RE: COVID-19 Pandemic & Our Museum

March 29, 2020

RE: COVID-19 Pandemic and Our Museum

To our friends and patrons:

These are unprecedented times. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our Board shares the same feelings as everyone else—uncertainty, anxiety, and fear are just some of these emotions. As things stand, we are watching the situation unfold and, like you, taking things day-by-day, week-by-week. We apologize for the recent radio silence on our social media: we felt time was needed to process things, to grow accustomed to new surroundings and realities.

Fortunately, the Conception Bay Museum is a seasonal operation, typically running from May until September, and COVID-19 has not directly impacted our tourism operations (yet). However, much work went into planning a spring fundraiser, which would have significantly contributed to our operational funding. When the situation escalated globally two weeks ago, we decided to pause the promotional rollout for this event; in hindsight, this decision was wise. In ways, we can all learn from such patience: that is, the decisions we make today—right now—will have lasting impacts in the days, weeks, and months ahead. At this time, it’s imperative we think about our friends, families, and the most vulnerable in our communities.

2020 is a special year for us: it represents the 150th anniversary of the construction of the old Customs House (1870), our building, and the 50th anniversary of the Conception Bay Museum Association (1970), our Board. To celebrate this landmark, the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation (TCII) granted us significant funding to launch a professional anniversary exhibit. We’re happy to announce we’ve contracted a talented individual, Melanie Lethbridge, to design this exhibit space for us. Despite the circumstances—we certainly didn’t want to announce the project this way—this initiative will continue and be available when the provincial, national, and international situation is resolved. We wish to thank Melanie and TCII for believing in this project and moving forward with us, despite these uncertainties. When the pandemic is over, we believe such investments, such strong commitments to community groups generally, and in the realm of arts, heritage, and culture particularly, will help us heal, grow, and prosper again. Our planned calendar fundraiser will continue, too.

Finally, we would like to end on a positive note. As a community, we have dealt with similar traumas, from cholera, smallpox, and polio epidemics to three ‘Great Fires’ in our town. During the latter events, a look in the historical record reveals the scale of the mobilization needed to rebuild the town—hundreds of small and large donations from locals, expats, and those with no direct link to Harbour Grace. And our community isn’t alone in these historic misfortunes. A similar sense of collective solidarity will be needed in times ahead; and as any student of history will tell you, a look into the past often reveals valuable compass points.

We strongly urge everyone to abide by provincial and federal protocols relating to the COVID-19 public health emergency and recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO). Please avoid gathering in our park or at the Colston’s Cove Stairway until further notice and maintain social (physical) distancing when outside.

Stay positive, stay safe, and stay home,

– Patrick J. Collins, Chair


Photo of the Day: Water St, Harbour Grace, Looking West


Pictured: Water St, Harbour Grace, looking west, ca. 1900. Picture taken near the bottom of LeMarchant St. Notice the drinking fountain in the bottom right corner; these fountains were prevalent throughout town and still exist in some quarters, including the Conception Bay Museum park, Veteran’s Memorial Park, and outside Victoria Manor.

Photo courtesy Conception Bay Museum archives.

Profile: Former Bank of Nova Scotia Building, 1887-1997


The failure of the Commercial Bank of Newfoundland and the Union Bank of Newfoundland on December 10, 1894, put the island on the verge of financial collapse. On December 12, Thomas Fyshe, Cashier of the Bank of Nova Scotia, informed his Board of Directors of the suspension of Newfoundland’s banks. Two days later, two officers of the Bank, David Waters, the Bank’s Inspector, and John A. McLeod, a relieving agent, boarded a ship for St. John’s. Arriving in St. John’s on December 16, the two opened the Bank of Nova Scotia for business five days later.

J.A. McLeod

John A. McLeod, Bank of Nova Scotia agent at Harbour Grace

Business progressed so quickly that a second branch opened in Harbour Grace on February 21, 1895. McLeod served as its first agent and went on to become President and Chairman of the Bank. This first Bank of Nova Scotia was constructed on the south side of Water Street. However, fire destroyed this building in 1910, and the bank moved to a new location on the north side of Water Street, just across the street from its former residence. Originally constructed in 1887, this brick building served as the Bank of Nova Scotia in Harbour Grace for 68 years (1910-1978).

The bank was housed on the ground floor, which featured a high, 16-foot ceiling, with the second storey serving as an apartment for the bank manager.


Thirty-four years later, another devastating fire—the third ‘Great Fire’ of Harbour Grace—destroyed much of the downtown area on August 17, 1944. Luckily, this bank was spared its former’s fate, one of the few buildings still standing in this area of town.

In 1978, the Bank moved to a new home, just east of its former building (now the Town Hall). After this move, the building served as an office for Babb Construction Ltd for years. As a major firm in Conception Bay, Babb Construction built the former liquor store, Manpower and Immigration Building, and new Bank in Harbour Grace; in Carbonear, they built the swimming pool. Other projects included the Carbonear bypass road and various municipal water and sewer initiatives.

After sitting vacant for years, and despite efforts to save the structure, the building was eventually torn down in 1997. Though it was offered to the Town at no charge, the municipality did not have the estimated $60,000 needed to restore the structure. Despite being one of the oldest commercial buildings left on Water Street post-1944, it never received heritage protection under any municipal or provincial designation program.

Photo of the Day: Garland’s Cooper Shop, 1947


Pictured: Truck carrying fish casks from James A. Garland’s cooperage, Point of Beach, Harbour Grace, 1947.

Garland’s cooperage was once described as “one of the busiest firms in Harbour Grace.” Forty-five employees manufactured herring, cod oil, and berry barrels; fish casks and drums; salmon tierces; oil casks; Coca-Cola boxes; and a host of other wood containers carrying Newfoundland products around the world.

One of Garland’s main customers was William Azariah Munn, a leading producer of medicinal cod liver oil, whose production plant was adjacent to Garland’s cooperage. In the words of James’s son Charles, the firm “supplied [Munn’s] with thousands and thousands of barrels, each one with a tin liner. I suppose we made 160 or 170 barrels a day.”

Photo courtesy The Evening Telegram, September, 1947.

Photo of the Day: Old General Post Office


Pictured: Looking down Bannerman St, toward the old General Post Office and Strapp’s Pharmacy (right), ca. 1930. Built in the early 1910s, the old Post Office was a landmark building in downtown Harbour Grace, visible in many photographs from the first half of the twentieth century. Besides a mail and telegraph office, the grand building contained the Avalon Health Unit, the Harbour Grace Water Co., and police office.

The building was destroyed in the third ‘Great Fire’ of Harbour Grace on August 17, 1944.

Photo courtesy Jane Lynch.

Profile: Henry Corbin Watts Jr (1852-1917)


Pictured: Henry Corbin Watts Jr’s grocery store, Harbour Grace, ca. 1900. Photo courtesy Jane Lynch.

The following history was given to us by Linda White, archivist at Memorial University’s Archives & Special Collections:

Henry Corbin Watts (1852-1917), merchant and farmer, was born at Harbour Grace in 1852 to Claudius (1811-1908) and Mary (French) Watts (1816-1854). He was the youngest of six children. He had two sisters, Mary (1840-1917) and Zela (1842-1868), and three brothers, Fredrick (1846-1859), Horatio John (1848-1924), and Theodore (1850-1899). He died at Harbour Grace on 12 March 1917.

Corbin was educated at the Grammar School under John Irving Roddick. As an adult, he became a successful farmer, raised cattle, and participated in multiple Harbour Grace Agriculture Exhibitions. He also had a grocery business (pictured).

In 1881, Corbin, his brother-in-law James Henry Parsons, and William Glindon (clerk at Parsons’s firm) were charged with conspiracy, as they reportedly planned to cast away a vessel for the purpose of defrauding underwriters. Their plan: Corbin pretended to order a supply of goods for a trading voyage at Labrador from Parsons’ firm, J&R Parsons. That vessel embarked on the pretend voyage with a small amount of valueless cargo and, after insurance was placed on the cargo (£600), the vessel would be lost (purposely sunk) and the insurance would be recovered.

After the death of his brother, Theodore, in 1899, his sister-in-law, Jane Watts and her four children lived with Henry Corbin in Harbour Grace.

Linda White and the MUN ASC team are currently digitizing the letters of Corbin’s father, Claudius Watts.

Do you have any information on Watts’s grocery store in Harbour Grace? Contact us!

Photo of the Day: “Harbour Grace, 1841,” by William Gosse


Pictured: “Harbour Grace, 1841,” a panoramic sketch by William Gosse (signed W. Gosse). Landmarks in this picture include the first Roman Catholic Church in Harbour Grace, with its 100-foot steeple, built by Rev. Thomas Ewer (Yore); the community’s stone courthouse, a National Historic Site built in 1832; Garrison House (Hampshire Cottage), Registered Heritage Structure; the stone St. Paul’s Church, a Registered Heritage Structure built in 1835; the first Customs House, a wooden-thatch roofed structure; the Methodist parsonage;  and the Point of Beach, with its attendant schooners in the harbour.

Gosse’s sketches can be found at the Provincial Archives (The Rooms) in St. John’s. Other sketches include Ship Cove (Port de Grave) and that of a Beothuk woman in 1841.

Print courtesy the Conception Bay Museum archives; donated by former MHA Hon. Haig Young, former Minister of Public Works and Transportation.

Download in high quality (1200 dpi) here: Google Drive