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 than­sire 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 bur­

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