ICH - Eastern Newfoundland

Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory - Eastern Newfoundland

There are many historic, charming communities, flanked by big blue seas and sheltered coves to be found throughout the eastern region of Newfoundland and Labrador. The area was the first part of the New World to be discovered. It stretches from John Cabot's historical 1497 landing place on the Bonavista Peninsula to the gateway of France, the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon, which can be reached by a short ferry trip from the Burin Peninsula. Centuries ago, towns in the eastern region once rivaled St. John's as the fishing capitals of North America.


The town of Bonavista can be found on Newfoundland's east coast, on the Bonavista Peninsula- a geographic region named for this historic settlement. It is believed that the site of Bonavista is where the legendary explorer John Cabot made his very first North American landfall. In 1497, after two months at sea, Cabot's arrival would mark the first point of contact between European explorers and the Island of Newfoundland. Appropriately, the place name Bonavista is often accredited to Cabot. Upon sighting from afar, this landmass, Cabot exclaimed: "O Buona Vista," in jubilation at his discovery. This became the longstanding name of what would eventually become a new European settlement.

With confirmation of 'new' lands and bountiful fishing grounds, it wasn't long before seasonal fishermen arrived to exploit the local fishery. As early as the 1500s, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese fishermen would visit the region to fish for cod off of Cape Bonavista. Although the overall vicinity offered poor shelter and boat anchorage, Bonavista eventually became one of the most important towns in Newfoundland.

For decades leading up the Provincial moratorium on cod, this community operated as a major commercial centre. Evidence of its once-flourishing economy is preserved at the Ryan Premises, a National Historic Site maintained by Parks Canada. This heritage fishing premises has been restored to offer a look at what a large fish merchant's operation would have once looked like.

Champney's West

Champney's West is a fishing community on the Bonavista Peninsula which was previously known as Salmon Cove. Champney's was first settled in the late seventeenth century. The economy was based on the inshore cod fishery, although salmon, herring and capelin were also caught. The Labrador fishery and the annual spring seal hunt were also important to the economy of the area. The inshore fishery decline coincided with the practice of leaving the community in the summer to work on the Great Lake boats in the summer, and in the lumber woods during the winter. The inshore fishery has seen some revival and there is a renewed interest in the cultural heritage of the community which saw the establishment of an aquarium and a heritage museum.


Clarenville is located on the east coast Newfoundland in the Shoal Harbour valley. In the 1890's people in the area wanted to get a post office, and were told that smaller communities would have to join together to form a larger centre. Lower Shoal Harbour, Dark Hole, Brook Cove, Broad Cove, and Red Beach amalgamated to form Clarenville. At that time people settled in the area because of the supply of timber creating a prosperous lumber industry.

In 1891, construction of the Newfoundland Railway reached Clarenville, making the community a significant stop with creating an important service industry. Though the railway is no longer a part of Newfoundland travel, the Trans-Canada-Highway has continued Clarenville's role as a travel junction. Another industry important to Clarenville has been the production of emulsified asphalt which supplied the runways of Newfoundland's airports and eventually all Government road construction. Connected with this industry was the creosote plant that preserved wood used for US bases, railway ties, wharves, breakwaters, and the utility poles for the Newfoundland Telephone Company.

Eastport Peninsula

The Eastport Peninsula is in the central part of Bonavista Bay. The peninsula is adjacent to Terra Nova National Park and contains seven small communities: Eastport, Happy Adventure, Sandy Cove, Salvage, St. Chad's, Burnside and Sandringham.


Over the years, Elliston has been known for the numerous root cellars that are still standing in the region. A root cellar is a structure that was built in the days before electricity, in order to keep vegetables from freezing in the winter months and to keep contents cool during the warm summer months. In July of 2000, through the coordinated efforts of Memorial University of Newfoundland, Human Resources Development Canada, and locals residents, Elliston was able to officially declare itself the "Root Cellar Capital of the World."

Elliston boasts 135 documented root cellars, some of which have survived nearly two centuries. This makes Elliston a cultural center for those who seek to gain an understanding of early Newfoundland subsistence.

English Harbour

The village of English Harbour can be found at Trinity Point on Newfoundland's Bonavista Peninsula. Like many other communities in the region, English Harbour was settled to participate in the seal and cod fishery. The first Way Office was built in 1883, sparking the establishment of a definitive community. The All Saints Church was built just a few years later, in 1888, in a classic Carpenter's Gothic style. This church, restored and maintained by the English Harbour Arts Association, has been designated a provincial heritage site by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. The attached cemetery holds the gravesites of early residents, including several victims of the Trinity Bay Disaster of 1892-a sealing tragedy that took the lives of 24 fishermen.

Located approximately 5 km southeast of English Harbour, is Horse Chops-a tourist spot known for its stretch of rugged coastline. From this location, distinctive rock formations can be viewed, including the infamous 'naked man' formation, said to resemble the body of a man. On a clear day, from the Horse Chops, one can see to the other side of Trinity Bay and as far out as Baccalieu Island.

Grand Bank

Grand Bank is located on the southern tip of the Burin Peninsula. Originally called Grand Banc, the area was inhabited by French fisherman as early as 1640 and started as a fishing settlement with about seven families. It was given the name "Grand Banc" because of the high bank that extends from Admiral's Cove to the water's edge on the west side of the harbour.

The Town of Grand Bank can attribute much of its past and present growth and prosperity to its proximity to the fishing grounds and its ice-free harbour. Original settlers thrived on trade with the French and a vigorous inshore fishing industry. Grand Bank became the centre of the bank fishing industry for Newfoundland.


Keels is one of the oldest and smallest communities in Newfoundland, located about 3 kilometers from Duntara. With its small but sheltered harbour situation close to productive fishing grounds, Keels was probably the base for an intermittent summer cod fishery from France and Iberia before 1600. According to Captain Cook's map, it was one of only a handful of harbours beyond Bonavista occupied by the English "on or before" 1660 and it remained close to the northern limits of English settlement in Newfoundland into the next century.

The Catholic Irish arrived later, entering this fishery generally as servants to English planters, mainly as shoreman cutting, salting and drying the fish, managing meadows and tiny gardens. In the winter, they gathered timber inland for vessel constriction and for the wide range of wooden structures that dominated Keels' material cultural landscape. Gradually they procured properties either in physically less-favoured sites for the prosecution of a fishery, or by purchase or marriage to daughters of English planters.

Immigration had virtually ceased by 1836 when the first comprehensive census was taken. There were by then almost 300 persons living in 44 houses with 30 boats exploiting the grounds inshore. The old indentured servant class had virtually disappeared, replaced by family labour. Close to 40% of the population was under 14 and a school had been established, the only public building recorded. The cod fishery continued to dominate the economy. Agriculture was meagre and purely subsistence in nature. Each householder tended on average less than half an acre of ground, mainly for potatoes and only one in every two houses kept livestock. Two decades later Keels had 450 inhabitants, by now all but a few native Newfoundlanders. Partnership based on extended family networks began to characterize social life and work.

Like many outport villages in Newfoundland, the population in Keels has been shrinking with the collapse of the cod fishing industry. Keels has since become a tourist attraction and some of the highlights include geological features known as "the Devil's Footprints" that are found on the rocks surrounding the town, the Anglican Cemetery that dates to the beginnings of the community, the restored Orange Lodge and a natural sea-spray phenomenon known as "Clark's Chimney Hole" on the coast.


The Town of Marystown is a shipbuilding and fish-processing centre, comprising the settlements of Marystown (formerly Mortier Bay), Creston, Creston North, Little Bay and Mooring Cove on the east side of the Burin Peninsula. Marystown, having one of the largest and deepest natural harbours in Newfoundland, has been promoted historically as an ice-free port. Probably frequented by French and Basque fishermen in the 16th and 17th centuries, the area was settled predominantly by English and Irish fishermen by the early 1800s.

Port Blandford

Port Blandford is a town in eastern Newfoundland, Canada. It is in Division No. 7 on Clode Sound. In 2016, the population was 601 people. The first significant development of the community happened in 1892 with the building of the railway and the installation of a wharf at Clode Sound to accommodate a coastal steamer for Bonavista Bay to facilitate travelers, carry freight and increase trade. In 1971, the Town of Port Blandford was officially incorporated, and the community council started work on road developments and installing water and sewer services.

Port Union

Port Union is a small community on the east coast of Newfoundland, along the Bonavista Peninsula. As its name suggests, Port Union is best known as the community that founded the Fisherman's Protective Union (FPU) - a union that serviced Newfoundland and Labrador. The FPU was first created in 1908 by Sir William F. Coaker, whose leadership successfully introduced a better way of life for thousands of people on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, who sustained themselves from the fishery. By 1914. the FPU had approximately 20,000 members, proving its undeniable importance for residents of the province. The town of Port Union was officially incorporated in 1961, with the election of its first mayor.

In the early 1980s, the Port Union railway station was converted into a museum, highlighting the history of the Reid railway, the FPU, the fisheries in the region, and their related companies-many of which have faced closure since the moratorium on cod fishing. By 1992, the FPU premises were vacated, and the Fishery Products International plant was permanently closed due to mass shortages of fish. The museum however, still stands and continues to be an important tourism feature of Port Union.

Red Cliffe

Red Cliffe (also spelled Red Cliff) is a small outport community in Bonavista Bay originally founded in the late 18th century. For about a century the community remained a small, typical fishing settlement comparable to many others in the region. In the late 19th century the community begain to change when John Quinton founded the John Quinton Ltd company and expanded its operations to include a shop, post office, and large fish store capable of providing bulk supplies and shipping/packaging fish caught by local communities on a large scale. Thanks in large part to the central role John Quinton Ltd came to play in social and commercial life in the region, throughout the early 1900s Red Cliffe grew to become an important community hub, connecting people from across Bonavista Bay.

Red Cliffe continued to grow until the 1950s when the Quinton family operations peaked, but has since suffered a slow decline in population and industry like many other outport communities.

St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence is located on the eastern side of the Burin Penisula in southern Newfoundland and has been referred to as the 'Soccer Capital of Canada'. The area was known to French and Basque fishermen in the 1600s and there was French habitation of the area in the 1640s. Settlement of St Lawrence itself, however, began in the late 1700s.

Fishing was the main economic activity of the settlers for over 100 years and the fish plan is currently the community's largest employer. In addition to fishing the mining industry played a large role in the community. The fluorspar mine was a major employer in the community until 1978, when the mine closed.

The community is also well known for the Truxton and Pollux disaster where two American ships ran ashore near St. Lawrence on February 18, 1942. The community has erected a memorial in dedication of the mining industry, the loss of the USS Truxtun and Pollux and those who lost their live in the World Wars.

Swift Current

Swift Current is located at the head of the Placentia Bay at the mouth of Piper's Hole inlet. The name Piper's Hole was also applied to the community before its name was changed in about 1920. The community first appears in the Census of 1869. The resettlement of Sound Island, Davis Cove, Woody Island and Port Elizabeth in the 1950s and 1960s increased the population of Swift Current. Traditional industries included lumbering, and fishing. There were also four lobster processing factories in the community at one time. Later industries included construction, and labour work.

The collection includes photographs of Swift Current and Garden Cove and the neighbouring resettled communities such as Sound Island, Woody Island, and Newtown. The collection consists primarily of family photographs, including of the Eddy, Crocker, Beck, Hollett, Stacey, Butt, and Giles families.


During the 1720's Trinity was home to about 30 permanent families and host to 200-300 seasonal fishermen per year. By 1869, the population peaked at more than 800 people. Until recent years, the inshore, Grand Bank and Labrador fisheries sustained the community. Since the decline in the fishery, lumbering, coopering, shipbuilding and other trades have become prominent industries. Historically, education was an important component of the community, with navigation and business education being taught at Trinity's Commercial School.

The preservation of Trinity's cultural and architectural heritage has made it perhaps the most notable 'heritage community' in the province. Sustainable growth in existing and new businesses, including theatre, is clearly evident as Trinitarians, along with residents of the surrounding communities, play host to thousands of visitors per year.

Upper Amherst Cove

Upper Amherst Cove is a small fishing village that lies on Newfoundland's northeast coast, on the Bonavista Peninsula. It is located 20 km southeast of the town of Bonavista, which operates as the primary service center. Upper Amherst Cove was first settled by inshore fishermen in the mid 1800s, who arrived and stayed, to exploit the abundance of local resources. Aside from the cod fishery, the sustainability of the community also depended on winter logging in Blackhead Bay. This secondary industry was vital, as it supplemented the often meager incomes of the fishing community.

Due to the proximity of a booming Bonavista, Upper Amherst Cove never saw the need for substantial development and expansion. According to census records, the community's population peaked in 1935 with 191 residents. Inevitably though, as fish supplies dwindled over time, and the moratorium on cod fishing was instituted, the population of Upper Amherst saw a serious decline. Today this small community has approximately 35 residents.