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The Town of Elliston

General History

Rev. William Ellis (Excerpt)
Elliston (Excerpt)
Maberly (Poem)
Elliston Base Time Line

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Rev. William Ellis

ELLIS. REV. WILLIAM (1780-1837).

         Missionary. Perhaps the most memorable, certainly the most indefatigable, of all the early Methodist missionaries to Newfoundland, Ellis, like many others of his calling in those days, was an Irishman, born in County Down. There as a youth he witnessed some of the battles of the uprisings of 1797-98, on one occasion barely escaping with his life when his family in hiding was discovered by the enemy. The timely arrival of friendly troops saved his life, a circumstance that Ellis ascribed to the intervention of Divine Providence, which, he believed, had saved him for a purpose. Shortly thereafter he offered himself as a Methodist Class Leader and Local Preacher. The date of his ordination is uncertain, but in 1808 as an ordained minister he was sent to Newfoundland, where he was to spend his entire ministry of twenty-nine years and become the first British Methodist missionary to die and be buried on the Island. He also had the distinction of being in 1816-17 the first Chairman of the newly-created Methodist District of Newfoundland (under the British Methodist Conference). His circuits in Newfoundland included most of the major ones in the District: Bonavista (during three separate terms, in 1812-15, 1820-21, and 1832-35), Blackhead, Brigus-Cupids, Port de Grave (which then also included Bay Roberts and Clark's Beach), and Harbour Grace. His posting in 1816 to Trinity, Trinity Bay, where several earlier attempts to establish a mission had failed, met with no greater success, though at a later time a substantial Methodist circuit was constituted at Trinity. He was, however, instrumental in laying the groundwork for at least two new missions that soon grew into substantial circuits: at Catalina, and at Bird Island Cove, where he is believed to have preached the first sermon to its Protestant residents and which some eighty years later was renamed Elliston in his memory. He died and was buried at Harbour Grace in 1837.

Source Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador

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ELLISTON (inc. 1965; pop. 1976, 540).

         An incorporated fishing settlement located south of Cape Bonavista qv. The modern community of Elliston is composed of several distinct communities, some named in early census returns; these included North Side, Northern Cove (Norder Cove), Elliston Centre, including Elliston Point, (Porter's Point), Sandy Cove, The Neck, Maberly (formerly Muddy Brook) and Northern Bight, which was occupied a short time before 1900 (H.E.L. Murray: 1972). Elliston, formerly called Bird Island Cove, was renamed in the early 1900s through the efforts of Rev. Charles Lench qv to honour the first Methodist Missionary to Bird Island Cove, Rev. William Ellis qv. The name of Bird Islands or Bird Island Cove was common in the 1600s when migratory West Country fishermen first frequented northern Trinity Bay. The name is taken from two small islands, North and South Bird Island, which lie .4 km (.25 mi) off the southerly entrance to the wide, unprotected cove, which is close to some of the most superb fishing grounds in Newfoundland. This cove was noted in The English Pilot The Fourth Book 1689 (1967) with the following description: "Within the said Bird-Islands is a large Bay, and one Arm within the South point of Land runs up W.S.W. a good distance, where Ships may ride: There is another Arm that runs up within some Rocks which are above Water; but I went not into that Arm, for the Bay runs to Cape Largan, Bird-Islands abound with Willcocks, Gannets, Pigeons, Gulls & c. which breed there in the Summer."

         Although Bird Island Cove was located near magnificent fishing grounds, its growth as a permanent fishing station, like that of the Town of Bonavista, was retarded by its physical limitations: the land about is barren heath with very limited forests and is dominated by conspicuous rocky ridges called Burnt Ridge and Green Ridge. The Cover has a sandy bottom and is unsheltered with a very bad approach from the sea. Because of the backwash, vessels may ride safely even during easterly winds; however, the construction of shore facilities often involved elaborate and complicated ramps and slipways. Although a breakwater was eventually built at Elliston, landing facilities, especially wharf improvement, has remained a persistent problem for resident fishermen. To the first fishermen recorded at Bird Island Cove in the first decade of the 1800s these heavy seas, especially in autumn, were familiar problems. The sound of heavy seas may explain, in part, a phenomenon described by the Rev. Philip Tocque who was stationed in Bird Island Cove in the 1830s. In his book Wandering Thoughts and Solitary Hours (1846) he wrote:

   About fifteen years ago [c. 1831] . . . a very signular
   and most extraordinary sound was heard in the
   neighbourhood of Bonavista and of Bird-Island Cove.
   It commenced about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and
   lasted until the next day about Noon.  The men of
   Bird-Island Cove were going about nearly all night,
   some with loaded guns - some with hatchets - and
   others with whatever they could command.  The sound
   is described as resembling distant thunder. . . . 
   Several females thought a bear had got into their
   bedrooms and ran terrified from their dwellings. . . .
   The sound is termed by the inhabitants of Bonavista
   and Bird-Island Cove, "the thunder growl."
         According to H.E.L. Murray (1972) Bird-Island Cove was mentioned in a petition (dated Oct. 7, 1774) written by Bonavista merchants, justices of the peace and others, and sent to Governor Shuldham complaining of a number of "masterless" Irishmen (runaway or abandoned fishing servants) who had gone to live in a "secluded Cove called Bird Islands and were there building fishing rooms." Local history maintains that two Irish "youngsters" named Peter Hackett and Michael Meaney were fishing at Norder (Northern) Cove when John Chaulk, reputedly the first settler, moved there (H.E.L. Murray: 1972). It is probable that the first permanent settlers of Bird Island were youngsters brought mainly from Devon and Dorset with large merchant concerns of Trinity and Bonavista. By the early 1800s the Slade Company were on their way to establishing a post at Catalina and were aware of the potential of Bird Island Cove: as Slade agent William Kelson wrote of the cove in Trinity June 25, 1813, "I wish it were not such a 'wild' place for craft to ride in, but I think it will answer very well if only we can get a store built at Catalina." According to E.R. Seary (1976) James Porter was a resident of Bird Island Cove in 1811: George Crewe of Dorset, and a resident of Bonavista in 1808, was a resident of the Cove in 1814 and James Hill of Bonavista in 1808 was also a Bird Island Cove resident in 1814.

         Charles Pearce reputedly drowned at Bird Island Cove in 1812; it is not known, however, whether he was a resident at this time. Family tradition maintains that Thomas Clouter was a resident in 1814 (Seary: 1976). It appears that most of these early settlers dealt with Bonavista merchants but their fishing potential made them a shuttlecock in the merchants "game" between rivals in Bonavista and Trinity. Slade agent Kelson noted in 1873 with some satisfaction that "Bonavista and Bird Islands are allowed to be the best places on the whole coast to fish. . . . The greater part of the Bird Island planters now deal with me instead of going to St. John's or Bonavista." The Bird Island Cove accounts, which were transferred to Catalina when a store was built there (by 1814), indicated that Hill, Crew, Brown, Tucker, Burt, Cole, Chard, Trass (Trask), and Fielding (Felden) dealt with Slade in Catalina from 1814 (H.E.L. Murray: 1972). According to Seary, James Hill, reported in Bonavista in 1808, was a resident of Bird Island Cove in 1826 had migrated from County Kilkenny to Bird Island Cove in 1820 and a Mark Chard of Dorset was a school-teacher at Bird Island Cove in 1815. Other early families listed by Seary included those of Charles Sanger (in 1820), John Steeds (1821), Thomas Flinn (Flynn) (1822), Richard Cole (1832), William Baher (1823), John Hobbs (1823), Richard Cole (1823), George Olford (1824), Joseph Martin (c. 1825). William Minty (1825), John? Gough (Goff) from Devon (1825) and Patrick Casey (1823). When the rapidly growing settlement was reported in the Census, 1836, for the first time, it numbered 228 inhabitants - seventeen families with numerous fishing servants, who prosecuted the inshore cod fishery. According to H.E.L. Murray (1972) the Slade Company continued to supply Bird Island Cove until the mid 1800s at which time local merchants such as Robert Tilley (c. 1824-1872), who moved from Bonavista and settled at Bird Island Cove about 1853, established firms. Agents for all the principal merchants at Bonavista also operated at Elliston, whose commercial ties remained close with that large town. Other families who were reported in Bird Island Cove from 1840 to 1870 included Rendell, Goodland, Wade, Way and White (Seary: 1976). The settlement had its first missionary, from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, stationed at Bird Island Cove in 1826, this after a number of converts had been made to Methodism following the early attempts of Ellis in 1814 (H.C. Murray: 1879). By 1829 a church had been clapboarded and a schoolhouse built; the first communion set used in this church, which was rebuilt in 1898, was still in use in Elliston in 1981 (Newfoundland Historical Society: Elliston). The schoolhouse was replaced in 1878; this building in turn was replaced by the Memorial School, erected at the end of World War I. A Church of England school-chapel operated at Maberly. The settlement had an Orange Hall and the Fishermen's Protective Union was active in Elliston in 1909.

         Despite excursions to the Labrador seal hunt from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s (in 1948 Tilley's reportedly sent six schooners to Labrador; in 1952 only one crew went: Fishing Communities of Newfoundland: Vol. 5, 1952), Elliston has remained almost totally dependent on the local inshore cod fishery prosecuted mainly by family crews. Until the 1950s the catch was salted and sold to local merchants, the Bonavista agents or the Fishermen's Union Trading Company based in Catalina. During the Second World War some fish was trucked from all over the Peninsula for expert to European markets but this trade was only temporary. A small U.S. military base of the "listening post" variety was also established at "Mark's Path" at this time: this was taken over and operated by Canadians near the end of the war. In the 1960s three wholesale fish merchants, a building-materials store, a hotel and a number of grocery and general merchandise stores were also in operation. Elliston also had United, Anglican, Salvation Army and Pentecostal churches and several schools serving Elliston, Elliston North and Maberly. By the 1960s however, the number of full-time fishermen had declined. In 1979 there were approximately twelve to fifteen full-time fishermen in the community, whose population fell from 863 in 1921 to 699 in 1956 and 676 in 1966. The fishery was prosecuted from five trap skiffs and approximately three 5.5 to 6 m (18-20 ft.) speed boats, and the catch was trucked to fish plants on the Bonavista Peninsula qv. The community was governed by a community council. In 1979, Elliston's municipal services included garbage collection, road maintenance, snow clearing, water and sewerage and a small recreation park (DA:Mar. 1979). In 1981 the community had a government wharf and a slipway adjacent to the wharf. H.C. Murray (1979) H.E.L. Murray (1972), E.R. Seary (1976), Phillip Tocque (1846), Census (1836-1976), DA (Mar., 1979), The English Pilot The Fourth Book 1689 (1967), Hutchinson's Newfoundland Directory for 1864-1865 (1864), Lovell's Newfoundland Directory (1871), Sailing Directions Newfoundland (1980).

Source Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador

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We hear this spoken by some folk Maberly soon will be A ghost town with its industry The Salt Cod Fishery. No stages, boats nor fishing gear Are seen along the shore The old folks that once caught the cod Are gone for evermore. A lovely spot is Maberly This hamlet by the sea In summer when the tourist come They love its scenery. The marshes and the barrens too Abound with berries wild A source of income for the folks And every boy and child. People come from near and far Those berries for to pick With bakeapples in the early fall They fill their buckets quick. The partridgeberry industry Alike for rich and poor Is better here than anywhere Along the Eastern shore. The blueberry is scarce in quantity Is still a source of wealth And makes sweet wine for Christmas time It's good too for one's health. The folks grow all the crops they need The land is fertile here Potatoes are as good as seen At any country fair. Two miles of road connect this place To the town of Elliston Its upkeep by the government Is very small when done. The school bus no doubt cost a bit Of dough to make it go And then there is the snow plow That clears the road of snow. The electric lights along the road And in our homes likewise Are paid when due, we never fink Though some say people try. The facts that's stated here are true We never will agree To end our days away from home In some locality. We have good water near at hand The best that can be found And grazing land is plentiful For cattle all around. There's tons of hay that could be cut For grass is plenty here Enough to feed a thousand sheep The people do declare. Nature has provided us With codfish in galore And berries that are plentiful No distance from our door. Some of the folks that once lived here Have settled now in town They thought electric lights Would never get around. Now when they come to visit here And see the old homestead They view with envy those who stayed Although they were in need. Centralization may be best When things are handled right But dumping people everywhere Is sure an awful sight. What good is it to leave a place Where plenty can be found And live one's days in poverty Within some busy town? To move the houses from this place Much money would be spent Enough to buy an airplane And cross the continent. They say this twentieth century Will see the end of time If this is so we then will be Within some other clime. So when you look at it this way And others stated here Let us enjoy our heritage The place we love so dear. If Joey and his government Would lend a helping hand We'd make this place a paradise The best in Newfoundland. Canon Bailey named this place From Bonavista town A Godly man who loved to preach To people all around. We love it more because of him And all of us agree There is no better place to live Than here in Maberly. Aubrey Pearce (1894-1977) Maberly Resident

Used with Permission

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Elliston Base Time Line

         During the 1950's Elliston was part of the general North American defense planning. This activity provided employment for many local residents. Below are some details surrounding the events at "Elliston Ridge Base."

September 1955:

         Several loads of equipment, building supplies for the defense project on Elliston Ridge, arrived in Bonavista on board the M.V. Placentia. It was stored in a large warehouse owned by Mr. Edwin Baker of Elliston. Several boatloads arrived later until work started in October. Also in September, earlier in the month, heavy equipment, bulldozers and shovels arrived by train at Elliston Station (now where Paradise Farm is situated). It was put off there, and the equipment traveled by road to the ridge. Operators of equipment, foremen and other people stayed in rented homes and with residents until the project got underway and staff houses were built. A survey for the defense project was carried out July 1955.

October 1956:

         The first oil tanker arrived with oil for the base on the ridge. A pipeline went all the way from Norder Cove to oil tanks under the ridge (Mark's Path), to tanks on the ridge. The base had 15-16 GI's and six civilian employees in 1955-61. It was under the command of Captain Bob Hampson. The base and Radar station was part of the early warning system and was operated by the 642nd AC & W squadron US Air Force.

February 1956:

         Terminal Construction was the contractor for building the defense base on Elliston Ridge. Early in the month, high winds and drifting snow closed the roads in the area for five days with snowdrifts 5-10 feet high. Plows from Terminal Construction contractors on the base at Elliston Ridge spent five days opening the road from the Ridge to Bonavista. In late March 1957, American personnel at the base helped a pregnant woman, Mrs. Rev. C.D. Evans, get to the Bonavista hospital. Base officials were very co-operative and assisted on many occasions when needed. They showed films in the Orange Hall and held parties on the base for residents.

Work in Elliston:

         A new school began in May 1957. The basement was dug out by bulldozers from Terminal Construction on the base at Elliston Ridge. Wilfred Hobbs of Elliston operated the bulldozer. Work on the base was finally completed in June 1957. American personnel were living there when Terminal Construction completed the project. It closed in 1961.

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