Colourful reminders of our past
Carbonear Island’s garrison soldiers march into 21st century
Carbonear citizens and visitors to the Conception Bay North town will soon have some colourful reminders of the garrison of soldiers who were stationed on Carbonear Island in the 18th century.
Period uniforms of the style the artillery soldiers wore at the time have been made for special occasions. Students will sport the blue, red, gold and black uniforms during special events in the town. They may be worn during guided walking tours or reproductions of historic conflicts that took place on or around the island.
Costumer Edith Elson created the uniforms from a print provided by Bernard Ransom, curator at The Rooms in St. John’s.
Project manager Florence Button said next year they hope to re-enact some kind of historic event that took place on or around Carbonear Island.
Researcher Carl Penney and assistant Berkley Colbourne also worked on the project.
Sponsored by the Carbonear town council, the project was funded by a provincial job creation project called the Carbonear Island Militia Review.
The project initiative involved researching the military history of Carbonear Island during the French and English conflicts of the first half of the 18th century.
The federal government provided some $37,000 for the project, which began April 26 and wraps up July 15.
Over 1,200 artifacts from the 17th and 18th centuries were uncovered during a preliminary archaeological survey on the island last summer. A nine-week archaeological dig will continue this year beginning July 18.
The Carbonear Heritage Society is also supporting the work being carried out as part of the Carbonear Island Development Strategy.
Carbonear Island was first recognized in 1954 by the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, which designated the events of 1697 and 1705 as being of national historic significance. In the 1960s the provincial government installed a number of historic sites plaques on the island.
A plaque was unveiled in the Carbonear Memorial Park in 1981 recognizing the island as a site of national historic significance for the important role it played in the defence of the island of Newfoundland against French raiders in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The island’s history is well-documented. During the winter of 1697, after French raiders had laid waste most of the English settlements in Newfoundland, from Ferryland to Harbour Grace, residents of Carbonear and surrounding communities entrenched themselves on Carbonear Island. For a brief time they became the only holdout against French domination of Newfoundland, and the tiny island the only part of the east coast of Newfoundland to remain firmly under English control.
Local inhabitants led by William Pynn of Carbonear again successfully defended the island in 1705 against a French force from Placentia who had pillaged the coastal fisheries.
Its steep cliffs made the island’s shoreline almost inaccessible from the sea, with only one place on its southwest corner of reasonable access. That made it a safe refuge for settlers under siege and earned it the moniker, “Gibraltar of the North.”
Carbonear Island was maintained for a number of years as an armed garrison where people from surrounding settlements could defend themselves from attack.
The island remained an armed garrison for almost 20 years between 1743 and 1762.
The site included a barracks and quarters and a provision storehouse and magazine, as well as two five-gun batteries of 18-pound cannon.
In 1762, when the French ravaged a number of the principal fishing communities along the east coast of Newfoundland from St. John’s to Trinity, the facilities on Carbonear Island were entirely destroyed, along with a number of privately owned buildings, possibly used as part of a fishing room. That marked the end of the use of Carbonear Island for defence purposes.
After the fall of Fort Louisburg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, the threat of French invasion was no longer a concern.
By 1762, with the garrison buildings having fallen into disrepair and the unsuspecting fishing families of Carbonear Island going about their summer’s work, a surprise attack came from France. With only a handful of men, Charles Garland was unable to fend off the French force under Commander Boisgelin, and the little island fell to the enemy for the first and last time.