**This is something
I had to put together for the Burgeo Public Library during one summer that
I was working for them. It contains detaled accounts on the history of
Burgeo, NF. It is definetly worth checking
out if you're into that kind of thing or if your doing any kind of research
on the town. I also have it in ZIP format. You can find that link on "Dion's
Download Page." Please don't mind the grammer. Maybe later I'll get
the time to edit it a little better. Please check out the original version
at the Burgeo Memorial Public Library if you can. It includes a lot of
old photographs of Burgeo from Back in the Day!!**
Burgeo, Newfoundland; a town that a lot of us call home. Burgeo has been
a prosperous town, a town of joy, and a town
of many triumphs. At the same time it has been a town filled with sadness, grief, and resentment.
The history of Burgeo has been scattered among it's citizens for many years and has rarely been found
in one place; even the Burgeo Museum and Tourist Chalet and the Burgeo Public Library have inconclusive
histories of Burgeo and it's people. Hopefully this piece of writing will give a better insight
on Burgeo's prosperity and sadness, joy and grief, resentment and triumph.
The name "Burgeo" is inconclusive in it's origin. Some say the name is Portuguese since the Burgeo Islands were first discovered in 1520 by a Portuguese explorer, Joaz Fagundez. He also travelled to the Virgin Islands many times and he considered our islands to be virginal or barren. A Portuguese map refers to our area as the "Virgio Islands", later changed to "Birgio", and since then changed to "Burgeo". Some say the name originates from the French. It may have been derived from the French term "Bras de Jean" which means "the Arms of John". A French sea captain once suggested that the round islands of Burgeo were called "Les Bonregeous" meaning "the Buds"; this closely resembles the spelling of Burgeo. And Ramea was "Les Rameaux" which means "the Branches".
Burgeo was, for a very long time, partially occupied by the Mic Mac Indians. In 1520, the Portuguese explorer Joaz Fagundez first discovered the Burgeo Archipelago. In 1583, the English explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert established the first North American colony in St. John's. He then attempted to explore the south coast and when he did he sailed along the Burgeo Islands. Gilbert lost one of his ships just after passing through the Burgeo Islands and soon after he left to return to England. Almost immediately after leaving Newfoundland Sir Humphrey Gilbert's ship was sunk on September 9th, 1583 loosing all of her crew. The islands were not visited again until August 5th, 1756 when Captain James Cook saw an eclipse of the sun while surveying near an island within the Burgeo Archipelago that later got the name "Eclipses Island". Captain Cook became famous for his extremely accurate mappings of Newfoundland and the Atlantic provinces as well as Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and sailing the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
From the late 1700's to the mid-1900's Burgeo's population was divided into two main parts with people scattered on the neighbouring islands as well. The two main sections were Lower Burgeo and Upper Burgeo Island and the Western Sandbanks. Lower Burgeo is the section that we live on today, it was also called Grandy Island before it was made no longer an island by the causeway which was made at the location of the present helicopter landing site. At Upper Burgeo Island and the Western Sandbanks, today no one lives there and the only signs of anyone ever living in that area are the headstones on the Western Sandbanks that mark the graves of those who died there long ago.
Most of the citizens of Burgeo can find their roots linking them all over Newfoundland and from there to England and the Jersey Islands, which are a small group of islands between England and France. Most of the settlers of Upper Burgeo came from LaPoile, Newfoundland; the settlers at Lower Burgeo came from up and down the coast of Newfoundland.
The earliest reference to any population for Burgeo is dated 1764. At that time the entire population for Burgeo, Port Aux Basques, and Harbour Le Cou consisted of a total of 34 people. In 1798, there was one family living at Lower Burgeo. John Currie and his family had moved to Burgeo from Rose Blanche sometime between 1760 and 1790. Two families of Andersons lived at the Western Sandbanks. The Anderson family name is the oldest and the most common family name at Burgeo even today. John Matthews and his wife Sarah, formerly Sarah Bagg, was the next family to move to the Burgeo area. He and his family came from Cape Lu Hune and settled on Slade's Island in 1796; the Island's name has since changed to Small's Island. In 1802 the total population of Burgeo was 23 people. In 1822, there were only 5 or 6 families. This was recorded by William Epps Cormack who visited Burgeo after crossing Newfoundland from east to west. He wrote: "In the vicinity there are five or six residing families."
On November 16, 1847 at Rencontre Island, one of the Burgeo Islands, just south of hunt's Island, the skeletal remains of an Indian were found buried among the hollows of a high cliff. Buried next to the bones were glass beads, iron hatchet heads, spearheads, pieces of ivory, and a quantity of red ochre. This type of Indian did not belong to the Mic Mac people who lived in the vicinity for many years. Evidence showed that the Indian belonged to the Red Ochre People or the Beothucks. These people were normally found in central Newfoundland but the people of the south coast had never heard of or seen any of these natives in the area. The mystery still remains of the identity and how he came to be buried in this area. Were the Mic Macs alone on the south coast of Newfoundland or did they have conflicts with the Beothucks long before the Europeans came and sent the Beothucks to central Newfoundland? This question still remains.
The people of Burgeo sometimes did not have much to look forward to in the early days of the community. They would work as hard as they could and most people were still below the poverty line. Many people contracted dreadful diseases such as tuberculosis which was also known as T.B. and consumption. It was a lung disease and people who contracted it were sent to a sanatorium for treatment. Most of the time the disease was fatal; today the disease has been wiped out for the most part. To help the people get through each day without worrying about dying or the fishery failing they would turn to their faith. All of the early settlers were religious. They needed their faith to help them through the hard times. In 1839, Rev. William Marshall, a Methodist minister, visited Burgeo and on August 18th he preached and read prayers to a fairly large congregation at Upper Burgeo for the entire area. He was the first clergy of any kind to visit Burgeo. The first United Church was built in 1841 in the present spot as the new one which was built in the 1930's.
The Anglican Churches at Burgeo have a history of being built and then destroyed by storms on a number of occasions. Rev. Martin Blackmore arrived in 1842 and was the first Anglican minister to the area. He had churches built at Lower Burgeo and Upper Burgeo Island. The first church at Lower Burgeo faced east to west and was closer to the road than the present day church but it was in the same approximate location. In 1850, the second Anglican church at Lower Burgeo was erected at Lower Burgeo by Rev. John Cunningham. In 1854 it was blown down by a heavy gale. It was built again on a reduced scale and was finished in 1856. In 1909, during a horrible storm that lasted several days the third Anglican Church at Lower Burgeo was totally demolished. The fourth church, which was the present one before renovations, was erected on a concrete foundation instead of wooden shores and was completed in 1912. This church was completely renovated in 1967 to it's present style.
The Anglican churches at Upper Burgeo suffered much the same fate as the churches at Lower Burgeo. A second church was built at Upper Burgeo in 1878 and blew down during a violent winter gale in December of 1879. The third and final Anglican church for the Upper Burgeo area was built on the Western Sandbanks under the lee of a wooded hill. Once the third church at Upper Burgeo out lasted it's use the seats and other furniture were sent to Ramea for a church there. In total Burgeo has had seven Anglican churches. It is surprising that no one converted from Anglican to United.
Rev. Martin Blackmore, as mentioned before, was the first Anglican minister to the Burgeo area. In addition to having the first Anglican churches built in 1842 he also had schools built. One school that was built in Lower Burgeo was located at the same site as the current Anglican Parish Hall, it was later replaced by a larger school on the same site. This building was torn down and in 1955 the current Anglican Parish Hall was completed and used as a school from 1963 to 1968. The old high school, that was located where the present high school is located, was built in 1968 so the Parish Hall was no longer used as a school. This school was later turned into the teacher's apartments and then demolished to make room for the new and current St. John Central High school. Several years before the old high school was completed the Elementary school was completed in 1963. In 1979 the elementary school was renamed by the Burgeo School Board to A.J. Matthews Elementary in honour of Aubrey J. Matthews who taught in the Burgeo school system from the early 1940's to the late 1970's. There was also a small one room school established at Messieurs where grades kindergarten to five were educated until the second Anglican school was built in 1930 to accommodate all grades.
During 1842 Rev. Blackmore performed a lot of firsts for the Burgeo area. On May 22nd, 1842, he performed the first baptism for the area which was for Matilda Ann Anderson, daughter of John and Francis Anderson at Upper Burgeo Island. On June 24th of that same year, Rev. Blackmore performed the first marriage of the area at Channel. It was between Leonard Frampton and Susana Harvey. And on October 19th of that year, he performed the first burial of the area. It was for a three day old child named Gabriel Billard who was buried at Red Island.
During the 1850's and '60's and '70's, government officials first started to settle at Burgeo. Such government officials were doctors, magistrates, and customs officials. The first doctor in the Burgeo area was Dr. Morris from St. John's. He arrived sometime in the 1850's and left in 1860. He was preceded by Dr. George Quinton Hunt who worked here from 1861 to 1886. In 1874, Mr. John Jordan, Burgeo's first school teacher, was appointed the first Magistrate to the area.
The late 1800's was when Burgeo started to become a real community. People worked together to make it a nice and safe place to live. In 1867, the canal at Little Bariscois was dug out of the broad marsh. This meant there would be better and safer passage to Grandy's River, which was another area near Burgeo where people once lived. Today Grandy's River remains a popular camping area and is one of the best salmon fishing areas in Newfoundland. The citizens of Burgeo got together in 1870 and erected the Orange Lodge. The building has been kept up over the years and somewhat renovated but parts of the building still remain from when it was first erected.
Some other organizations that Burgeo has seen other than the Orange Lodge and the LOBA which is the women's lodge organization, for men women and children, are the Jr. Red Cross which was an after school activity that all the children enjoyed. It was for boys and girls, the boys wore arm bands and the girls wore little hats. The Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corp Bob Bartlett was warranted on January 10th, 1958. The first Commanding Officer, and last living veteran of Burgeo, was the late Charles Blagdon. Next came the Girl Guides that was started in 1971 by Mrs. Ann Abraham, then the Boy Scouts, the Brownies, the Cubs, and the Beavers. The Sou' Westers Club was an organization that only lasted a few years. The club consisted of adult men only. It had summer fairs at the Sandbanks with pony rides donated by the Calders, races, games, and food stands; it was more of a fair for the entire community than the Lions fair is today which seems to be more for young children. The Lions Club came in 1972 after the fall of the Sou' Westers Club. They started out with thirty three chartered members. The Lioness Club formed in 1976 but first it was the Lionettes, which formed in 1974.
Burgeo has seen business men and firms come and go depending on the fluctuating population and the unpredictable fishery all throughout it's history. The first merchant to set up a shop in the Burgeo area was John B. Cox. He built his shop in 1835 on the Sandbanks because that area had a larger population than any other portion of the Burgeo area. Burgeo businesses that have been at Lower Burgeo were mostly involved with the fishery. It was an international trade and many lives were lost due to the unpredictable weather and rocky shores along the south coast of Newfoundland. The great Jersey firm of Nicholl & Co. opened in Burgeo at what is known as Cutler's Cove and the Point. The firm opened in the 1840's and closed around 1847 because the "Jersey Room", as the firm was called, was losing too much business and the people who invested in it as well. Newman & Co. was a firm in Burgeo at the same time as Nicholl & Co. The Newman & Co. Room was located at the present day Beach. The building was called the "Old Room". Newman & Co. went out of business in 1863 and a new firm named DeGruchey, Renouf, Clement & Co. bought the "Old Room". They opened their firm in 1864. After a few years of bad voyages and losses DeGruchey and Renouf got out of the firm and Philip Clement and his son Henry took the whole operation into their own hands. He had money invested in the cod fishery from Burgeo to Channel. In 1920 Philip left the firm in the hands of his son and he returned to the Jersey Islands. As the years went by the firm lost many vessels due to harsh weather and rocky coastlines. The last two schooners of the company was the Beatrice Beck and the Bastian. The Beatrice Beck with Arch Matthews as captain was lost with all crew somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic during October, 1943. It was possibly sunk by a German U-boat; they were found in all parts of the North Atlantic during World War II. The firm was then left with only the Bastian in Burgeo. At the end of World War II Henry Clement and his wife moved to Halifax, NS; and closed the firm in 1946. The firm's buildings were taken down by local men who needed the cheap material to build homes or cabins.
In about 1850, the bookkeeper of Newman & Co., which had recently went out of business, Mr. John Furmeaux, opened a business on Small's Island. Bowley and Small soon took over this business in 1856. They started trading salmon in the summer and frozen herring in the winter from this post. The Bowleys got out of the business and Captain Small carried on until his death in 1890. From then his son took the business into his own hands and went under the name J. Small & Co. and he carried on until 1896. This firm, because it had good ties to the United States, introduced many new kinds of goods that had never been seen or sold on this coast before 1856. Such goods were cotton lines, rubber boots, kerosene, manila rope, lamps, nets, and an assortment of other American goods. This company was the first to start a Bank Fishery, build ice-houses, etc.
The next group to open up business in the General Trade of the country was Kenneth McLea & Son of St. John's. They built their business on the north side of Vatcher's Island. This business did not last very long. This business fell into the hands of the creditors of Kenneth McLea & Son, which was Ridely & Sons. The great firm of Ridely & Sons failed and so all their branches closed down, including the branches at Rose Blanche, Petites, Burnt Islands, Channel, and Burgeo.
Wilson & Sons of St. John, N.B. built two stores at Muddy Hole Hunts in 1856. The purpose
of these two store was for storing and buying herring for export to the southern States, but did not
do any actual fishing.
Growe Dallan & Le Growe of Jersey bought the Jersey Room in 1847 from the liquidators
of Nicholl & Co. and started business. This business only carried on for a short time due to running
into some bad luck. The firm had a vessel loaded with dry fish at their wharf and it sank, ruining a
whole cargo. This was too much for Mr. Le Growe so he returned to the Jersey Islands in the fall and never returned. One of the partners in the firm, a brother-in-law, was left in charge and he gathered up the business and went to Canada.
A year or so after the Jersey Room had closed down a co-operative company was started by
Joseph Dicks. The Co-op was a success for three years, but when Joseph Dicks left the company it
became in depted and everyone of the shareholders lost all of their invested money. The property was then sold to John Penny & Sons of Ramea. They did business here until 1910 when they sold the old cooperative store.
With the Jersey Room empty, Philip McCourt of St. John's bought it in the 1870's to expand
his shop. Mrs. Matthews owned a part of the business and ran the place up until Mr. McCourt's death at St. John's. Mrs. Matthews then owned the entire business and carried on until here death when her daughter's husband continued the business under the name of Matthews & Samways.
In about 1890, Robert Moulton came to Burgeo to manufacture cod liver oil and started a
business; soon after he got himself into the fishing business. It was then that he began to build in
Firby's Harbour. He built up a fine business, exported his fish, bought some large vessels, and
branched out to Grand Bruit and Burnt Islands. He made a considerable amount of money and had
he stuck to the business instead of turning to politics his business would have lasted a lot longer at
Burgeo. However, while trying his hand at politics, Mr. Moulton had others tend to his business
affairs. He was soon burned heavily with too much fish and his business was taken over by others and was run under the name R. Moulton Ltd. and lasted for ten years. Soon after the business was closed it was started again under the name Burgeo & LaPoile Exports Ltd. with John T. Moulton running the operation. Burgeo & LaPoile Exports lasted many years, up to the first ties with Fishery Products Ltd. which were the first signs of a modern fishing industry in Burgeo.
Throughout the history of Burgeo, it's majority of citizens have made a living by either fishing
for themselves or working for the people who owned the major businesses of the town or the fish
plants. Most people did have their own personal gardens but no one made much of a living from
farming in the Burgeo area. Some people had little gardens at Little Barcois. At Joe Dicks' Point, on
the way into Big Barcois, there were also a lot of gardens and many people used to gather hay here
for the sheep, cows and horses, that some people had. But for those people who worked for the
bigger businesses, they usually worked for credit not actual money. It was not until Mr. Spencer Lake started running the old fish plant that the workers got money for their work.
During World War I, Burgeo has had its share of triumph and tragedy. The Dutchess of
Cornwall was a three masted schooner that was built on Fish Island in the Burgeo Harbour and was
entered into the Newfoundland Ships Registry at St. John's in 1901. Owned by Burgeo & LaPoile
Exports Ltd. of Burgeo, it was 105 ft long, 25.6 ft wide, and 10.4 ft draft. She was used as one of
Moulton's "foreigners" in the salt fish trade during the first World War. The ship had a crew of six
men; five of whom were from Burgeo and the mate was from Denmark. The crew was as follows:
Captain was Thomas Gunnery; Mate was Peter Haugerson; Bosun was George Grant; Cook was Alf Anderson; the Seamen before the Mast were Ike Anderson and Art Barter. In early December of 1916, during World War I, the ship left St. John's Harbour, headed for Oporto, Portugal with a load of salt cod. After several days at sea, just 750 miles off of Cape Race, she was approached and then sunk by the 9000 ton German raider, MOWE, on December 8th, 1916. The ship was defenceless and sixteen German soldiers boarded the ship. They placed a time-bomb overside tied to a rope, pulled under the bulge at midship, and secured it. The captured crew were then escorted back to the MOWE. Days later the Germans provided the same fate to two other British freighters; the Georgic and the King George. A few days later two boarding parties of the MOWE boarded the unarmed British merchant ship Yarrowdale. Two hundred, seventy prisoners, including the five men from Burgeo were then transferred to the Yarrowdale. The British ship manned by Germans out smarted a blockade and they arrived at Geestmunde, Germany on New Year's Day, 1917. The men from Burgeo, along with the other crews, spent time at Branderberg and Dortmund concentration camps. The five of them all survived the life of P.O.W.s from the date of their capture, December 8th, 1916 to the signing of the Armistice to end World War I in 1918.
Another accomplishment for a Burgeo resident during World War I belongs to the late Mr.
John Caines. He was the only Newfoundlander to escape from the Battle of Monchy, on April 14,
1917. Mr. Caines enlisted on May 31st, 1916 as a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment andwas discharged on December 2nd, 1918. An exert from the book The Fighting Newfoundlander, a history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, says this about the Battle of Monchy:
"It was about nine o'clock, counterattacked from three sides and with
no sign of
reinforcements, the survivors of the 88th Brigade's isolated battalions put up a
desperate struggle against impossible odds. The forward platoons of the
Newfoundlanders' 'D' Company were virtually surrounded by an estimated force of
five hundred Germans coming in from the Bois du Sart and another two hundred from
the Bois du Verte. They fought on until, with the enemy only fifty yards away, they
had to surrender. About ten of them on the right of the line are reported to have made
a break for it, but only one man got back from Monchy."
Private John Caines was that man. Even though Mr. Caines lost an arm because
of the Battle,
he lived the rest of his life a happy man in his home town of Burgeo, Newfoundland.
Because of Burgeo's rocky coastline, the unpredictable weather, and the many fishing vessels
that made their way up and down the coast, the waters around the Burgeo Islands are dotted with
wrecks of ships from over one hundred years ago. Some of the wrecks include an English ship called
the Douglas which came into Burgeo waters on fire. The ship was taken to King's Harbour where
she burned to the waters edge and sank in or around the year 1853. In 1911, the schooner Heroine,
owned by John Rose of Burgeo, was making a passage from Sydney to Burnt Islands with a cargo
of coal for Robert Moulton. On the 20th day of November or the 19th night the ship was lost with
all her crew at the western part of Isle aux Mort. In 1928, a Fortune schooner, the Russel Lake,
wrecked behind Small's Island. Captain Stoodley and the remainder of the crew were all drowned
except for one man, John Day, who managed to escape. The first modernized fish plant company to
operate in Burgeo was Fishery Products Ltd. The company started the first fish plant in 1941 as a
floating plant called the Netherton and was run by John Matthews. The deck of the boat was used as a cutting room and the boat was tied on at the Burgeo Harbour. In 1942 on or around November 5th, Bon Fire Night, around mid-night the ship caught fire and the fire could not be extinguished. Joseph Dicks and Gerald Mercer lost their lives in the fire. The Mustang was one of Burgeo's old draggers that was associated with the old fish plant. It was a wooden vessel, built in Bay D'Espoir and was originally designed as a sailing vessel. She was later fitted with an engine so she could drag fishing nets. Shortly after returning from Nova Scotia to Burgeo from refit in 1955, she caught fire next to the old fish plant wharf. The fire may have started in the furnace room, but no one knows for sure. She was blazing and the fire was inextinguishable, so she was towed to Musket Island where she burned and sank. The vessel was probably about 30 years old when she sank. In May of 1996, Ed Strickland and diving partner Robert Bartlett discovered the exact whereabouts of the Mustang and explored her, bringing pieces of her up with them. One of the most resent wrecks to the Burgeo area was that of the Cape Royal. The dragger that was owned by National Sea, mysteriously disappeared with all her crew on August 10th, 1977. These are just a few of the many ships that litter the bottom of the ocean near the south coast of Newfoundland in the Burgeo area.
In 1929, an earthquake on the Grand Banks caused a severe tidal wave. Mr. Aubrey J.
Matthews recalls the event very vividly. At the time, Mr. Matthews was attending school at the old
Anglican School, where the Parish Hall is now located. He was practising one afternoon at the school for an up coming Christmas concert when the earthquake struck. The earthquake could be felt all along the south coast of Newfoundland. Mr. Matthews' teacher directed all of the children out of the school and told them that it was an earthquake. When anyone tried to walk they could not keep their feet on the ground because it was moving so much under them. The earthquake lasted about a minute or two. That night the tidal wave started. When the tide went out, Firby's Harbour was completely dry. Soon after the disaster, word spread that there had been many tragedies along the Burin Peninsula. People had died and homes with families still in them had been swept out to sea. Burgeo however was lucky enough not to have experienced this devastation.
The 1930's was an entire decade of tragedy and devastation. The Great Depression was a time
of great poverty, disease, and death in all of North America. Not many people had money during this time and those who had a little had enough to just barely get by. The number of people dying of
tuberculosis was astronomical.
However, despite the extreme economic difficulty of the Dirty Thirties, the Burgeo Cottage
Hospital was built in 1935 by the Newfoundland Commission Government. The hospital, which was
greatly needed, served the medical needs of the people living along the isolated south coast of
Newfoundland. In the 1950's a south wing was added which accommodated X-Ray equipment and
a nursery. In the 1970's a northern wing was built to provide an outpatients department, a laboratory, an X-Ray department, and living quarters for the staff. When Dr. Mike and Dr. Ann Calder arrived in Burgeo in 1957, there were two British trained nurses and several untrained aids and maids at the hospital assisting the doctors. Everything from performing surgery to pulling a tooth was done at the hospital and not sent to Corner Brook or St. John's. The doctors really enjoyed working in these conditions because it was exciting and a great challenge. The Calders were only asked to be in Burgeo for a period of six months. They loved the town and the people so much that they decided to work here for an additional thirty nine and a half years and then retired on the outskirts of the town where they still remain. Dr. Ann Calder was one of the first female doctors to be working in Newfoundland and was the first general medical practitioner to work in Newfoundland. There were only two other female doctors in Newfoundland at the time and they were both stationed at St. John's. Many of her patients jokingly called her Dr. Nurse, or Nurse Dr., or simply Nurse. It was a bit strange because back in Britain, which was where the Doctors came from, there were many female doctors and no one thought anything of it. There were many times when the two doctors had to pull out all the stops in order to save someone's life. During the first year that they were in the Burgeo area, Dr. Ann Calder had to travel on the hospital boat, the John Kent, to Penguin Island. The lighthouse keeper's wife had to be brought four hours to Burgeo and operated on. Then the recovering woman had to be sent back along the four hour run to Penguin Island.
Things were like this until about 1970 when a third nurse was added and when the Burgeo
Road was opened more people were sent to the bigger hospitals for care. The Burgeo Cottage
Hospital was replaced in 1994 by the current Calder Health Care Centre, named in honour of Dr.
Mike and Dr. Ann Calder. Elmer Gillett was the next person to find use for the old building. He used
it as a local community college that taught aquaculture, adult education, carpentry, sewing, and so
on. The building is no longer used as a college but it is currently a new supermarket for the town.
In 1946 tragedy struck the Burgeo area once again. The first light house to be erected on
Boar Island was completely destroyed by fire. The lighthouse keeper at the time was Mr. Arthur
Hann. It is said that the fire was due to the women doing their Saturday baking and the woodstove
that was used overheated and the fire started. There was a strong breeze that day and the fire spread
out of control, completely destroying the lighthouse. Residents from Burgeo witnessed the lighthouse
burn to the ground on the clear but windy day.
In 1941, Burgeo's first signs of a modern fishing industry was the Netherton, a floating fish
plant run by Fishery Products, as stated earlier. After the Netherton went up in flames, Arthur
Monroe of Fishery Products had the old fish plant built in Burgeo, where the current Irving Oil depot
and customer centre is located, in the 1940's.
In the year 1950, Burgeo became an incorporated community. In the eyes of the
Newfoundland government Burgeo was now legally a Newfoundland community. A year after
incorporation, Burgeo formed it's town council for the first time. Burgeo's first Mayor was Arnie
Johnson. The following is a list of the people who have served as Mayor of the town of Burgeo and
the length of their term: (I appologize but for some reason I never got around to obtaining the list)
The old fish plant had a few years of prosperity under Arthur Monroe but during the late
1940's the fishery was failing. In 1954, Mr. Monroe sold the old plant to Mr. Spencer Lake who ran
the plant under the company name of Burgeo Fish Industries Ltd.
During the 1950's and especially the 1960's, Burgeo received a lot of new services and
luxuries. One such luxury was the arrival of Burgeo's first new truck. Owned by Mr. Maxwell Collier
it was a 1953 General Motors two tonne dumptruck. The only other vehicle at the time was an old
clunker owned by the town council. The truck cost $3300.00 and was brand new. There were no
signal lights on vehicles at that time so Mr. Collier had to use hand signals to replace the lights. The
reason Mr. Collier bought the truck was to deliver coal around town. He also carried freight from the Government wharf to Businesses around town. At that time the road only went from the Government wharf to where the current Variety Quick Shop is, and from the harbour to the Reach as far as Coastal Food Centre, where the current Midtown Ltd. grocery store is located, and there was no Burgeo Road so Mr. Collier was quite restricted to where he was able to drive.
Some other services that came to Burgeo during the 1960's were mainly as a result of Spencer
G. Lake being Mayor. In 1962, Burgeo received it's first electricity, it was diesel powered electricity. In 1963, the first Burgeo Fire Department was formed with Leonard Matthews as the first fire chief. Telephone services also began in February of this year. In 1965 during the month of February, the town was preparing to build the current Federal Building. In 1967, the town started receiving running water and sewage disposal. St. Jude's Roman Catholic Chapel was built in 1967 as well. Mr. Spencer Lake had this chapel built for his wife who was Catholic. The first bridge link to Small's Island was made during this year as well, and at the same time a new causeway joined Samway's or Debbie's Island to the rest of Burgeo. It was a request by a famous writer to the Premier of the province at the time, Joey Smallwood. The writer was Farley Mowat who wrote several pieces during his stay at Burgeo about the people and the land. One such piece did not please the citizens of the community, A Whale for the Killing, was a story that Mowat published after a few of the residents of Burgeo killed a whale that was trapped in a gut near the town. The citizens of Burgeo were extremely angry over this unwelcomed publicity and Farley Mowat felt it would be best if he left Burgeo, so he did. In 1968, the ferry service from Burgeo to Ramea began and in 1969, the Burgeo Highway had begun to be constructed; Burgeo was on it's way to becoming a non-isolated community.
Also in 1967, the current Burgeo Centennial Memorial Library was built with Mr. Peter
Kandell in charge. This library replaced the old Memorial library that was located at the triangular lot
that has been recently covered with sods and has trees planted on it. The first library was replaced
with the new one because it was far too small and was in disrepair. It was about 1/3 of the size of the current library and it was only one room. Barbara Green was the last librarian in the old library and the first librarian in the new library. Other librarians of the old library were Sarah Melbourne and
Dr. Mike and Ann Calder and Mr. Farley and Claire Mowat were all on the old library board
along with Jauanita Stone, Harriet Cossar, and Ephriam Matthews. The Mowats walked off the board when a decision on the design for the new library was made. Mr. Mowat submitted a design for the new library that was much the same design as the old library. Dr. Ann Calder submitted a design that was chosen and is the design of the current library. Mr. Mowat did not like the fact that his design was not chosen and left the board. Some of the people that were on the new library board were Margaret Lake, Rev. Mark Genge, Ed Matheson, Hellen Matheson, Hectar Pollard, Dr. Mike Calder, Dr. Ann Calder, Harriet Cossar, Jauanita Stone, and Millie Dawe.
The old library had basically the same type of books as the current library, except there
weren't many reference books and there was less of everything else as well. The Remembrance Day
Service has always been held at the old and the new Memorial Libraries.
1971; a very pivotal year for Burgeo and for a new entity that was creeping it's way into all
Newfoundland negotiations between employers and workers; the Newfoundland Fish, Food and
Allied Workers Union or the NFFAWU. Father Desmond McGrath contacted Richard Cashin in 1970 to form a fisherman's union, and together that was what they did. They started out in Port au Choix as the Northern Fisherman's Union and then later this union merged with union locals in Bonavista, Port Union, Trepassey, Marystown, Burin, Grand Bank, and Habour Breton to form the NFFAWU with Richard Cashin as President.
In January of 1970, a joint venture between National Sea and Spencer Lake was to produce
herring, in a new herring plant in Burgeo, for human consumption. The plant was to run under the
company name NatLake Ltd. A union had formed in NatLake and Lake threatened to sell off his
shares in the plant rather than deal with this union. The union did move in and Lake did sell off his
shares; National Sea however still went ahead with the herring operation in Burgeo. Then in
November of 1970, the employees of Burgeo Fish Industries voted to join the NFFAWU. The voting was a little messy and it is reported that the law was broken several times to ensure that the union would get the majority of votes. Some people who had not yet worked in the plant were told to vote for the union because they might be working there next year and some of the workers that wanted to vote against the union never voted because they were kept from the voting by force or by some other means. Because the union won by what some feel were unfair means and because they won by a very narrow majority, 105 out of 205 voters signed union cards, the town was bitterly divided, even within households. But a majority was a majority and so the union became certified by the Labour Relations Board in January of 1971 as a bargaining unit.
In May of 1971 talks between the management of Burgeo Fish Industries, mainly Spencer
Lake who was owner and manager of the old plant since 1954 as stated earlier, and the union broke
down in a dispute over the first contract. Then on May 24th, 1971, Spencer Lake made this illegal
statement in the Evening Telegram:
"I'm prepared to shut down that plant as long as I have to ... until
the end of the year,
"My family owns it lock, stock, and barrel, and I just won't give in. If they go on
strike, I'll close the plant down until they get better sense and come back to work."
The reason why acting upon this statement is illegal is because Section
4, Sub Section 4 of
the Labour Relations Act states:
"No employer and no person acting on behalf of an employer shall in
the course of a
labour dispute threaten to shut down or move a plant or any part of a plant."
Now came the first real test for the NFFAWU. The strike had begun on June
4th, 1971. It was
because Spencer Lake would not agree with granting union security - the principle that all employees
in the bargaining unit must become members of the union, or otherwise support it by the check-off
of dues - that the dispute developed and led to the strike. Spencer Lake went through with his threat
and closed down his plant. The union fixed up a little shack near the entrance gate to the plant as their strike headquarters. The people of Burgeo received much support from the international union known as the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butchers Workmen of North America, and from all delegates of the Canadian Food and Allied Workers Union in Montreal. Similar offers of support came from many other unions as well. Workers in other parts of the province and country that were in the fishing industry and in unrelated industries saw that the Burgeo issue touched them all. For if one man were able to stand up to a union and crush it then anyone else might do the same thing at any time. And if it happened once it could happen again. Because of this the unions' ranks closed solidly behind the workers of Burgeo.
Spencer G. Lake, depending on who you talked to, was considered the towns benefactor or
a tyrant destined to go down in local history as the epitome of the worst in the capitalistic system. But no matter who you talked to the fact is that Lake did a lot for the town of Burgeo. In 1954 he moved to Burgeo and restarted a failing fishery while the town was poverty stricken. Through marriage and his own family connections, Spencer Lake also had fish plant operations in Ramea, Gaultois, and Fortune. Lake lived in a large two storey house located just down the road from the fish plant, (it is currently the Burgeo Haven). The house was painted white with blue trimming and it and the grounds around it were surrounded by a six foot high chain link fence with three strands of barbed wire running around the top of the fence. Lake owned a barn that kept thoroughbred sheep, cattle, horses, donkeys, and 3 llamas from Peru. Spencer Lake had the small St. Jude's Roman Catholic Chapel built for his wife, Margaret, daughter of the late Mrs. Marie Penny of Ramea. Lake also owned two more buildings near the fish plant. Together they consisted of the Bank of Nova Scotia, the first bank was built back in 1916, a supermarket, a laundromat, a beauty parlour, and a barber shop. Without Spencer Lake as Mayor of Burgeo it would have taken the town much longer to receive such services as television, roads, telephones, electricity, running water, and sewage treatment. He loved the town and it's people very much and he was very hurt by all the hatred and bitterness expressed towards him as a result of the strike. The town also loved Spencer Lake for some time. Two years before the strike, the citizens of Burgeo wanted Spencer Lake to be voted man of the year in the province. This was the same year that he started the new sewer system. It's funny how the town was ready to place Lake on a throne and crown him king one year and only two years later they would be content to see him hung. Spencer Lake once expressed his opinion on a union in Burgeo in an interview;
"I'm not anti-union. I just think that in certain circumstances unions
are not practical
and this is one of them: isolated outports in Newfoundland. You haven't the local
leadership to run them intelligently, with all due respect to the people - I'm very fond
The strike had a dramatic effect, as it would in any small community, on
whether they were connected in any way to the strike or not. The town was divided directly down
the centre cutting dead through the heart of it. You either supported the NFFAWU and the workers
or you supported Spencer Lake. And if you tried to remain out of the conflict, people would put you
on the opposite side that they were on. The Anglican Church, whose congregation included more than half of the town, tried to stay out of the conflict and the people who supported the strikers where not pleased with the fact that their own church would not support them. Dr. Mike and Dr. Ann Calder and their family also tried to remain out of the conflict because at the hospital they had to treat who ever came in no matter if it was Spencer Lake or Richard Cashin. One day when the Calder children were riding on horseback with the Lake children, union supporters threw stones at the Lake children and the Calder children. Another time when Dr. Mike Calder attempted to enter the plant to retrieve some documents while people were picketing the picketers had harsh words with him and threatened him, so he quickly turned around and drove home. The Calder's had even thought about leaving Burgeo due to the violence and for their own safety, and they were not even on anybody's side and were not against anybody.
Shortly after closing the plant, Lake reopened it using non-union employees called SCAB
labourers. These SCAB workers were mostly people who had never worked at the plant before, most of them were school children in their teens. This reopening greatly intensified the situation in the
town. Sixty to sixty five non-union employees returned to the Burgeo Fish Industries plant and the
operation was restarted on a small scale. The NFFAWU feared that this reopening may provoke the
strikers to act violently towards Lake and the Union did not want this. Mr. Cashin said that the
situation in Burgeo was quite explosive. "The actions of Mr. Lake undermines the spirit of the Labour Relations Act." "If there is any trouble in Burgeo, the responsibility will be on the shoulders of Spencer Lake."
For those who took sides in the conflict the effects were most of the time very uncomfortable
and sometimes horrible. There were reports that dead rats were hung in front of the houses of men
who crossed the picket line and continued to work for Lake as SCAB workers. One man claimed that his seven year old black dog had been poisoned because of the conflict.
Families became divided within the same household. One man was employed by Spencer Lake for 18 years and remained loyal during the strike. His son however was on the picket line and a union member. They did not speak to each other for months even though they were living under the same roof. Another man told of how his daughter was married to a union member and because of this she would not have anything to do with her parents until the strike was resolved and the tension had gone down. She and her husband could pass her mother on the street and they would look at her as if she were a stranger. There was another story about a family where the entire family apart from one brother, supported the union. The brother was shunned by the family. His children became very sick with the mumps and the rest of his family did not call to see how the children were.
Why did half the town remain loyal to Lake even if it meant dividing their families? As stated
earlier, Lake was a decent man and did a lot for this town as well as individuals in the community.
During the reign of Lake at the fish plant tuberculosis was still a dangerous and popular disease. If
someone on Lake's pay roll came down with tuberculosis, Lake would give them time off with pay
to seek treatment in St. John's and be able to pay the bills when he or she returned. Or if someone on Lake's pay roll had a close relative with T.B. Lake would give that person time off with pay to travel with the sick relative; sometimes Lake would even pay for the trip. Lake would even keep certain individuals working for him even if they were a drain on the plant and did not do much work. As long as you were loyal to Lake and respected him he would treat you the same way but if you got on his bad side, you'd best try to get back on his good side.
Spencer Lake was accused of gradually provoking the strikers. Once the plant reopened under
SCAB labour Lake expected the strikers to soon return to work because they would not have enough money to keep going. A few people did return to work but not many because the strike pay that the union supplied to the strikers was either equal or greater than what the strikers once worked for at the plant. As a move to counteract the effect of the union's strike pay Spencer Lake offered to pay all his non-union employees at the rate of $30.00 per week if they just did their work at the plant and $72.00 if they participated in any of his make-work projects.
The first project, obviously designed to create dissension in the community, was one which
would have Lake's employees build a public playground in the centre of the community. It looked like a good gesture until it was understood that Lake's only commitment was to pay the strike-breakers SCAB wages, while the money for materials and equipment was to come out of a special playground fund that had long been a community project. On the morning the work was to start Lake had his workers wait at the site for the picketers who they thought would surely turn up to start an incident and Lake would then have a reason to call the police on them. The only angry mob that showed up was a group of irritated housewives whose children had marched in walkathons to raise much of the money that Mayor Lake was using to try to turn the community against the picketers. The playground was not built at this time or by Spencer Lake.
Lake opened his plant and the strikers would not let anyone cross the picket line. Spencer
Lake then had plant manager, Arthur Moulton, make a notice that read:
"There will be a very important meeting of all non union employees in the
at 8:00 a.m., tomorrow morning, July 15th. At this meeting Mr. S. G. Lake will make
a very important announcement.
It is very important that all non union employees attend this meeting.
BURGEO FISH INDUSTRIES LTD."
Approximately 110 workers were at the meeting and then they proceeded to
yacht. The union knew of Lake's plan and formed a floating picket line by having nine fishing vessels
lined up across the Short Reach and tied together with rope; ironically this rope belonged to Burgeo
Fish Industries Ltd. Spencer Lake's yacht tried to cross this floating picket line with a load of SCAB
workers, by cutting the rope and approaching the wharf. Once the land picketers saw this they all
headed for the wharf to stop Lake. The yacht got within twenty feet of the wharf and stopped. About 200 picketers and union supporters had gathered on the wharf and threatened violence if the boat tied up at the wharf. Ten minutes later the boat turned back. During this ten minute period, the details are sketchy but Richard Cashin remembers that there was a lot of insults and challenges exchanged but no actual violence happened. Lake however, said the picketers threw rocks and sticks at the yacht and his son, Berch Lake, was struck at least twice by fists. A Lake owned dragger also attempted to dock at the plant wharf but was waved off by angry picketers and then proceeded to dock at the Government wharf.
Immediately following the confrontation, Lake called a meeting between himself and Richard
Cashin and other officials. The meeting did not last long, just long enough for Lake to tell Cashin
what he thought of him and then the meeting was over.
After this confrontation the local union, with Lew Hann as President and George Coley as
Secretary and Treasurer, called upon the Government to show it's good faith and see that Spencer
Lake did not continue to provoke the union people in his manner and persuade him not to open the
plant until the strike was over. Supporting union members of other parts of Newfoundland said that
the reopening of the plant was "a direct threat to the job security of the workers who are on strike
at the Burgeo plant." After the plea from the local union to the Newfoundland Government all they
got was moral support from Joey Smallwood and at the height of the strike the Premiere visited the
town and handed over a modest contribution to the strike funds.
There was however a court injunction after this confrontation that was requested by Spencer
Lake. Lake said he used every quiet and reasonable procedure to reopen his plant and so he decided to take the case to court. The court's injunction limited the strikers and supporters to only four picketers at each entrance to the plant at any given time. It also forced the strikers to remove the floating picket line.
After the incident at the wharf Lake closed up the plant once again along with his other
business interests in the community. He left only a few office workers there to make sure all financial
affairs were still taken care of. Lake resigned as Mayor and Dr. Ann Calder stepped in, he then moved to Ramea where he had other business interests to attend to.
On October 19, 1971, an angry mob marched up to Lake's building that contained the
laundromat, barber shop, and beauty parlour. They started to throw large stones at the building,
breaking most of the windows. The same was done for the nearby plant office building. The Bank,
supermarket and the fish plant itself however were not harmed by the attack. Ed Matheson, Burgeo
Fish Industries Ltd. chief accountant was trapped in a watchouse near the plant gate during the mob
incident. This was his recollection of the incident;
"We were in the watchhouse at 6:00 a.m. and they started to stone the buildings.
shower of stones flew down on the house and I was scared. The Mounties were there
and they came in and told us they could not guarantee our safety. They brought us out
a few hours later."
During the Burgeo strike, about two hundred employees of the B.C. Packers
Ltd. fish plant
at Habour Breton walked off the job in sympathy for the Burgeo strike. These men planned to stay
on strike until the Government intervened in the Burgeo situation. After a few weeks these workers
went back to work after a vote. Premier Joey Smallwood said that the government could not
intervene and take over the Burgeo fish plant because it was a privately owned business that Lake
was legally running. The government had no right to take it over. The members of the Harbour
Breton local were not pleased about this and made their feelings clear in the following provincial
election, as did much of the province.
The Newfoundland Government changed hands in mid-January 1972. The Progressive
Conservative Party came to Power. Premier Frank Moores then announced that the government had
purchased outright the Burgeo Fish Industries Ltd. fish plant at Burgeo and the three trawlers
attached to it. Premier Moores considered the lack of involvement by the Smallwood Government
"The Liberal Government at that time to be afraid to act at a time when
it was critical,
because they were afraid of the political consequences." "In my opinion, this is not a
responsible attitude for any government to take, but rather whatever the problem, it
should be tackled head-on."
NDP leader at the time of the purchase, John Conners, suggested that Lake
came out the
winner and the sell of the plant was done on his terms. Reports say that Lake asked $6 million as a
final price for the plant.
With the government in control of the plant, with National Sea managing and running it, the
base wage rate for the cutters was increased to $1.80 an hour. The wage rates of all other
classifications of employees were adjusted in accordance with the base rate. In addition to the wage
increases, adjustments were made in certain classifications in maintenance, engine room and boiler
room to bring their rates in line with current industrial trends. Employees were granted five paid
statutory holidays during the first year of collective agreement and an additional three days for a total
of eight paid statutory holidays in the second year of the agreement. A union security provision,
which provided for preference of employment to union members, as a condition of employment. All
prospective employees who are not members of the union were required to make a written assignment of initiation fees and monthly dues to the union. All employees who were members of the union at the date of the signing of the agreement and employees that joined the union after the signing of the agreement had to, as a condition of employment, maintain membership in the union. Employees who completed ten years of service with the company accumulated vacation pay at the rate of 6% of total gross earnings. Employees who served less than ten years received 4% vacation pay.
Even though the workers at Burgeo got increased wages, better working conditions, and
vacation pay none of these this were the issue that caused the Burgeo strike. The real issue in Burgeo
was the basic rights of employees here to organize a trade union. To workers all over the province
Burgeo was a symbol. A telegram tacked to the picket line bulletin board in Burgeo read:
"The cause you fight for is ours too. A victory in Burgeo is a victory
Newfoundlanders. United we stand."
The telegram was sent by a group of fishermen on the northeast coast, and
there are literally
dozens others like it. The letters not only came from people involved in the fishery but also railway
clerks and bakers, steelworkers and papermakers. Burgeo had become more than just another fishing village. When the union in Burgeo had triumphed over Spencer Lake the NFFAWU soon gave rise to the slogan "It Started in Burgeo".
After the strike the plant was owned by the Newfoundland Government but was operated by
National Sea. A few years latter the old fish plant was removed and the herring plant became Burgeo's big industry. The plant was not just a herring plant any more though. It had expanded and processed cod for the most part.
The people of Burgeo were very pleased about getting a new plant because it brought better
working conditions to them and better wages and the right to unionize. The Burgeo Fish Industries
plant however made more of a difference in the town's economy than the National Sea plant did
because the old plant came at a time when Burgeo was poverty stricken and the plant brought an
industry that filled the town with people looking for work and opportunity. It also came about during
the resettlement program of Joey Smallwood's Government in the '60's. The Newfoundland
Government had considered Burgeo a growth centre due to the fish plant and all the resettling people
from nearby islands and areas.
When they moved into the new plant with a union already in tact many of them felt they could
easily get whatever they wanted. This was the attitude of many employees in the new plant and
management did not like it. It caused for a lot of labour problems and when National Sea sold the
plant to Bill Barey of Seafreez Ltd., the problems escalated. Bill Barey closed down the plant because he and the employees could not get along and refused to cooperate with each other. Two years after the plant had closed, so did the fishery and everyone who had worked in the fishing industry received money from the Government's TAGS program.
Things slowly started to get back to normal in the little town after the strike of '71. Son's
started talking to fathers again and sisters started talking to brothers. And despite the continued
struggle in the fishery, people had to become more independent and they never gave up on their little
town. They started and ran businesses on their own because people like Spencer Lake, who used to
do these things for them was now gone and also because the fishery was not an ideal career due to
the declining cod stocks and the closing of the fishery. The people of Burgeo tried to push on, hoping
they would not have to leave their home in search of work.
In 1978, the present Anglican Rectory was erected. In 1979 the Burgeo road opened thus
ending isolation in our town. In 1981, the Burgeo Broadcasting System was put into place. This cable system has gone from two channels to being the best in the province for the amount of viewing it offers and the price that it is to view it. In 1987, the town began receiving hydro powered electricity. Burgeo celebrated it's first "Come Home Year" in 1988, the second "Come Home Year" has been planned for the summer of 1998. In 1991 the present town Fire Hall was built. The Senior's Center, that had long been awaited by the residents of Burgeo, opened on June 1st, 1993. The Calder Health Care Center officially opened in 1994, replacing the old Burgeo Cottage Hospital. And in 1997 the replica of John Cabot's Matthew landed at the Seafreez fish plant wharf on July 15th and left on July 16th. The visit was a huge success that had the closed fish plant alive once again.
Since the late 1700's to the present, Burgeo and it's people have come a very long way. For
a very long time Burgeo remained a quiet, sparsely populated area without many modern day
conveniences. However in the late 1950's the town came from being an isolated and poverty stricken village to having almost everything that you can get anywhere else and some things that cannot be found anywhere else. Conditions in Burgeo during the late 1950's and early '60's was like Scotland in the 1800's. Burgeo did in about 50 years what it takes most towns 100 or more years to do; it modernized into the present small town that it is with almost all the luxuries of any big city and with many of the luxuries that you cannot find in any big city, such as a low crime rate, a clear sky, and quiet streets. Some people say that Burgeo is doomed to become a ghost town but any small
community like Burgeo exports it's people by nature and then when these people are ready to relax
they return to their roots to retire and their children move away and in a few years they return to
retire. The cycle continues forever, and so does our little town called Burgeo.
By Dion Dicks
Burgeo Public Library
re-edited November, 1999