Visiting Our New Anniversary Exhibit

Yesterday, we held a small, COVID-19-safe ceremony for the opening of our new Customs House Anniversary Exhibit. We also accepted our award certificate from the National Trust and honoured the life and contributions of local historian Dr. Shannon Ryan. Special thanks to those who attended, brought greetings, and helped out in any way.

Our exhibit is now open to the general public from Wednesday, November 4 – Friday, November 13, at the following times:

Wednesdays: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Every other weekday: 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Please follow COVID-19 safety guidelines:
– Masks are mandatory
– Maximum four visitors at any time
– Visitors will enter on a ‘first-come, first-served basis,’ during scheduled viewing hours

We’ve Won the 2020 Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Award!

It’s official: The Conception Bay Museum (Customs House) has won the National Trust for Canada’s Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Award, in the ‘Resilient Places‘ category!

The Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Awards bring national attention to exemplary projects and places that contribute to quality of life and sense of place, and illustrate the viability of heritage buildings and sites for traditional or new uses. The ‘Resilient Places‘ category recognizes historic places or landscapes that illustrate extraordinary resilience, significance, and benefit to a community over a sustained period of time, with a successful track record of 10 years or more.

From the Award notes:

Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, the historic Customs House is a longstanding cultural hub with a strong link to the community.

Exactly one century after the Customs House was built in 1870, the Conception Bay Museum Association was founded to preserve local history and increase tourism potential in Conception Bay. One of the goals of the committee’s five-year tourism plan was to transform the Customs House into a museum to permanently showcase the local history. After five years of diligent work, the Conception Bay Museum opened its doors to the public in June of 1975.

Since then, the museum has strived to implement the vision of its early founders, particularly their community-centred approach, actively engaging the community through innovative programming, such as involving youth in the leadership structure and through volunteering.

“A great example of a resilient place – a community hub with over 50 years of history and an impressive link to the community.”
– Jury comments

Key Players: Conception Bay Museum Board of Directors

We’d like to thank the National Trust for Canada and the prize jury for selecting us for this prestigious award. Thank you to Ecclesiastical Insurance for sponsoring this prize.

Congratulations to our fellow winners in both categories!

Watch our award video:

Photo of the Day: Harbour Grace Slipway, ca. 1900

Pictured: Harbour Grace slipway, ca. 1900. Schooner Ruby in foreground. Photo remastered and donated by Steve Payne.

The original copy belonged to Ernest (“Ern”) Ash, former HAM radio operator, technician at Fort Pepperel, and owner of Aska Sales, St. John’s. Our museum has original photos and HAM radio equipment belonging to Mr. Ash. in its collection.

View copies in 1200 dpi: Original | Remastered

Profile: Rev. William Ellis (1780 – 1837)

Reverend William Ellis (1780 – 1837) was perhaps the most memorable and tireless of all the early Methodist missionaries in Newfoundland. Like many of his calling, Ellis was an Irishman, born in 1780 in County Down. As a youth he witnessed some battles of the Irish Rebellion (1798), on one occasion barely escaping with his life when his sheltering family was discovered by rebels. The timely arrival of friendly troops saved his life, a circumstance Ellis ascribed to Divine Providence, which, he believed, 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 he was sent to Newfoundland as an ordained minister. Here, Ellis would 29 years in the ministry, becoming the first Methodist missionary to die and be buried on the island. In 1816-17, he had the distinction of being the first chairman of the newly created Methodist District of Newfoundland (under the British Methodist Conference).

His circuits in Newfoundland included the District’s major centres: Bonavista (three separate terms: 1812-15, 1820-21, and 1832-35), Blackhead, Brigus-Cupids, Port de Grace (which then also included Bay Roberts and Clarkes Beach), and Harbour Grace. His posting in 1816 to Trinity, Trinity Bay, where several earlier attempts to establish a mission had failed, was met with no greater success; however, years later, a substantial Methodist circuit was finally constituted in the community. He was also instrumental in the creation of two new missions at Catalina and Bird Island Cove, which grew into substantial circuits. In April 1814, Ellis delivered the first sermon to the latter community; and eighty years later, Bird Island Cove was renamed Elliston in his memory.

Ellis died at Harbour Grace on September 21, 1837. He is buried at the Coughlan United Church graveyard, on the property’s western boundary.

Burial site of Rev. William Ellis, Coughlan United Church graveyard.

This post is part of the #hgnotebook project. Follow along on Twitter, and read more entries in the ‘Archive.’

The Spirit of Harbour Grace

Flanked by the S.S. Kyle and Otterbury Schoolhouse, just off the Harvey Street intersection, stands a monument to Amelia Earhart, undoubtedly the spirit of Harbour Grace aviation history. The first woman to complete a solo transatlantic flight, best-selling author, and social worker was born in Kansas and aspired to the airborne feat from her early twenties. She was a passenger on a flight with Frank Hawks, a famous air-racer, and was captured by destiny. She emerged from that flight in late 1920 determined to be a pilot. In 1922, she became just the 16th woman in the United States to be issued a pilots’ license.

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Amelia Earhart Monument, Harbour Grace

In 1928 Mrs. Frederick Guest of London, the American wife of an Englishman who was Secretary of State for Air under Prime Minister Lloyd George, contemplated the glorious title of first woman to cross the Atlantic. She hastily purchased a tri-motored Ford plane and began the intensive preparations for a transatlantic flight. Her children, sensing to their surprise that she was serious about the treacherous flight, pleaded with her to abandon it. Reluctantly, Guest agreed, however the flight, designed to foster amicable relations between the United States and Britain, was going to continue despite her concerns, another American woman had to be found quickly! On recommendation from retired Rear Admiral Reginald Belknap, who had met her years earlier, Amelia Earhart was called on an aluminium dial-up phone and asked a question most aviators at the time could only dream of. “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?”

It was early June 1928, when Earhart arrived in Trepassey as a passenger in the “Friendship” hydroplane with pilot William Stultz and mechanic Lou Gordon. The three were quickly introduced to Newfoundland’s unpredictable climate, attempting three times to begin the transatlantic flight over two weeks, only to be stymied by the pelting rain and seemingly impenetrable walls of fog. They successfully departed on June 17, 1928. Earhart was reportedly calm and confident during her time in Trepassey, unaware that a mere 170 kilometres away the “Queen of Diamonds,” Broadway actress Mabel Boll sought to depart Harbour Grace and become the first woman to cross the Atlantic. Unfortunately for Boll, in the early morning hours of June 18 Earhart and the “Friendship” crew landed in Burry Port, Wales. At 29, Earhart was the first woman to aerially cross the Atlantic. Unlike Stultz and Gordon, who were ecstatic to reach the annals of history with their successful transatlantic flight, Earhart seemed disheartened. The historic flight and bravery it took to complete were lost to Earhart, as in her own words, she felt like “baggage on the trip.” Visibly disappointed with having the mundane task of “lying on her stomach and taking pictures” during the flight, she asserted that day, on the field in Burry Port, that someday she would “try it alone.”

Mabel Boll

Mabel Boll

NYT Amelia

NYT Article, Earhart’s Transatlantic Accomplishment, 1928

May 20, 1932 was Earhart’s opportunity. She had contacted famous pilot Bernt Balchen and her mechanic Eddie Gorski after securing a single-engine Lockheed Vega monoplane totally equipped for a transatlantic flight. The three arrived in Harbour Grace from New Jersey, with a rest stopover in Saint John, New Brunswick, at 2:00pm on May 20. Balchen had flown the distance to this point, so Earhart could save her energy for the ever-daunting transatlantic flight. Reinforcing this desire, she was taken by enthusiastic town officials to Archibald’s Hotel, formerly Cochrane House, to rest before the flight, which was planned for that evening. Like numerous trailblazers before her, Earhart was well accommodated during her stay at Archibald’s Hotel, even getting a themos full of Rose Archibald’s delicious beef and veggie soup for the journey. At 7:20pm, waving to Balchen, Gorski, and crowds of inspired residents including young girls beaming with pride for this heroic woman, Earhart opened the engine of the red and gold monoplane, gliding into the sunset.

Earhart at Archibald's Hotel

Earhart (Centre) at Archibald’s Hotel

Earhart in Harbour Grace

Earhart at the Harbour Grace Airport.

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Preparing to Depart, 1932

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Earhart’s Hydroplane, 1932

This is the riveting description of the nearly 15-hour flight across the Atlantic in Amelia Earhart’s own words:

“For the first four hours everything was lovely. Then suddenly, I ran into rain squalls and heavy wind. Then my exhaust manifold burnt out and bright red flames began shooting out the side. I was not frightened, but it is not any fun to have those flames so near you. Then my altimeter went wrong. There was nothing for me to do but start climbing. Then I discovered my tachometer had frozen, so I knew I was high enough. Ice formation on my wings made me drop lower. It was only twice after that I caught a glimpse of the ocean. When the morning of Saturday came, I was flying between two layers of clouds. The one below me was composed of little white woolly ones. After a while they all joined and formed a great white blanket like a snowfall stretching in every direction. When the sun broke through the blanket above me it was so blinding that, even with my smoked glasses, I had to come down and fly in the clouds for a while so I could see again. When I got into the squalls, I suppose I was to the south and kept correcting to the north. I had plenty of fuel and could have kept right on to Paris, maybe further, but my motor was straining so after sighting land, which I knew must be Ireland, I decided to come down. I could see peat bogs and thatched huts beneath me. I headed North along the railway track and after a while flew over Londonderry. Fifteen minutes later I had landed.”

The international reaction to Earhart’s landing in Londonderry was raucous. The British Prime Minister welcomed her and commended her courage, she received medals of gallantry from the King of Belgium and the government of France, and she was scheduled upon her return to the United States to receive the Congressional Medal of Honour. The financial support to continue her flying career poured in from all corners of the globe while the typewriters in New York furiously churned out glowing articles about the ace airwoman. Most people would probably accept the fame and retire from the dangerous hobby that was early aviation, but Amelia resolved to establish more “firsts for women” as she called her record-making flights. Over the next five years Earhart set three additional records, fastest flight from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, for a woman pilot, first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to the mainland United States, and first person to fly from LA to Mexico City to Newark. Her ambitions did not stop there.

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Earhart Reaches Londonderry, 1932

Having been gifted a twin-engine Lockheed 10 E Electra plane from Purdue University, the most advanced civilian aircraft at the time, Earhart departed California on May 30, 1937 to become the first person to circle the world flying along the equator. Navigator Fred Noonan accompanied her as she soared through Arizona, Florida, Puerto Rico, South America, Africa, the Middle East, India, Thailand, Singapore and Australia. Upon arriving in New Guinea, the expansive Pacific faced Earhart down as the second last leg of her endeavour. Over Howland Island in the South Pacific, Earhart radioed to ships below “we are on a line of position 157 (degrees) to 337 (degrees). We are running north and south.” These were the last words ever heard from Amelia Earhart.

Howland Island

Location of Howland Island, South Pacific

While there are numerous theories as to what happened to Amelia Earhart, her legacy is unchallenged in the history of aviation and of women’s advancement. The monument that stands near the entrance of Harbour Grace is not only a tribute to the woman who flew across the Atlantic solo but represents higher ideals. Earhart represents striving towards achievement, the necessity of self-sacrifice, and the spirit of trailblazing bravery. The pilot’s goggles and flight suit were never hung up during Earhart’s life, and undoubtedly would never have been discarded as long as there were boundaries to conquer and people to inspire.

 

Authored By: Francis Finlayson

Sources: 

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Amelia-Earhart

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.

Lineup for the Concert in the Park This Wednesday, August 26!

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Event: Concert in the Park Series (Wednesdays in August)

August 26 Lineup:

12:00 p.m. – Long Drung 

12:45 p.m. – John Lilly 

Time: 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Location: Conception Bay Museum Grounds, 1 Water St E, Harbour Grace, NL

Notes:

  • Weather permitting! We will post at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays if the concert is a go!
  • Social (physical) distancing required: please follow separate enter and exit locations.
  • No concessions will be sold this season. 
  • Max capacity: 50 people. 

Claude Stevenson

*Based on a conversation with Heather Moores

Researching and writing about the aviation history of Harbour Grace is eye-opening because of the heroic and daring endeavours undertaken by transatlantic aviators. It is almost unimaginable that so many were eager to climb into aircrafts characterized at the time by unreliable engines and flimsy fuselage to fly over the treacherous Atlantic Ocean. Whether they succeeded or failed, the stories of those aviators are well-documented as part of the history of Harbour Grace. What is not often talked about are the stories of those who took it upon themselves to maintain the airport and continue its soaring legacy. One of these unsung heroes was Claude Stevenson.

Claude, a native of Harbour Grace, grew up in a similar way as many Newfoundlanders, bobbing on the lopping waters of Conception Bay in search of the day’s catch. As a young man he travelled to Toronto to complete a motor disassembly and rewinding course, quite the distance in the mid-twentieth century. While taking the course, he secretly left Ontario every weekend, travelled to Nova Scotia, and took pilot lessons on a rural farm. Keeping the lessons hidden from his family and friends was surprisingly not overly difficult, as unlike today, where everyone is constantly connected and accessible, Stevenson was unreachable while in Nova Scotia. He eventually bought his own second-hand plane, training with it in Nova Scotia, and after each lesson, a local farmer hid it in his barn until the following weekend. This continued for an astonishing two years. Stevenson returned to Harbour Grace after completing his course, to the shock of his family and friends, he descended from the sky in his second-hand plane and landed at the Harbour Grace Airport. They had no idea he knew how to fly a plane.

Shortly after Claude returned to Harbour Grace, he had made his mark on the history of the Harbour Grace Airport. In the 1960s and 70s Claude crushed stone, trimmed bushes, and mowed the grass of the airport, keeping it perfectly shaped for his favourite hobby and for the benefit of the community. One funny incident from his time maintaining the airport happened at the start of the winter, when Claude would normally remove the windsock flying above the airport and repair it by hand in anticipation of the spring. The Town sought to remove the windsock and sent its own officials to climb the pole for it. Using ladders and safety equipment from the Harbour Grace Volunteer Fire Department, they reached, stretched, strained, and climbed. They could not reach the windsock. After hours, Claude showed up at the airport, laughing at the struggling workers. He approached the pole, unlocked a small latch at the bottom, and began turning a small handle, which lowered the windsock in seconds.

In the late 1970s and 80s, Claude frequently took his nieces and nephews flying above Conception Bay, Trinity Bay, and the historic regions of Harbour Grace. Guy Moores was a primary school student in the late 1970s when Claude took him flying. Guy had done a project in September of the fourth grade, the teacher had each student write about their favourite summer activities. When Guy wrote that he had soared over Conception Bay on summer days in his uncle’s small monoplane, the teacher could not believe it. When asking Heather however, she was told it was all true, to her amazement. Claude would take them flying from 5am to 7am and have the young kids at school for 8am.

Claude Stevenson never sought recognition for his decades of maintenance and contributions to the Harbour Grace Airport, not even after building a wooden plane hanger that still stands at the airport today. Many pilots since have made use of Claude’s hanger. He continued to maintain and fly from the Harbour Grace Airport every year until his passing in 2013, at 87 years old. In 2014 he was posthumously awarded the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association President’s Award due to being an “enthusiastic caretaker” of the Harbour Grace Airport. His legacy remains pertinent, as without him, the Harbour Grace Airport would not be as accessible and usable as it is today, perhaps not usable at all.

Claude-Stevenson

Claude Stevenson

Authored By: Francis Finlayson

Sources: 

Conversation with Heather Moores

COPA President’s Award Winners

 

Lights Installed at the Grounds


Let there be light!

Check out the latest addition to our grounds: outdoor lighting! These are activated by a timer – they come on in the evening and turn off around 12 a.m. Drop by some evening and have a walk through!

Notice: Today’s Concert in the Park Postponed Until Friday, August 21

 

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August 19, 2020: 

Notice RE: Concert in the Park at the Conception Bay Museum, Harbour Grace

Today’s Concert in the Park has been postponed until Friday, August 21 – same time, same place! The show starts at 12:00 p.m., with Alishia Mahaney as the opening act and Driftwood Cross hitting the stage at 12:45 p.m.

Bring a blanket or a lawn chair and drop by this Friday!

 

Windswept Tail

            Captain John Henry Mears was dismayed, an experienced and ambitious navigator, he never anticipated such a wasteful accident. As its engine sputtered and black smoke curled from the fuselage, the “City of New York” had lost the glamour of its namesake. A botched diagonally oriented departure from the Harbour Grace Airport had ripped the control levers from pilot Harry Brown’s hands, dragging the aircraft to the left and onto the south edge of the field. After cutting the engine in desperation, the inertia pushed the two off the edge, the plane leapt approximately 10 feet before crashing into the jagged rocks and prickly bushes characteristic of Newfoundland. Dizzily stumbling their way out of the wrecked plane, Mears and Brown found themselves staring at the shocked faces of Magistrate John Casey and the townsfolk. Aside from mild disorientation and Mears’ stinging shoulder, the two were luckily unharmed. Wasteful, yes, a setback, yes, but nobody was permanently hurt. Like a startled child, Mears began frantically sorting through the cockpit, he was missing something. Tailwind was gone!

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The “City of New York” veering off course

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The Wrecked “City of New York”

Months before the “Winnie Mae” made its famous global round-trip, Mears sought to break the record set by the “Graf Zeppelin” of fastest around-the-world flight, a record previously set by himself. Mears was not only angered at his record being beaten, but also by the idea of a non-American owning the record, as he was a fierce patriot. So, he and pilot Harry Brown would depart Roosevelt Field in New York City on August 2, 1930, intent on stopping in Harbour Grace, Dublin, Ireland, England, Belgium, Poland, Stansvik (Latvia), Lithuania (Russia), China, Japan, cross the Pacific, and return via Canada. Moments before leaving, as the engine hummed and the propellers began rotating, a voice called to Mears from the gaggle of reporters and flight officials’ intent on seeing the historic departure. A woman with curled brown hair and piercing dark eyes, dressed in a burgundy silk dress with a leather coat, approached the plane holding a scruffy light-coloured terrier. This was Mary Pickford, a nationally famous, Canadian-born actress known as “America’s Sweetheart.” She presented Mears and Brown with the fidgety terrier named Tailwind as a good-luck charm for their flight.

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John Henry Mears, 1930

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Mary Pickford, 1929

It was a still summer day in Harbour Grace, blue skies and the freshly cut Airport grass swaying in a light breeze. A substantial gathering of curious onlookers populated the grounds near the Airport in anticipation of the visitors from New York. Almost immediately after the rumor had been spread that a plane was landing in Harbour Grace, an excited shout emanated from the crowd “There she is!” As the tiny plane got progressively larger the words “City of New York” could be read on the side of its maroon-coloured fuselage. With a graceful touch it landed at the Airport around 15 minutes after it had first been spotted. Judge Casey and Frank Archibald, representative of the Prime Minister of the Dominion of Newfoundland, greeted the two trailblazers. While the crew was embraced by the town officials, the observers admired the Lockheed Vega Monoplane. With cream wings and a maroon fuselage, it was strikingly sleek. It was claimed that it could travel at a speed of 160 miles per hour and perhaps as high as 200 miles per hour with a tailwind. It was equipped with a 420 horsepower Pratt and Witney Wasp Engine and carried 450 gallons of gas and 30 gallons of oil. The trim cabin was equipped with an expensive two way-radio generally seen in affluent aviation clubs.

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The “City of New York”

Mears determined, at the disapproval of the Harbour Grace Airport Trust, that the “City of New York” would depart in the wee hours of the next morning, before a speck of daylight could be seen. Encouraged by the silver ray of moonlight at the Airport, and the golden embers of signal flares illuminating its west end, Mears and Brown eagerly climbed into their monoplane. With the help of a slight southwest wind and signals from the nearby headlights of parked cars, the “City of New York,” with a timid Tailwind in Mears’ arms, rocketed forward.

As he informed the onlookers of Tailwind’s vanishing, Mears wondered how the crash happened. Perhaps it was too hasty, perhaps he should have waited until daylight, or maybe the flares disoriented Brown during the takeoff. No matter, finding Tailwind was the top priority. Mears subsequently announced in the Harbour Grace Standard that he would pay $100 to anyone that safely returned Tailwind to him. Feeling sorry for Mears, residents combed through Harbour Grace, from the airport bluffs to Bishop’s Field (St. Francis Field) to Water Street. Hours passed and Mears grew worried, Tailwind was an adorable pup and a sentimental gesture of goodwill. Thankfully, a resident of Harbour Grace named George Hunt eased those worries when he returned to Mears with Tailwind at his side, ensuring the dog was safely with him once again.

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Mears holding Tailwind (centre), and Brown (right), waving before the departure

While Tailwind was found, the “City of New York” was unrecoverable, as the damage from the accident was far too extensive to be repaired. Any parts that were salvageable, such as the radio equipment were immediately crated and sent back to New York for future use. Mears and Brown remained steadfast in their desire to complete the around-the-world flight, but it was not to be. Interestingly, it is said that the family members of at least three modern residents of Harbour Grace took souvenirs from the wrecked “City of New York,” but this remains unconfirmed. Whatever the case, the stories of the “City of New York” and that of the later “Winnie Mae” would soon be drowned out, as a young woman who had crossed the Atlantic from Trepassey less than two years earlier was waiting in the wings.

Authored By: Francis Finlayson

Sources: 

 

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.