August Update

The Conception Bay Museum Executive has decided that our museum will remain closed this season for tourists and the general public. While we are saddened to make this decision, we feel it is necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, just because you can’t come to our museum, doesn’t mean our museum can’t come to you!

We are happy to announce that we will be hosting some outdoor events on our beautiful grounds during the month of August (weather permitting). We will be following social distancing protocols, with separate Enter/Exit locations on our grounds. We ask for the public’s cooperation and understanding, so that we may continue with these weekly events.

These events include…

Display Day: We will display museum artifacts and some hidden gems on our grounds. Drop by for a visit, take some pictures, and embrace our wonderful history! Starting Sunday, August 2, from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Lunchtime Concerts: Bring a blanket and lawn chair and enjoy fantastic local entertainment with a breaktaking view! Starting Wednesday, August 5, from 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Stay tuned for upcoming event ads on our social media and website for additional information.

We look forward to seeing you again soon! Be safe!



Humble Heroics

Calm seas do not make a skilled sailor. An adage reflective of Newfoundland’s history of hardship, development, and nautical experience, but also emblematic of the story of Lamont, better known as Lal, Parsons. Born in 1919 to Reuben and Gertrude Parsons, Lal grew up imbued with a tenacious work ethic reminiscent of his father, whose photography was essential in documenting the history of Harbour Grace. At 16 he faced danger wobbling on the ever-lopping waves of the Atlantic, fishing for the precious whale oil that warmed the houses of Harbour Grace, as part of the Newfoundland Whaling Company. Lal strained his aptitude and body mining for the Atlantic’s organic gold, unaware that distressing altitude would define his future four years later, when the world was drowned in chaos.

From 1939 onward the British Royal Air Force desperately sought aspiring pilots from the commonwealth nations as Denmark, Belgium, Holland, and France crumbled under the force of the mechanical German onslaught. British citizens scrambled to construct air defenses and shelters as the Luftwaffe began blotting out the sun. Lal Parsons, intrigued by the prospect of challenging adventure and the call from the former metropole, travelled to Nova Scotia and joined the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, under the Royal Canadian Air Force. His training began immediately, Parsons often recalled training exercises which tested his reflexes, including a game in which the “pilot” with a control stick, had to line up three sets of lights as quickly as possible. Parsons excelled to such a degree that his fellow trainees told him “not to bother” checking the postings on the base notice board, as they felt it was certain he would be accepted as a pilot. Indeed, Parsons was. After becoming a pilot, Parsons was posted across Canada, to Toronto, Trenton, Saskatoon, Montreal, Montmagny, Moncton, and Dartmouth to name a few destinations.

British Air

BCATP Overview


Lal Parsons Standing Next to his Hawker Hurricane Fighter

Parsons’ duties were based on east coast defence, and included leading endeavours such as sector reconnaissance flights, altitude tests, formation flying, practice dogfights, and scrambles. In Dartmouth Parsons described the “scrambles” as “somebody pulling a horn, and pilots getting on their parachutes and getting airborne as quickly as possible.” This type of drill was designed to respond to an undetected enemy air force coming into view within minutes. It is easy to imagine the Newfoundlander sprinting as the blaring horn signalled an incoming emergency, shouting to his squadron to get airborne, while Hurricanes and Spitfires sputtered to life on the sunrise bathed tarmac. Soaring above coastal Nova Scotia within minutes, Parsons would gesture to his comrades to maintain defensive formation while peering at the crimson horizon, scanning for enemy bombers and their fighter escorts. No such confrontation would come to Canada, but Parsons’ piloting career became instantly exciting when, in June 1942, he was transferred, along with the entirety of his 125 RCAF Fighter Squadron, to Torbay, Newfoundland.

Hurricane formation

Standard Hurricane Formation, WWII

The “local boy” was coming home to Newfoundland, and the St. John’s Daily Star explained in excessively exorbitant exuberance, that Parsons exemplified a self-made man, one who, through gritty hard-work, went from floating on ocean currents to sailing on wind streams. The purpose of 125 Fighter Squadron’s transfer was to provide similar defence to that provided in Nova Scotia. Parsons was part of a readiness section that investigated suspicious sightings and unidentified aircraft. In February 1943, the squadron’s training was put to the test when intercepted radio signals suggested something had arrived just off Cape Race. Newfoundlanders were weary of German submarine attacks ever since the attack on Bell Island in mid-1942 which killed more than 60 servicemen, and 125 Squadron feared this could be another. Like a fish to a bait, Parsons scrambled to his Hawker Hurricane plane and took off to observe the entity. Peering down to the monstrous Atlantic below, Parsons saw nothing. Even had he seen a U-Boat, the .303 machine guns on the Hurricane were unlikely to do any serious damage.

Battle bell island

Cleaning up the Wreckage After the Attack on Bell Island, 1942


Hurricane .303 Machine Guns

This caused Parsons to ponder the potential for a depth charge dropped from a plane, as an anti-submarine weapon. After proposing the idea to Flight Sergeant A.S. Goodwin, a solution was discovered. Angled iron bars and springs from bunk beds in the military barracks were used, along with electrical arming mechanisms, to create racks that enabled Hurricanes to carry depth charges under each wing. It became known as the “bedspring bomb rack” and was a staple throughout the remaining years of the war. In March 1943, Parsons tested the device off Cape St. Francis, describing how the successful detonation of the dropped depth charge “just about blew the Hurricane out of the air and gave me one of the greatest frights of the whole war.”

Depth charge Hurricane

Parsons (Top) Testing the “Bedspring Bomb Rack” with Depth Charges, 1943

During Parsons’ posting in Torbay, he frequented his hometown of Harbour Grace to the glee of the townsfolk. The dapper young man, dressed in his RCAF uniform, visited various community landmarks to interact with friends and town leaders. Parsons knew he would be transferred to England later that year to face real combat duty, so, in order to pay tribute to the town that raised him, he got the daring idea to fly his Hurricane fighter plane between the iconic spires of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. By any stretch, it was crazy, the plane would have to be maneuvered to a diagonal degree to completely avoid clipping the cathedral’s wooden and metal spires. One can picture Parsons careening towards the spires, pulling the control stick at just the right angle, and calculating the time necessary to jolt the plane back upwards. However, in what is now a famous incident in Harbour Grace, he soared crisply through the spires, making it look easy.

Lal Flying through the cathedral

Rendition of Parsons Flying Between the Spires of the Cathedral, 1943

Lal Parsons’ story is a remarkable one, one that cannot be done proper justice in a 1000-word blog. However, Parsons himself was always humble when recounting his experiences during the second world war. He constantly deflected praise for his actions onto his fellow pilots, even when telling the stories of his postings in Europe, once providing coastal defence for the Scapa Flow Naval Base in Scotland, and also being involved in escorting key British cargo planes and bombers over occupied Europe. Parsons’ involvement in those endeavours aside, it is undeniable that his heroism not only inspired pilots who soared alongside him but built his reputation in Harbour Grace that persists to this day.

Authored by: Francis Finlayson


Doyle, Robert. (2020). Doyle’s 2020 Almanac of Newfoundland and Labrador. Neighbourhood Pharmacy LTD.

Hillier, Darrell. (2012). The Gentleman Pilot: Lal Parsons. The Newfoundland Historical Society.

Memorial University – Digital Archives Initiative

Profile: St. Patrick’s Hall


On July 20, 1879, the Harbour Grace Standard posted the following tender:

The Building Committee of the Benevolent Irish Society will receive sealed tenders until Saturday, 28th instant, at noon, from persons wishing to contract for for the erection of St. Patrick’s Hall. Plan and specifications can be seen on the application to the Chairman. The Committee do not bind themselves to accept the lowest or any tender. 
                                                              – Michael J. Jones, Chairman, Building Committee

St. Patrick’s Hall (pictured above) was constructed at the bottom of Kingswell Lane, just west of Ridley Hall.

Robert J. Connelly recounted his memories of the Hall in his history of Harbour Grace:

Movies were held at St. Patrick’s Hall in the town. Those were the days of the silents, in the early decades of the century. The feature pictures were usually western thrillers, but for many of the happy patrons, especially the youth, the main attraction was Charlie Chaplin. The admission was 10 cents for adults and 5 cents for other–and others tended to be legion!

St. Patrick’s Hall can be seen on several old survey maps of Harbour Grace:

Insurance Map of Harbour Grace, 1893.

Insurance Map of Harbour Grace, 1893


Insurance Map of Harbour Grace, 1914

Queen of Diamonds

Mabel Boll was elegance personified. A Broadway actress, she indulged in exquisite fashions and was considered strikingly beautiful. According to those who encountered her at high-society gatherings, she was short, vividly blonde with dark eyes, and wore impeccable jewelry. Thus, her nickname, the “Queen of Diamonds” fit like a glove. It seems strange then that her legacy is centered on an activity as rugged, laborious, and treacherous as early aviation. Yet, Boll was transfixed by the prospect of being the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a non-stop, transatlantic flight. Her ambitions reflected a growing sentiment among women that traditional barriers to daring endeavours could be broken down, and the societal roles of women could be imbued with newfound independence. So, in early June 1928, Mabel Boll arrived in Harbour Grace in the American monoplane “Columbia.”

Mabel Boll

Mabel Boll

The “Columbia” landed at the Harbour Grace Airport on July 12, 1928 with a gusting wind threatening its descent, experienced pilots Captain Oliver LeBoutillier and Captain Arthur Argles guided the plane to safety. Mabel Boll emerged from the aircraft visibly weary, as one observer recalled, she explained that she had slept through part of the journey from New York and was quite nervous gazing down at the Harbour Grace Airport. However, Boll encountered enormously energetic enthusiasm from the locals, who praised her amicable ambitions. It is easy to imagine the women of Harbour Grace beaming with inspiration as a woman known for her affluently curated persona broke the shackles of delicacy and embraced the role of trailblazing adventurer. She dropped her diamond earrings, silk clothing, and meticulously styled hair for a leather aviator’s helmet and a button-up wool sweater, which she wore at the Harbour Grace Airport that day. The crew of the “Columbia” sought to explore the quaint town on the sea after arriving, as the mighty mega-metropolis of New York was clearly the opposite of Harbour Grace. Thus, they retired to Cochrane House, now famous in the town for hosting past aviators, for dinner.


“Columbia” over Harbour Grace

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“Columbia” at the Harbour Grace Airport, June 1928


Mabel Boll and the “Columbia” Crew

Following dinner, Boll and the “Columbia” crew strolled through the historic areas of Harbour Grace, not knowing they would become part of it in the distant future. St. Paul’s Anglican Church would have been the first structure they came across due to its proximity to the Cochrane House. An imposing stone cathedral, it was built in 1835, making it the oldest stone Gothic Revival style church in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador describes it this way:

“The exterior of St. Paul’s has simple Gothic Revival decoration including pointed arched windows, a pointed arched door, and Gothic stained glass. The lay-out of the church is of the Latin-cross plan, a lay-out which can also be seen in other churches across Newfoundland. Due to the loss of two previous Anglican churches occupying this site to fire, the congregation decided that they would construct a new church using locally quarried stone. The stone used is still largely intact, as are the original windows and doors. The interior of the building continues to reflect the Gothic Revival style through its decoration and woodworking.”

Two dimensions must have collided during that walk-through Harbour Grace, the unambiguously modern crew of the “Columbia” delving into the time-honoured traditions of a small community. St. Paul’s Anglican Church could not have been a better site for this contemplation, a site representing the community’s faith, cultural leaders, educators, and in some cases, hardships. In the Great Fire of 1832, the Church was razed along with a large portion of Harbour Grace, this was the first of three Great Fires, all of which forced the resilient residents of the community to rebuild. Each time, St. Paul’s was rebuilt alongside the rest of the community, in 1835 it was completed as the rock-solid structure it is today. Mabel Boll and the crew of the “Columbia”’ were so impressed by the unique story of Harbour Grace that they decided to stay an extra five days, as LeBoutillier wanted to ensure the transatlantic flight was flawless, and needed time to prepare, it was a win-win, so they thought.

St. Paul's

St. Paul’s Anglican Church Today

Over the next few days, Boll attended lavish receptions resembling those she frequented in New York, specifically an event hosted by the Knights of Columbus on June 13, and a cocktail party in St. John’s on June 15, 1928. This nonchalant attitude spelled disaster for Boll, as on June 18, 1928, Amelia Earhart, a woman who would later become a household name in Harbour Grace, landed safely at Burry Port, Wales, after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in her hydroplane “Friendship.” Amelia Earhart thus became the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a non-stop flight. Mabel Boll was heartbroken over the news.

NYT Amelia

NYT “Amelia Earhart Flies Atlantic,” 1928

On the cool, misty morning of June 20, 1928, with the sun rising behind their backs, LeBoutillier and Argles trudged up the dirt path to the Harbour Grace Airport, intent on returning to New York after their now-disappointing week vacation. Mabel Boll, with her dreams dashed by Amelia Earhart, begrudgingly made her way to the Airport hours later than the crew. However, Boll, in a display of her kindness and desire to see aviation in Harbour Grace grow, gave a $500 cheque to President of the Harbour Grace Airport Trust, Magistrate John Casey, before the “Columbia” departed. She remarked that Harbour Grace had provided a thoroughly efficient service. While Boll may not have been the first woman to cross the Atlantic, it is undeniable that her desire to soar above the boundaries set for women at the time motivated many like her, as she remains a symbol of women’s advancement in Harbour Grace. This time though, it was the ace airwoman Amelia Earhart who held the winning card, and the “Queen of Diamonds” did not take the trick.

Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Memorial University – Digital Archives Initiative

Parsons, B. and B. Bowman
1983 The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.


Trailblazing Spirits

With all pioneering endeavours, particularly those that have augmented the explorational and technological capacities of the human species, there is a certain degree of sacrifice and hardship. Those we consider visionaries or heroes often possess a seemingly lax attitude towards their own physical safety and or future prospects. In other words, they do not care about themselves, only about conquering limitations, and in doing so, are exposed to unforeseen consequences. Captain Gerry Tulley and Lieutenant James Metcalfe, piloting the Canadian monoplane “Sir John Carling,” and C.A Duke Schiller along with Phillip S. Wood manning the “Royal Windsor,” symbolized this trailblazing spirit.

On September 5, 1927, at approximately 4:00pm, the “Sir John Carling,” named after the iconic Canadian businessman and politician of the same name, erratically bounced on a strong westerly wind toward the Harbour Grace Airport. It is easy to imagine the anxiety-ridden bystanders, nervously watching as the “Sir John Carling” flimsily bent in the gusting wind, hoping for a safe landing. It landed with excessive speed and collided with the plain, damaging the rubber and tail skid. As if nothing happened, Tulley and Metcalfe bounded from the plane with buoyancy and chipper enthusiasm, feeling the embrace of the townsfolk and Magistrate John Casey, the President of the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Company. They intended to return home to London, England, and had begun their journey from London, Ontario, stopping in Caribou, Maine on the way. “Caribou” was a familiar term with the young men charged with repairing the “Sir John Carling,” reminding them of their fathers, brothers or friends who had fought under the famous Caribou badge of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment a decade earlier. Tulley and Metcalfe chose to spend the night at Cochrane House, a popular overnight residence for aviators passing through Harbour Grace, while their plane was prepared to traverse the treacherous transatlantic trap.

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“Sir John Carling” at the Harbour Grace Airport


Tulley and Metcalfe alongside the “Sir John Carling”


Hotel Front

Cochrane House Today

While planning to depart Harbour Grace, Tulley and Metcalfe received the news that the “Old Glory,” a monoplane attempting the transatlantic crossing, had gone missing about 500 miles from Cape Race. However, at 9:54am, Tulley and Metcalfe, enticed by the beckoning Atlantic Ocean, disregarded the news, and set off for London. As onlookers observed its departure, the “Sir John Carling” disappeared over the sunlit horizon with an air of inevitability. At 6:00am the next day, misery began to grip the facilitators of the “Sir John Carling” flight on both sides of the Atlantic, as Tulley and Metcalfe had not been recorded as having made it across the Atlantic, and nobody could pinpoint their location. It was therefore assumed they had met the same fate as “Old Glory,” and the S.S. Kyle, a steam ship now aground in Harbour Grace, was assigned to undertake a recovery mission for both planes. It would appear however, as the S.S. Kyle recovered nothing, that the “Sir John Carling” was lost to the wind.


2009539 - Sir John Carling

“Sir John Carling” at Sunrise



S.S. Kyle Today

The next day, September 7, 1927, at approximately 4:20pm, another Canadian monoplane hovered over the Harbour Grace Airport, this was the “Royal Windsor” flown by experienced aviators C.A. “Duke” Schiller and Phillip S. Wood. Within minutes the plane was on the ground, sailing gracefully down the wind currents and onto the plain, so gracefully in fact, that one bystander remarked “she would not have crushed an eggshell.” As if emulating the “Sir John Carling,” townsfolk swarmed the travellers with cheerful positivity, and Magistrate John Casey welcomed them to Harbour Grace. Perfect weather and a newly furbished aircraft from the Stinson Aircraft Corporation of Detroit allowed for a smooth flight from Old Orchard, Maine, and from where they started, Windsor, Ontario. Schiller and Wood had touched down in a community coming to grips with the lost “Sir John Carling” and now increasingly skeptical of the daring transatlantic flights. One can speculate that a town rife with past tragedies ranging from great fires to religious affrays would be averse to risks, keen on retaining any sense of stable continuity. Schiller and Wood were subsequently informed of the missing “Sir John Carling,” regardless, and like fish to a bait, they could not resist the prospect of satisfying their hunger for transatlantic aviation glory. It is worth mentioning as well that they intended to follow the path charted by the “Old Glory” and “Sir John Carling.” The “Royal Windsor” seemed destined to meet the same cursed fate. Excited for their transatlantic flight the next day, Schiller and Wood retired to Cochrane House early, while their plane was overhauled.

2009927 - Royal Windsor

“Royal Windsor” in Harbour Grace


Harbour Grace Affray, 1883

For what was perhaps the only time in the history of Harbour Grace, residents awakened to a thick fog accompanied by pelting rain and were thankful for it. It meant the “Royal Windsor” would be delaying its flight until the next day, September 9, 1927, thus potentially saving the lives of Schiller and Wood. Sure enough, as if the universe had changed its mind, all forces seemed to conspire to prevent the “Royal Windsor” from leaving Harbour Grace on the ninth. Orders came from John Chick and Edward Valette first, both on the Windsor Flight Committee, that demanded Schiller and Wood abandon their transatlantic flight and return home. Not long after, Windsor Mayor Cecil Jackson passed a motion to stop the “Royal Windsor” flight. Finally, the British Air Ministry strongly advised against any transatlantic flights, reiterating widespread public opinion on the matter. Schiller and Wood loathed to cancel the flight, their dreams of conquering the Atlantic were snuffed out by weather with unexpected and undue uncooperativeness, and by public officials echoing the public’s desire to prioritize safety.

Cecil Jackson

Windsor Mayor Cecil E. Jackson

Soaring above Conception Bay on September 14, 1927, a week after their anticipated transatlantic flight was abruptly cancelled, Schiller and Wood paid homage to those trailblazing spirits who perished in the act of raising humanity to new heights. The two dropped memorial wreaths to the all-consuming Atlantic Ocean below and continued their journey to Windsor. The pioneers of modern aviation were not done with Harbour Grace though, as it turns out, the ground-breaking flights, whether tragic like the “Sir John Carling,” or relieving like the “Royal Windsor,” would define the small town in the not-so-distant future.

Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Memorial University – Digital Archives Initiative

Parsons, B. and B. Bowman
1983 The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.
Rowe, P.

The Pride of Harbour Grace, and Detroit

With ceaseless determination he dug his blades in, arms maximally extended, torso lunging to receive the quick pass. Colorado Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore, caught off-guard by the sudden impact of the high-velocity puck, frantically searched for it in a last-ditch effort to preserve his team’s game one hopes, however he was too slow. The puck tumbled, bouncing off his shoulder pads and hitting the ice, making split-second contact with those trying to prevent it from crossing the crimson goal line, and after several no-doubt breathtaking seconds for those on the benches and in the stands, the stadium erupted. The puck was in the net. The Detroit Red Wings would go on to beat the Avalanche in four straight games, advancing to the Western Conference Finals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Harbour Grace native, and now Detroit Red Wings hero Dan Cleary fired that shot.

Dan Cleary

Dan Cleary

It may sound odd, but the connections between Harbour Grace and Detroit, Michigan are extensive. As noted in my previous blog, titled “Harbour Grace Takes Off” it was Fred Koehler, a representative of the Stinson Aircraft Corporation of Detroit, that initially sought to construct an airport capable of facilitating transatlantic flights, and decided on Harbour Grace. He was a central figure in organizing the meeting that established the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Company, and subsequently invested funds on behalf of the Stinson Aircraft Corporation and Waco Oil Company towards the arduous process of creating the Harbour Grace Airport. In addition to Fred Koehler’s essential contributions, he was present on August 26, 1927 to witness a high-wing monoplane hastily make its way to the brand-new Harbour Grace Airport, this was the “Pride of Detroit.”

Eight minutes after the residents of Harbour Grace emerged from their dwellings to gaze up at the mysterious airplane, many still in dusty coveralls or hand-pressed business suits from the day’s work, the “Pride of Detroit” landed. President of the Waco Oil Company Edward Schlee, and pilot William S. Brock jumped out of the plane, were greeted by crowds of inquisitive townsfolk, and were welcomed by recently elected President of the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Company, Magistrate John Casey. However, their stay was transitory, as in the crisp early morning hours of August 27, the two adventurers departed the Harbour Grace Airport, passing in the vicinity of Harbour Grace Island on the way to England, the next step on their around-the -world flight. Schlee and Brock desired to return to Harbour Grace after their journey, however a malfunctioning engine, leaking gasoline and scalding the plane’s innards, caused the two to abandon the endeavour in Tokyo, Japan. One could even guess that, because of the overheating, the plane developed red wings.

2009932 - Pride of Detroit

“Pride of Detroit” at the Harbour Grace Airport


“Pride of Detroit” Departing Harbour Grace

Regardless of whether Dan Cleary knew about the historical connections between Detroit and Harbour Grace, he was creating more as the Red Wings battled their way to the Stanley Cup Final, pitted against the formidable Pittsburgh Penguins. Cleary’s puck-luck was stuck since his goal against Colorado, without a point since. That changed in the first game, held at a chock-full Joe Louis Arena. Anyone who has attended a high-stakes hockey game has felt the anxious anticipation of anarchy, knowing that at any moment a raucous celebration could start. There was 3 minutes left in the third period when the puck, propelled by a quick slap-pass from Detroit’s zone, bounded off the corner boards in Pittsburgh’s zone. Using pinpoint hand-eye coordination, Cleary dangled the puck onto his backhand and took a swift shot which barely squeezed by the raised shoulder of Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Just as it did against Colorado in the second round, the stadium erupted with rapturous applause and blaring goal horns. Cleary’s goal made the game 3-0 Detroit, and largely guaranteed the win.

Detroit seemed in control, but after staving off elimination with a nail-biting 4-3 triple-overtime win in the fifth game, the Penguins shifted the series back to Pittsburgh. The Red Wings maintained an uncomfortably close lead at all times throughout game six, only solidifying it when Henrik Zetterberg fired a skillful wrist shot from the hash-marks that trickled between Fleury’s clenched pads, sliding into the net as players from both teams tumbled into the crease. Although a late goal from the Penguins made it a 3-2 game, the Red Wings clung to their lead just long enough to wait out the clock, furiously defending in the neutral zone until the final buzzer sounded. In an instant, the ice was covered with Red Wings players and staff, after a grueling playoffs they had finally secured the coveted Stanley Cup. This made Dan Cleary the first Newfoundlander to win it, and given his immense contributions to his team’s success, it was fitting. In a subsequent interview, Cleary stated that the unwavering support from his hometown of Harbour Grace fueled his performance.

Support for Dan Cleary only grew when he brought the Stanley Cup to Harbour Grace on July 1, 2008. The community of approximately 2000 was besieged by 30,000 others clamouring to see the Stanley Cup and join the unrelenting partying. Escorted by the historic Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Department, Cleary sat atop a pickup truck on the way to St. Francis Field, the location that once hosted the Handley Page “Atlantic” aerodrome. On the way, he displayed the Cup to crowds of cheering fans and passed by numerous heritage structures, including the S.S. Kyle, Harbour Grace Courthouse, and Immaculate Conception Cathedral. It was truly a sight to behold for a small town, thousands gathered at the field to listen to then Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Danny Williams praise Cleary for his accomplishment, while Cleary hoisted the Cup in triumph. Cleary also allowed awestruck children to touch and take pictures with the Stanley Cup, I was one of them. While I am unable to remember much, I can recall a sense of pride in my community, not only for its hockey talent, but for its characteristic mix of down-to-earth, dedicated, and supportive people.

Cleary’s legacy is immortalized by the Danny Cleary Harbour Grace Community Centre, a new sports complex which sits just off the highway next to the entrance to Harbour Grace. Inside hangs a banner honouring Richard “Dick” Power, Cleary’s childhood coach whose sublime tutelage and passion drove Harbour Grace to hockey excellence. Whether it is through the journey of the “Pride of Detroit” or the Detroit Red Wings, Harbour Grace’s history is that of flying high.


Danny Cleary Harbour Grace Community Centre


Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Parsons, B. and B. Bowman
1983 The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.
Rowe, P.

Harbour Grace Takes Off

Ravishingly reclusive and recognizably rustic, these are phrases a visitor may use to describe Harbour Grace after a walk in its Registered Heritage District. Passing by the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Colston’s Cove Staircase, or Customs House depicts a community perpetually anchored to the ocean, one that survives on its resources and builds its civic institutions parallel to the shoreline. Residents who lived here over generations knew this was as true as the ocean’s blue hue. It could not have been imagined during those times that much of the twentieth century in Harbour Grace would be defined by soaring through the skies. While the saga of the Handley Page “Atlantic” in June 1919 unlocked aviation enthusiasm in Harbour Grace, it was the construction of North America’s first civilian airport in August 1927 that opened the floodgates. 

Fred Koehler, a representative of the Stinson Aircraft Corporation of Detroit, found himself exploring Newfoundland in the early summer of 1927, seeking a plot of land that could be transformed into a fully-functioning transatlantic airport. The Waco Oil Company sought to sponsor a groundbreaking transatlantic flight, cashing in on the publicity and relevance of the endeavour following Charles Lindberg’s record-making solo transatlantic flight May past. Upon venturing to Harbour Grace, Koehler met John L. Oke, an aviation enthusiast with close connections to the town’s public officials. Oke subsequently led Koehler to a naturally elongated plain parallel to the town. It is easy to imagine a skeptical Koehler, having explored Harbour Grace for days already, and therefore presumably discouraged, wincing his way down the dirt path as pebbles dug into his leather shoes and loose dust barraged his eyes. Koehler must have expected a grown-over, bumpy piece of land in a difficult-to-access location, not suitable for his corporation’s aircrafts, or the Waco Oil Company’s money. However, the elongated plain was free from obstruction, properly situated between the harbour and Lady Lake, the sight of the annual Harbour Grace Regatta, the second oldest continuous sporting event in North America, and had an instantly recognizable bluff on its lower east side. 

With exhilarating eagerness, Koehler organized a meeting with town officials, potential investors, aviation enthusiasts, and landscaping experts to determine the viability of the aforementioned plain to become the new transatlantic aviation hub of North America. On July 25, 1927, in a historic moment at the Harbour Grace Town Hall, a committee of 21 members was appointed to act as the “Harbour Grace Airport Trust Company,” all of whom agreed that the elongated plain would become the official “Harbour Grace Airport.” Each member contributed financing on a non-profit-sharing, non-interest-bearing basis. The officers of the committee elected were Magistrate John Casey, President, H. Herman Archibald, Vice-President, Ernest Simmonds, Secretary-Treasurer. 


Title Page of the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Register.

Almost immediately, financial contributions poured in, ambitions of a transatlantic or around the world flight abounded. A contribution was made by Koehler on behalf of Stinson Aircraft Corporation and Waco Oil Company, while the Newfoundland Government allocated a grant and the machinery required to clear the plain. The services of T.A. Hall, Government Engineer and R.H.K. Cochius of the Highroads Commission were made available for technical advice as well. Reminiscent of the laborious and grueling work that was needed to build the makeshift aerodrome years earlier for the Handley Page “Atlantic,” construction of the Harbour Grace Airport in July and August of 1927 was a communal challenge. Back-breaking quantities of debris, from rocks to lumber to mounds of bush, were hauled away by horses and carts. Townsfolk formed human-chains, passing each rock or piece of lumber down the line until straining themselves to hoist it aboard a cart. Leveling the plain was done with manual shoveling and raking, labourers repeatedly kicked the metal slabs into the dirt, shifted packed earth, and smoothed over bumps. All this took place under the constant assault of the summer heat which seemingly desired to wrestle away any energy one possessed like a cod wrestling away from a line. 

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Telegraph Noting the Newly Available Transatlantic Airport in Harbour Grace, 1927

Shoveling dirt

The Type of Labour Needed to Construct the Airport.

Once completed, the Harbour Grace Airport became the go-to airport for glory seeking aviators for years to come. Most notably, Amelia Earhart chose the Harbour Grace Airport to be the departure location for her now-celebrated 1932 transatlantic flight, during which she became the first solo female to fly across the Atlantic ocean non-stop. Aside from the flights, the Harbour Grace Airport hosted a Royal Canadian Navy high-frequency direction finding station during the second world war. This proved extremely successful in intercepting enemy messages and providing information on enemy submarines. It also assisted in safeguarding many convoys whose escorts avoided or intercepted enemy ships. 

Airport Sign

Sign at the Gates of the Harbour Grace Airport

Airport Radio Station 1941-45

WWII Radio Frequency Monitoring Station, 1941-45

Today, the Harbour Grace Airport is no longer used for transatlantic flights, which, considering contemporary aviation technology, is not surprising. However it retains its legacy of glory through those it inspires to soar to new heights. Whether it is the Air Cadets building self-confidence while using it for flight training, or tourists envisioning themselves on the same ground their aviation heroes once stood, the Harbour Grace Airport continues to symbolize the trailblazing spirit of Harbour Grace’s history. It is quite demonstrable that the community “took off” with the construction of the Harbour Grace Airport. 

Harbour Grace Airport Today

Harbour Grace Airport Today

Airport Plaque

Commemorative Plaque

Authored By: Francis Finlayson


Memorial University – Digital Archives Initiative

Parsons, B. and B. Bowman
1983 The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.
Rowe, P.