Conception Bay Newfoundland
Conception Bay cuts into the northeast portion of the *Avalon Peninsula qv in a northeasterly direction and covers approximately 1295 km˛ (500 mi˛). Along the east coast of the Bay, from Cape St. Francis to Portugal Cove qv barren cliffs rise to a height of 268 m (850 ft); then the coastline changes to gentle, partly cultivated slopes tapering to salt-water lagoons behind a series of beaches. The western shore, indented by several fiord-like inlets, ends in the Bay de Verde Peninsula, off which lies Baccalieu Island qv. The land surrounding the Bay is composed largely of PreCambrian sedimentary bedrock with some volcanic deposits and one igneous outcrop at Holyrood, and is covered by superficial material and generally stunted forest growth of balsam fir and black spruce.
The Bay itself contains several islands, the three major ones being Bell Island qv, Little Bell Island and Kelly's Island. The floor of the Bay, composed of Cambrian beds, is trough-shaped with a more steeply angled western slope. Two faults run parallel to the coasts, from Brigus qv to Baccalieu Island and from Topsail qv to Cape St. Francis. A third fault bisects the other two at an angle of about 50° and runs between Harbour Grace qv and Cape St. Francis qv. The depth of the Bay varies; in the short distance (4 km) between Portugal Cove and Bell Island, depths of between 14.6 m and 168 m (8-92 fathoms) occur; the southwest area of the Bay shows relatively constant depths of between 40 m and 88 m (22-48 fathoms); a deep trough, at one spot reaching 292.6 m (160 fathoms), runs from Harbour Main qv at the head of the Bay along the west coast and gradually veers northeast to Capt St. Francis. Shallow water occurs all along the coastline of Conception Bay except over the Topsail Fault. The Bay normally fills with ice from mid-January to the first of March, and spring tides with a difference of 1.5 m (5 ft) occur. The waters of Conception Bay are not influenced by any particular current but after easterly or northeasterly gales a strong undertow, sometimes lasting several days, occurs.
The name Conception Bay comes from the Portuguese Baia de Conceicao or Baia de Comceica and was presumably given in honour of the Feast of the Conception, December 8. The name first appears on the Oliveriana map of 1505-08. In 1610 John Guy qv founded the first formal colony in Newfoundland at Cupids qv, Conception Bay. Brigus and Cupids were the earliest settlements but by 1675 Harbour Main, Bay Roberts and Bay de Verde qqv were all inhabited. Despite raids by the French throughout the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, fishing villages were established at most of the coves around the Bay. Originally settled by West Country English, Conception Bay received a large influx of Irish settlers in the Nineteenth Century, becoming the most populous district in the Island and a rival to St. John's. In 1827-28 the population was 17,859; in 1857 it was 33,396 compared to populations in St. John's East and West of 17,352 and 12,124 respectively.
Cod was and still is the primary fish caught in Conception Bay and can be found throughout the Bay at any time of year. Herring, lobster and mackerel are also caught. Seasonal migration to the seal hunt and Labrador fishery grew as the population of the Bay expanded and the settlements could no longer support the numbers of inhabitants. These fisheries formed the base of a diverse and sophisticated economy which included ship building, factories producing boots and shoes and paper bags, and a large export trade. As pressure on the population grew, Conception Bay inhabitants moved away permanently to prosecute the fishery on the north and west coasts of Newfoundland, and on the coasts of Labrador. In the mid-Nineteenth Century the economy of Conception Bay reached a peak. It was the only area outside of St. John's to have a network of roads and in 1884 the first branch of the Newfoundland *Railway qv was completed from St. John's to Harbour Grace. But by the end of the Nineteenth Century the maritime economy of Conception Bay had collapsed.
Steamers replaced schooners at the seal hunt and the St. John's merchants who had larger capital resources had an advantage over the Conception Bay merchants. Many, including the great Conception Bay firm of Munn's, went bankrupt. The opening of the iron mines at Wabana qv on Bell Island in 1893 provided much needed employment, and the mines remained the base of the economy until their closure in the 1960s.
In 1915 a branch of the railway was completed to Bay de Verde, but branch lines steadily lost money and in 1931 it was closed. In 1927 Newfoundland's first aerodrome was built at Harbour Grace and during the following decade was used as the Atlantic hopping-off point by over forty pioneer airmen of many different nationalities. The old customs house in Harbour Grace, at one time a clinic for tuberculosis patients and at another a welfare office, became in 1974 a museum for the whole of Conception Bay. Conception Bay in the 1980s was still well-populated and while some people had returned to the fisheries, others were employed in nearby St. John's. Bay Roberts, on the western shore, is a modem commercial centre but if the Federal Government approves the plans to make the excellent harbour at Harbour Grace into a superport Harbour Grace may once again become the leading community. Several of the towns around Conception Bay are customs ports and Holyrood is both a customs port and the harbour of export for refined petroleum from the Golden Eagle Refineries.
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Page Created 15 August 2001