Historic Harbour Grace
A pirate and a pilot made this Newfoundland community famous.
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.