Bellburns require at most, knowledge of basic arithmetic and the ability to read and right. Much knowledge acquired within the community was bound with making a living. Since 1956 the outlook on education has changed. The young are becoming educated and leaving the community to pursue careers in many different fields for which the home has no demand. 

According to the census returns and local recollections, Bellburns reached its maximum size during the 10 years between 1945-1955. Since then the population has varied but generally has been in decline. The first Census recorded eleven people in 1874 and the population slowly grew with the addition of families from Conception Bay, the west coast and Trinity Bay: by 1901 the population was sixty-four; in 1935 it was eighty-nine; in 1945 it was 144 and by 1996 it was 114. Today the population is approximately 65.

Early Economy

When the first settlers came to Bellburns, they took on the same mode of living as did the other early fisherfolk of Newfoundland. The families cleared small plots of land in what was the fringe of the forest, built their homes and eked out their living from the land and sea. A little furring was carried on during the late fall and winter but salmon fishing became the chief source of cash income in the settlement. Trade was carried on between the settlers at Bellburns and the middlemen on the mainland of North America. Traders made several trips along the coast during the spring and later summer collecting salmon and furs and in return brought in supplies and provisions. When the offspring of Levi grew up and married, the salmon fishery was still the chief source of live hood supplements by a little furring and later by the cod fishers. Lobsters at the time were not caught for commercial purposes but were used for bait when the need arose. Lobster were a nuisance for they would become entangled in the cod nets and thousands would be trampled under foot in order to free them.

However, later on a mainland firm under the name of Farguhar and Company from Halifax came and built a lobster-canning factory. A local road bears the name The Factory Path. This is the path where men cut wood to warm the boilers in the factory. The company did a thriving business fro a few years, taking everything that was caught, both small and seedy females to the extent that the shellfish became so scarce, the enterprise had to be abandoned.

The settlers learned the art of processing the lobster, so after the close down of the lobster factory, the settlers continued to carry on the canning of lobsters under the disguise of salmon. The French who owned the fishing rights along the coast handicapped the fishermen. Furthermore, the French were bitterly opposed to the small packers of lobsters as the settlers were termed. The French kept watch over the settlers whom they always suspected of illegally fishing lobsters and demanded that the English government send a small warship to patrol the coast and see to it that no illegal fishing was going on. Nevertheless, this did not stop the small packers and on several occasions those caught fishing were taken on board the frigate and severely reprimanded. Only on rare occasions were any drastic restrictions imposed. This was the case in all settlements along the French Shore, lasting through the last half of the nineteenth century until 1904 when France finally gave up the rights to what was referred to as the French Shore.

After the agreement with the French in 1904, the people carried on the cod, lobster and salmon fishery in a normal way and without interruption. Between 1891 and 1901 six lobster canning factories were operating in the community, and in 1920 fox farms, which operated until the 1950s, were built. Successful logging operations were carried out between 1930 and 1960 with from three to eight sawmills operating at various times in the 1940s and the 1950s.

Fishery:

According to the census returns, the first recording shows that in 1901 there were 708 lobster traps being fished. Cod nets and cod traps were used by fishermen to catch the cod. Another technological addition was the trawl (short lines with hooks attached to end and baited. Each short line was attached to a longer line) that was introduced around 1938. After the fish was dried it was sold to the local merchants getting in return provisions and supplies to pursue the fishery further. Occasionally the fishermen would be paid in cash, sometimes getting as low as 1.50 per Quintal (~112 lbs). Similarly, lobsters were sold locally for 12.00 per case of 48-16 ounce tins. It was the custom for many years when the lobster season opened for men to go to small coves or creeks between Bellburns and River of Ponds to lobster fish. If the seas were rough during the weekend the men would have to tramp back to the settlement to get enough grub for the following week. Some of the small coves that the fishermen went to were: Deer Cove, Jocks Creek, Beateaux, The back cove, The Bank and Point Lafountaine. In 1936, the Consolidated Lobster Co. from Boston began buying live lobsters. For the first time the fishermen were paid good prices for their catch but suffered great losses through transportation to the Boston market. After the fishermen had caught the lobster, he would pool them on a “fast” in the small puddles, sometimes he would pool them off-shore as to prevent the fresh water from killing then. When a number of “crates” has been caught, the fishermen would transport them in small open boats to Port Saunders and place then in a community pool to await shipment to Boston. When the boat returned for another trip the fishermen would be paid. Thousands of pounds were reported dead on arrival at the market leaving much doubt in the minds of the poor fishermen. Nothing could be done about the situation however deceitful the story might be. In the 1970's the lobster was sold to a firm that parked it truck a few feet away from the boat, paying a high price of $.90 per pound.

The early fishermen fished from a dory or small row boat until sometime around 1954. The introduction of the outboard motor proved to be a great convenience since it could be easily handles and used on small boats. Although the gas engine came into use after WW1, it was never used in the fishery except to transport the lobsters to Port Saunders. In the early 70’s the majority of the working labour force depend mainly upon the fishery. They fish for lobster in the early spring and later on when the capelin land they use the gill-net to catch cod. On an overage he makes about $3,000. per year.

Agriculture:

When the first settlers came to Bellburns, they came to fish. In addition to this they cleared the land to grow vegetables to help supplement their food supply.

As the tale goes, Jock Druggit cleared land at the top of the hill near his winter house to sow the first seeds in Bellburns. During Levi’s time land was in a single block att he bottom of the hill(on the green) but when the boys became older and married, blocks of land were fenced off and given to each one. Each of the boys cleared more land and planted crops using the kelp from the beach as a source of fertilizer. Cabbage, turnip and potatoes were grown in abundance (these were sold to the people of River of Ponds and Daniels Harbour). Land was cleared to grow hay to feed the cattle and horses. IN 1945, there were 26 horses and an estimated 58 acres were in hay land. Not only in the settlement itself did the people clear the forest away for use but went to more easily cleared areas (Balm Pond, Bellburns Pond,Grassey Place, Table Point Pond, Bateaux and Naamans Hole). From here the hay would be hauled during the winter to the settlement to feed the cattle and sheep and to the nearby sawmill to feed the horses.

According to the census reports, cattle and fowl were introduced around 1901 and later on sheep, horses and dogs became part of life in Bellburns. Sheep could be kept on very little hay during the winter, let out in the spring to pasture, then in the fall would be rounded up and slaughtered for food. Oxen were used for hauling firewood but at the age of six or seven, they to would be killed for food. Fowl provided three things of importance for the settlers, namely that of meat, eggs and feathers for bedding.

At one time in the history of Bellburns the settlers were almost completely independent. They grew their own vegetables; from the animals they got their beef, mutton, milk and butter. The skins provided skin boots and skin slippers. From the wool women knitted mitts, sweaters, socks, caps, slips and drawers. Birds of all kinds both tame and wild provided the settlers with eggs, meat and feathers. During the depression years thousands of mussels and clams were picked or dug for food. Further more at that particular time, many caribou roamed the low land marsh and bogs. Rabbits were plentiful thus there was no reason why the people should have gone hungry except the lazy.

Now, ( early 70’s) the hay land has been neglected fro only two or three families keep horses and sheep. Similarly, with the exception of three families, none grow any food crops. Caribou has completely disappeared from the low lands. The rabbits are still plentiful and the moose that tool the place of the caribou and provided meat is now gradually disappearing due to excess hunting on the Long Range Mountains. Very few people catch and dry the cod for winter use any more. People depend on goods brought daily to the community by means of the highroad. One might justly say that a subsistent way of life has almost disappeared

Seal Fishery:

Not one man from the community has ventured on a sealer or boat that pursued seal fishery. The seal fishery provided little in the way of cash income. Meat from the seal was used for food for both dogs and humans and was also used as a means of fertilizer in the gardens. When the ice came to the land, men killed the seal and then he skinned it and dragged the pelt to the shore. Sometimes the seal was hunted in small boats. The fat from the seals would be scraped from the skin, put in drums and shipped away to Job Brothers in St.John’s. Some skins would be tented in water, dressed and then were set away to. Enough would be kept for skin boots that were worn by every member of the family. For years the price of the seal products dropped, footwear in another form cold is purchased in the local store so therefore the seal was hunted only for an occasional meal. Recently (early 1970”s) the price has risen tremendously and the seal is once more hunted for commercial purposes

Logging:

The forest that surrounded the settlement was the prime reason for it to prosperous it did. The first settlers used the forest for building and for firewood as many still do today. With the coming of boats from Halifax to harvest the lobsters in Newfoundland waters, the cross cut saw (A long saw with one hand grip at each hand) was introduced. Large saw pits were built where the people sawed lumber to build their homes, barns etc. Saw pits were erected near the sea where the logs would be hauled from the woods nearby. At this time too, huge pines were driving in along the shore (one hose still stands that was built by pine lumber and now (1970) occupied by the oldest family in the community. . With the introduction of the motor driven circle saw, things began to speed up.

The saw mill was set up in the “woods” where the logs were cut by axe and hand saws. The logs were then carried on the backs of men to a sot and piled in heaps varying in lumber. Logs were cut in the late fall and after the winter set in , they would be hauled to the mill by ox or horse, sawn into lumber and then transported to the beach to await further transportation to Corner Brook. During the fishing season, the men would carry this lumber on their backs for a distance of 100 yards over sand and rock to the waters edge; place it in a scow to be towed to the vessel that would take it away. IN the last few years of operation the chain saw revolutionized the cutting and thus speeded up production but not any great extent. Small tractors also took the place of the horse in transporting the lumber from the woods.

For a 30 year period, Bellburns became a prosperous little settlement. According to local recollections, in 1952 one million feet of lumber lay on the beach in Deer Cove. It would take about 30 e=men to load a vessel. The men would stay over night, some sleeping in hay houses. Deer cove go its name after about 40 deer had been killed on the barrens there. After 1955 the sale of lumber dropped and people refused to saw. Although the people sold their lumber for as low as $9.00 per thousand but at times the price was up to $45.00 per thousand feet.

The first lumber sawn in Bellburns was sold to Angus Bennett in Daniels Harbour followed by Bishops in Bay Roberts. The following is a list of places where lumber saw sold: A.H.Murry, St. John’s; Stead Lumber Company, St. John’s; Saunders and Howell, Carbonear and J.W. Lundrigan, Corner Brook. Most of the lumber was sold to Samuel Batten, Humber Mouth, and Bay of Islands. Samuel Batten always sent his own vessel The Doris V. Douglass, captained by Thomas Snook of Grand Bank and later by Cyril Simmons of Bonne Bay.

The first motor used for sawing was a Ten Stationary purchased from Fred Break, the agent in Bay of Islands. The second motor was a more powerful one, a fifteen Stationary but that was purchased from A.H. Murry for $600.00. The last few years that people sawed lumber the tractor was used for hauling the logs to the mill, sawing the logs into lumber and then used to transport the finished product to the highroad where it would be taken away in trucks. Considering the hardships and dangers involved in the logging and sawing of lumber, only one man received serious wounds in the 30 years of operation.

After the highroad had made its appearance, a few men in the settlement occupied themselves cutting wood for Bowaters either along by the roadsides or in Hawks Bay. The wood cut by the road was transported by truck to either Hawks Bay or Deer Lake. This operation ceased in 1964.

Trapping:

The first settlers depended on the salmon fishery supplemented by furring in the late fall and winter. The fur was sold to peddlers who drifter along the coast from place to place and to trade from the mainland who made several trips during the summer collecting salmon and furs in return for supplies and provisions. At one time a good number of foxes were taken and great amounts are reported as been paid for some of the pelts (Nell Brophy and Same Payne received $2200 for a silver fox. Tom House and Bill Biggin received $1200 for a dog silver.)

Around 1920 fox farms were built, remains of which were still in existence in the early 1950’s. The fox was captured in a peculiar way. A number of men on finding where a fox was would fire off a few shots so as to start the fox running. By doing this the fox would become tired and dig himself in. The men would then set to dig the fox out, capture it and take it back home to the farm. If it should be late in the day, the men would pitch their camp over the fox hole for the night, so that the fox would not escape.

A story goes that Manuel House SR., Alex Gould, Jim Sampson, Tom House and Bill Biggin chased a fox until he had dug in. They were very tired and so before digging the fox out it was decided to “boil up”. Alex agreed to keep close watch over the hole but to everyone’s disappointment, the fox escaped only to be followed for 2 more days and not to be captured in the bargain (described by Manuel House SR.)

Great amounts were reported to have been paid for black foxes. Old Steve Taylor from Bonne Bay offered Levi and Bill House $800 for a Black fox. Thinking that the price would go up the next year, they decided to keep the fox saying that he would eat no flour. The next year the price of fur dropped considerably and the price of 75 barrels of flower was lost on the fox.

Beaver skins were in great demand and sold for $12 in 1938. Since the low lands had been trapped out leaving very few beaver, men decided to try their luck back over the hills. Sometimes the trip would take 50 days. Camps were set up at different places along the trap lines where some of the provisions were left. Some of their trap lines stretched across the mountains within 10 miles of White Bay (Same and Herb Randall were the families they stayed with while at Williams port). ON one occasion, due to shortage of food Bill House, Sam House Wallace House and Herb House went to Williams port to get food. While there the coastal boat. The Northern Ranger, had on Board an engine for the men at Bellburns. However, the men were back home when the boat go there to take the engine off. The last one of those trips was made in November, 1951 when a group of men rowed to Point LaFontane, a distance of 10 miles, tracked their boats overland for another 2 miles and preceded on their trip by water to the bottom of Blue Mountain. From there the men traveled for miles on foot to the trapline. During the fall of 1958, Emanuel House SR. caught 10 mountain cats (Lynx) averaging $8 per pelt and 82 weasels averaging $0.80 each. In 1964 Mountain cats sold for $30 each. Early in season in 71-72 Manuel House has caught an otter worth $35, a lynx $20 plus numerous minks, muskrats and weasels. Mr. House humorously tells the story of the $99 and about the weasel that got away. “One year me, Jake and Austin got a bit of fur, so we decided to take it to Daniels Harbour to sell. Angus Bennett as buying fur at the time, ‘Boys” he said, “I’ll give you $99 that’s the best I can do.” “No Sir” said Jake, “give us $100.” “Yes, I will, if you will sing us a song” said Angus. Jake being a bit funny, he sang the song and he got the money.

One time when I went to me rabbit snares I had a live weasel. I killed it and put it in me nunny bag. I put down me bag to put a rabbit in it when I saw a weasel jump from behind a tree. This was the one I had killed. Then one cold morning I went into the old house to get another pair mitts. On me way in that day I had another weasel in fact I had 2 so I put one in each mitt and tied the mouth of each one. I stopped to where we sawed once, put down me mitts and bag to look a few snares that I had around the woods. When I came back, something had moved the mitts apart. You know what happened? There was a hole in the thumb and that is where he got out”

Merchant Organization:

Steve Taylor, an Irish protestant, had established himself and set up a small business at Daniels Harbour run by John House. Another man Nat Brophy formally from Nova Scotia and of Dutch ancestry has a business at Daniels Harbour. It was from these 2 businesses that the earlier people got their supplies and sold their fish and furs. However, in the latter part of the 19th century, a mainland firm under the name of Farguhar and Co. from Halifax came and built a factory. The company did a thriving business for a few years bringing supplies to the settlers each year when they returned. Regualr traders suing boats by the name of The Harlow, The Seal, The Sable Island and The Scotsburn visited the coast in the summer and late fall. Local traders made frequesnt visits to the settlement. John Parsons from Rockey Harbour traded goods for Thomas A. Garcin of Bonne Bay from Halifax. Tom Rose, another merchant at Bone Bay sent boats under the command of George Moores to trade with the people of Bellburns. Another man by the name of Preble, stationed at Woody Point, occasionally visited the coast in small skiff and traded at Bellburns. Peddlers with huge packs on their backs traveled the coast peddling from place to place. Peter White and Peter Solo referred to as Jews by the people of the community were peddlers. They were of Jewish ancestry. Peter Solo was the case of a large bush fire. It turned out to be a good place for picking partridge berries and commonly known to the people as Solo’s Barn.

Austin House started a small business and being the type of man that he was, gave out goods hoping that his customers eventually pay. However, dishonesty on the part of a few, forced the man to quit.As described by Austin “Yes boy, that’s the way it was. I remember one time when I had a few things to sell, the old man that was my father, Uncle Jefford everyone else called him was away when the freight came. Before it had been packed away he walked over in the beach where the men had gathered for the evening yarn, and asked” Did you have may baccy come? When he found out that I did not he was fit to be tied. He said, ‘I bet you had some dam flour come.’

As a collector of antiques Manuel House jr. has several small articles purchased from that business and a few summers ago (mid1960’s) was proud to give as a gift an article from his collection to MR. Clark, owner of the then Twillingate Star and one time Ranger or constable who spent many hours at Bellburns.

Again in 1927, another business began. It was started by Howard House, who had married Beatrice Shears, a teacher from Crabbs, now known as St.Davids. When they were first married they lived at Corner Brook, where he was engaged as a carpenter. One Year Howard bought 5 cases of milk and a few candy but in the following spring he found that he still had 3 cases left. However, he continued to buy and sell but in the meantime he did the same type of work as any other man in the community. Howard provided gods for other groups who sawed lumber as well as his own crowd. At that time the price of lumber was very low but nevertheless the lumbering business help his private business along directly and indirectly. For years this was the only business in the settlement and although he moved to Port Saunders in 1949, he kept the small business at Bellburns until 1966. Some of the earlier firms that he had dealings with were as follows: Royal Stored and Bon Marche in St. John’s, Harvey and Co in Corner Brook and George Butt in Woody Point, Bonne Bay. The last year of operation in Bellburns, the total sales were approximately $45000. The total sales of his business at port Saunders for a year is $300000in the early 1970. In conversation with Uncle Howard not to long ago, he told me that he now orders 500 cases of milk at a time.

In 1933 a United Church family (Pittman) moved to Bellburn from St.Pauls. Very shortly after coming to Bellburns, Mr. William Pittman began to buy and sell. Sometime between 1945 and 1955, Henry Pittman, his son, built a small store. The business grew and in the 1970s it was carried on in a modern building, supplying anything that one would expect to find in any Newfoundland outport. The Pittman business was sold in the late 1980’s.

 

 Comments,Suggestions or Information   ralphhouse@hotmail.com 

25/03/03.