New­found­land in the North At­lantic

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

“You can take the boy out of the bay, but you can’t take the bay out of the boy,” is a well-known phrase in this province. Per­haps this is the case with Shan­non Ryan, honourary re­search pro­fes­sor of his­tory at Me­mo­rial Univer­sity.

He be­gins his most re­cent book, “A His­tory of New­found­land in the North At­lantic to 1818,” with a fond and nos­tal­gic ref­er­ence to a cer­tain road in his home­town.

“Fish­er­man’s Road! Just why a road in River­head, Har­bour Grace (or as we say, The River), would be chris­tened so is dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand; fish­er­men lived ev­ery­where.”

Fish­er­man’s Road runs be­tween St. Joseph’s Ro­man Catholic Church and the old school for about a mile.

Given that Ryan’s fore­bears, as well as “the other thou­sands liv­ing in east­ern New­found­land were fish­er­men, why a road could be sin­gled out

Ryan ad­mits his ap­proach to the study of his­tory is a

tra­di­tional one: “My train­ing and writ­ings and in­cli­na­tions in­di­cate that I study sources and then iden­tify ques­tions … that deal with eco­nomic, so­cial,

mil­i­tary, and po­lit­i­cal is­sues.”

to be named af­ter fish­er­men or a fish­er­man raises an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion — which must re­main unan­swered.”

Two themes run through Ryan’s work. First, “the ex­pe­ri­ence of a re­gion in the North Amer­i­can world that lacked a suit­able agri­cul­tural base but had a ma­jor sup­ply of cod­fish that was in great de­mand.” Sec­ond, “the evo­lu­tion of this suc­cess­ful mi­gra­tory fish­ery (New­found­land) from that of a fish­ing ship an­chored on the Grand Banks in the North At­lantic to that of a Colony by 1818.”

Ryan ad­mits his ap­proach to the study of his­tory is a tra­di­tional one: “My train­ing and writ­ings and in­cli­na­tions in­di­cate that I study sources and then iden­tify ques­tions … that deal with eco­nomic, so­cial, mil­i­tary, and po­lit­i­cal is­sues.”

He takes the reader on a jour­ney, start­ing with the ori­gins of fish­ery and set­tle­ment to 1660. He then dis­cusses, in turn, chaos (1660-1713), re­prieve (1713-63), and con­sol­i­da­tion (1763-93), be­fore con­clud­ing with the colony con­firmed (1793-1818).

By 1815, he con­cludes, “New­found­land’s his­tory as a Bri­tish mi­gra­tory fish­ery had come to a close and it was about to be rec­og­nized as an­other, al­beit unique, Bri­tish Colony. Thus, New­found­land, which had al­ways been a fish­ery based around an is­land, had fi­nally be­come a colony based on the cod and seal fish­eries.”

Along the way, Ryan touches on com­mu­ni­ties in Con­cep­tion Bay, in­clud­ing Bay Roberts, Bri­gus, Bris­tol’s Hope, Car­bon­ear, Cupids, Har­bour Grace and River­head.

The story of Pierre le Moyne d’Iberville’s ac­tiv­i­ties con­tin­ues to cap­ti­vate reader sen­si­bil­i­ties.

“When he en­tered Con­cep­tion Bay,” Ryan writes, “d’Iberville … looked for­ward to tak­ing all the booty. He had ap­par­ently de­cided that Car­bon­ear was the rich­est port and was de­ter­mined to reach it as soon as pos­si­ble … They by­passed Bri­gus and cap­tured Port de Grave. They sent a res­i­dent from there to Bri­gus with the com­mand that three men from Bri­gus go to Car­bon­ear to meet them …

“Var­i­ous at­tempts were made to take the is­land (Car­bon­ear Is­land), but all failed. D’Iberville de­stroyed all nearby set­tle­ments, looted them, used the cat­tle and other an­i­mals for food, and, us­ing Car­bon­ear as a base, raided the rest of the North Shore of Con­cep­tion Bay and con­tin­ued into Trin­ity Bay as far south as Heart’s Con­tent, re­turn­ing from there to Car­bon­ear. Once again there was a gen­eral ren­dezvous in Car­bon­ear and or­ders were given to de­stroy all build- ings, boats, and fish­ing premises.”

Ryan also writes about Peter Eas­ton, the “no­to­ri­ous English pi­rate (who) had es­tab­lished his head­quar­ters in Har­bour Grace, from where he preyed on fish­ing ships — tak­ing ships, men , a n d su p p l i e s . Folk­lore/folk his­tory has it that a Lt. Gil­bert Pike had been an of­fi­cer on Eas­ton’s ship be­fore Eas­ton turned to piracy and that Sheila NaGeira, an Ir­ish princess and a pris­oner on a Dutch ship cap­tured by Eas­ton and taken pris­oner by Eas­ton, fell in love with Pike and mar­ried him and even­tu­ally raised a fam­ily in Car­bon­ear.”

Sto­ries such as th­ese go a long way to­ward de­mol­ish­ing the mis­taken im­pres­sion that his­tory has to be bor­ing in or­der to be ac­cu­rate. To the con­trary, Ryan’s writ­ing sparkles with his­tor­i­cal in­sight.

Fel­low his­to­rian Pa­trick O’Fla­herty notes Ryan’s “wit, his un­der­stand­ing of our cul­ture, and his deep knowl­edge of the past.” Glyn­dwr Wil­liams, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the Univer­sity of Lon­don, says the book “is writ­ten with con­fi­dence — al­most a swag­ger at times — and ex­udes an air of author­ity.”

In short, Ryan is in­tent on ask­ing “why did my an­ces­tors … move away from the coast, away from the beach; why and how did they de­velop a life with­out a house, a stage, a flake on the beach, or land­wash …? Why were they able to break the mould es­tab­lished in the 1500s and cre­ate a dif­fer­ent kind of com­mu­nity with­out the ‘Ocean at their Door’?”

“A His­tory of New­found­land in the North At­lantic to 1818” is pub­lished by Flanker Press of St. John’s.

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