Conception Bay, Newfoundland
(pop. 1986, 269). The fishing village of Port de Grave is located at the midpoint of a narrow and barren peninsula which juts southeast into Conception Bay. The entrance to the harbour is protected by Port de Grave Island and a series of offshore rocks, now connected to the peninsula by a breakwater. Several other communities on the Port de Grave peninsula -- including Blow Me Down, Bareneed and especially Ship Cove qqv -- are often regarded as part of Port de Grave, and historically the name has also been applied to the surrounding district, which includes the towns of Clarke's Beach and Bay Roberts. The name likely originated with the French grève (beach).
The peninsula was one of the earliest areas in Conception Bay to be settled by Europeans, by local tradition predating even John Guy's colony at Cupids. The Dawe family is said to have directed Guy to Cupids in 1610 in order to keep the colonists from interfering with their fishing premises. At any rate, in 1755 one George Dawe claimed that his family had occupied their premises at Port de Grave since 1595. The families of John Andrews in 1763 and James Butler in 1760 had claims extending to 1658 and 1662 respectively. The population was 57 in 1667, but it is uncertain how many were year-round residents. Thomas Butler had the largest of three plantations in 1675, with 20 servants, 50 cattle and 20 sheep. The other plantations belonged to Andrew Gregory and Michael Sprout. Two years later there were five dwellings and ten fishing rooms in the settlement, and before 1700 members of the Fillier, Snow, Tucker and Hussey families were also fishing there. The population of the Port de Grave area, including migratory fishermen, reached 701 in 1698. Port de Grave was an active fishing harbour in 1769, with 15 vessels heading to the Bank fishery. Robert Baine and Company was established in 1780 as a fisheries supply and trading outlet. The business moved to St. John's in 1801, but 16 years later partners Walter Baine and William Johnston qv were operating from new premises between Port de Grave and Ship Cove. Many communities in southern Conception Bay can be considered ``daughter'' communities of Port de Grave. Certainly the family names of Dawe, Andrews and Butler are widespread in the area, while tradition has it that communities such as Makinsons, North River and South River began as ``winter houses'' of Port de Grave fishermen. In the early 1800s the area from Topsail to Seal Cove (in 1992 the town of Conception Bay South) was largely settled by people from Port de Grave who had traditionally kept gardens and livestock there.
The first doctor at Port de Grave appears to have been one Appelby-Brown of Copenhagen, sometime before 1760. The first school was opened by the Newfoundland School Society in 1823, and John Miller Maddox was to teach there for 32 years. A few Irish immigrants settled on the peninsula beginning in the 1700s, and there was a small Roman Catholic chapel by 1775. Missionary Lawrence Coughlan qv was in the Harbour Grace and Port de Grave area by 1766 and, as he spoke Gaelic, he converted a number of Irish Catholics. A Church of England mission was established at Port de Grave in 1818, later moving to Bareneed. After 1840 Roman Catholic children were sent to school in Northern Gut (North River). A Methodist school was established by the Colonial and Government Church Society in 1845. Port de Grave was considered important enough to have a district court in 1835 and, until 1865, a resident magistrate. Accessible by road from Southern Gut (South River qv) since about 1834, Port de Grave had a regular postal service in 1847. By mid-century there were 440 people at Port de Grave, while there were 151 at the Dock (Ship Cove). All residents of the Dock were members of the Church of England, but Methodism had taken root in Port de Grave proper with 281 adherents. By 1869 there were Roman Catholic and Methodist churches in Port de Grave, while Church of England services were held in Bareneed.
The seal fishery began in the 1800s. In 1857 five Port de Grave vessels took a total of 6600 seals. And crews were going to the Labrador fishery, where Black Tickle qv was the major station. It has been estimated that by 1884 more than 25% of the area's population were fishing on the Labrador, and that the number had increased to more than 30% by 1901. From about 1860 to 1885 shipbuilding was an important activity, ships being built for the Butler, Dawe and Moore families. As the Labrador fishery came to an end in the 1920s, fish in Conception Bay were also becoming scarce. Since the 1950s most cod fishing out of Port de Grave has been at Cape St. Francis or further afield, in longliners. Port de Grave was one of the first communities to enter the snow crab fishery in the 1970s, and within a few years fishermen were depending on crab and turbot rather than on cod. The crab industry flourished at first, but between 1984 and 1985 landings dropped 90% because of overfishing. Soon thereafter Ocean Harvesters Limited closed its crab processing plant in Port de Grave.
In 1992 children attended schools in Port de Grave and a central high school in Bay Roberts, which had become the main service centre for the area.
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