The editor from Hant’s Harbour
Special to The Compass
By 1867, the 19-year-old Hant’s Harbour native, Malcolm G. Bremner ( 1847-1910), had worked his way up to the position of editor of the Ontario newspaper, The London Free Press.
That summer, he left his adopted home for a holiday to his Island home. However, his journey was interrupted by a shipwreck on Anticosti Island, located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. (In the last 400 years, there have been more than 400 shipwrecks on the rocky shores of Anticosti Island.) Following his rescue, he resumed his trip.
Then, from October to November 1867, he chronicled his impressions of Newfoundland and its stand on the Confederation issue in a series of letters. His articles, under the title, “Sketches by the Way: Meanderings in Newfoundland,” were published in the Canadian Free Press, a weekly edition of The London Free Press.
As part of his holiday, he traveled to Harbour Grace and Carbonear. Later, he wrote that Harbour Grace “is a town of 10,000 inhabitants, and second in importance to St. John’s, in a commercial sense. The people have a good deal of local pride, however, and are apt to take umbrage if you mention their secondary position. Many of them claim to be on a par with St. John’s and, really, the shipping at Harbour Grace is most extensive at certain seasons of the year.
“The harbour describes a triangle and forms a sound, extending three miles inwards from the bay. It is deep and safe withal.
“I expressed some surprise at the number of ships in port, but was told that there was no shipping worth naming at that time. On occasions, a perfect forest of masts and rigging extends the whole length of the harbour, and all this interest is controlled by some three or four merchants, whose operations cover millions annually.
“Of these, Mr. W.H. Ridley is the most extensive dealer. The gentleman supplies hundreds of fishermen and sealers, and employs two steamers and a fleet of minor craft each year in the seal-killing trade. One of the steamers, commanded by Capt. James Murphy, last spring, in two trips, brought in upwards of 20,000 seals, and the whole product was 90,000.
By the aid of steam machinery, the oil is at once and completely extracted, so that nothing is left of the fat but a dry substance like ashes. The steam cooperages, wharves and storehouses belonging to Mr. Ridley’s estate are very extensive, and combine all the wealth and enterprise of many a small town.
“Like that of St. John’s, the population is almost equal between Protestants and Catholics, and both sects have churches of which no city need be ashamed. During political (illegible), sectarian feeling runs high in Harbour Grace. Hitherto, no question but that of creed has divided parties in this country, and no campaign is based upon other material grounds. Harbour Grace has therefore had its day of tumult. The clipping of editors’ ears, and the attempted assassination of magistrates, have passed into history, and I need not refer to them here at length.
Harbour Grace has seen a day when, disturbed by religious differences, armed fanatics barricaded its streets, as the revolutionists barricaded Paris, howling for blood. But that time has happily passed by, and men have learned that to be neighbourly and forbearing is more sensible and profitable than a...desire for sectarian superiority over one another.
“I remained a week at Harbour Grace, and in the list of my diversions were several drives across the hills to Carbonear, three miles distant, and to a place of some little note. This was the only port in the Island that successfully resisted the inroads of the French. It boasts a number of wellto-do families, and a good share of handsome girls who, strange to say, were anxious to discuss the Confederation question, believing that union is strength, as applied either to nations or individuals of opposite sexes.
“Don’t ask for a hotel at either of those places, for you may seek and not find one to your liking. Grog-shops are abundant enough, but not a hotel in which a respectable youth would desire to register his proper name. There are boardinghouses, however, in which good lodging can be found. Should fortune ever take you to Harbour Grace, reader, inquire for old Capt. Brown, for half a century a sailor, but now as hearty a landlord as ever gave shelter to a stranger or afterwards beat him at a game of whist.”
Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at email@example.com.