His­toric Har­bour Grace

A pi­rate and a pi­lot made this New­found­land com­mu­nity fa­mous.

Canada's History - - DESTINATIONS - By A.G. Luke & J.D. Du­rand

HE AR­RIVED IN THE SEV­EN­TEENTH cen­tury, and she de­parted in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Peter Eas­ton and Amelia Earhart left in­deli­ble im­pres­sions on the New­found­land and Labrador coastal com­mu­nity of Har­bour Grace.

Eas­ton ar­rived in New­found­land in 1602 as an English pri­va­teer in com­mand of three war­ships. He was com­mis­sioned by Queen El­iz­a­beth I to en­force Bri­tish or­der among the law­less fish­er­men of many na­tions who lived along the New­found­land coast. Folk­lore has it that he even res­cued an Ir­ish princess — Sheila Na Geira — from a Dutch pri­va­teer.

But he and his crew­men were stranded with­out pay when El­iz­a­beth’s suc­ces­sor, James I, down­sized the Bri­tish fleet after mak­ing peace with Spain in 1604. Thus be­gan Eas­ton’s ca­reer as one of the most suc­cess­ful pi­rates in his­tory.

He plun­dered ships along North Amer­ica’s eastern seaboard and as far south as the Caribbean, adding ships and crew to his pi­rate fleet as he went. In 1610, Eas­ton for­ti­fied Har­bour Grace and es­tab­lished it as his base for the next four years. Daphne Mercer, tourism co­or­di­na­tor for Har­bour Grace, men­tioned that “Peter Eas­ton is a hero in Har­bour Grace and in­deed New­found­land and Labrador. This is be­lieved to be the only public memo­rial to a pi­rate in Canada, and each tourism sea­son brings thou­sands to town to visit Peter Eas­ton’s fort.”

Cen­turies later, Har­bour Grace, lo­cated in south­east New­found­land’s Avalon Penin­sula, again came into the spot­light when, on May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart lifted off from the town’s air­field to be­gin her solo flight across the At­lantic Ocean.

With a Ther­mos bot­tle of soup and a can of tomato juice, the thirty-four-yearold pi­lot weath­ered the jour­ney in just un­der fif­teen hours, land­ing in a pas­ture in Lon­don­derry, North­ern Ire­land.

Re­ceiv­ing world­wide recog­ni­tion as the first wo­man to fly solo across the At­lantic Ocean, the al­ready fa­mous Earhart used her strato­spheric stature to pro­mote equal op­por­tu­nity for women in avi­a­tion and in other fields. In 1937 she em­barked on her fi­nal ad­ven­ture, an around-the-world flight with nav­i­ga­tor Fred Noo­nan. They lost ra­dio con­tact some­where over the South Pa­cific Ocean and were never heard from again. The mys­tery of their dis­ap­pear­ance re­mains un­solved.

A wel­come sign for the town of Har­bour Grace de­picts a ship and a plane, rep­re­sent­ing the twin lega­cies of Eas­ton and Earhart. A statue hon­our­ing Earhart can be viewed at Kear­ney Memo­rial Park. This was funded by Roger Pike, who also do­nated a 1943 DC-3 plane that sits nearby. Named the Spirit of Har­bour Grace, the Dou­glas Air­craft was for­merly in ser­vice with the United States Air Force in North Africa dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and then served as a cargo plane. The plane was re­tired in 1988 and was do­nated to the town in 1993.

Just down the road in the his­toric Wa­ter Street dis­trict is the Ho­tel Har­bour Grace (for­merly Archibald’s Ho­tel) where Earhart stayed prior to her flight.

Earhart and Eas­ton are both hon­oured in the theme rooms at the Con­cep­tion Bay Mu­seum, which oc­cu­pies a former 1870s cus­tom house and is open from June to Septem­ber. The Earhart ex­hibit in the Avi­a­tion Room dis­plays repli­cas of her fly­ing at­tire, and pho­tographs il­lus­trate her suc­cess­ful flight from the Har­bour Grace airstrip. A model and his­tory of the 1,220-me­tre­long gravel land­mark are also pro­vided. Other ar­ti­facts in­clude pi­o­neer­ing relics from transat­lantic air­craft and text about pi­lots uti­liz­ing this ac­claimed take­off point.

The mu­seum’s Pi­rate Room fea­tures a man­nequin of Peter Eas­ton that re­counts his ex­pe­ri­ences in Har­bour Grace via an au­dio record­ing. His ship, The Happy Ad­ven­ture, is repli­cated in a dis­play case, as is a model of his fort. Lo­cally hand-painted his­tory boards de­scribe the preva­lence of piracy and the vi­tal transat­lantic fish­ery route.

A stu­dent guid­ing a mu­seum tour ad­mit­ted to us that “it’s cool hav­ing a pi­rate as a town founder of sorts. Many peo­ple are aware of Amelia Earhart’s fa­mous solo flight but don’t re­al­ize that it orig­i­nated in our town.”

An Amelia Earhart statue in Har­bour Grace, New­found­land and Labrador, and pho­tos of Earhart’s 1932 visit to the town.

A pi­rate dis­play at Con­cep­tion Bay Mu­seum in Har­bour Grace, New­found­land and Labrador.

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