The Conception Bay Museum is located at 1 Water St East, inside the old Customs House. Originally built in 1870, the present-day brick-and-stone structure replaced the previous customs office–a wooden, thatch-roofed structure. Nearby, the pirate Peter Easton constructed fortifications at Capelin Cove, circa 1612.
George Tapp is credited as the architect of the Customs House, having been sent to Harbour Grace to build such a stone structure in the 1860s. Reports say that the Gordon family lived upstairs immediately after its completion and are believed to be its first inhabitants. Any boats coming in and out of the harbour would be subject to tariffs and checks from the customs officer. The officer would work and live inside the building with his wife and children. The servants’ quarters was located on the third floor. (The old servants’ staircase can be seen in the ‘Sewing Room,’ adjacent to the Museum’s ‘Aviation Room.’)
Museum & Exhibits:
The Museum offers a unique heritage and cultural experience for those interested in the history of Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Currently at the Museum we have:
• a Pirate & Fishing Room, which contains storyboards relating to Peter Easton’s adventures in Newfoundland and the history of mercantilism and shipbuilding in the region;
• a World War Exhibit (with regimental uniforms), dedicated to the island’s military and naval legacy;
• a Period Setting Room, filled with traditional late-nineteenth-century artifacts; and
• a brand-new 150th Anniversary Exhibit on the history of our building, the Customs House.
Guests can receive guided tours through each room, with presentations specifically catered depending on age level, general comprehension, and relevance. Tours run roughly forty-five minutes.
On the grounds, tourists will find two Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaques commemorating Rev. Laurence Coughlan, ideological founder of Methodism in Newfoundland, and Harbour Grace’s history of transatlantic aviation. These plaques were refurbished in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Another plaque from the Newfoundland Medical Association commemorates the life of Sir Thomas Roddick, of Harbour Grace. Our patio also offers an exceptional view of the bay and Harbour Grace Islands. In the summer months, the flags of prominent Harbour Grace merchant firms and the solid black pirate flag of Peter Easton are flown next to the building. (The skull-and-crossbones flag was added by later pirates.) In summer 2019, we restored the steps leading to Colston’s Cove, the historic site where John Guy and his crew landed salt in October 1612. The steps and beach are accessible to visitors in the spring, summer and fall months.
Over the summer, depending on scheduling and staffing, guided tours through the Heritage District of Harbour Grace are on offer. This tour covers the history of Peter Easton; Hampshire Cottage (or Garrison House); Gibbet Hill and sealers’ strikes; Ridley Hall Ruins and Office; John Munn and mercantile history; the mysterious grave on Bennett’s Lane; John Shannon Munn and the little-known story of cricket in the town; the infamous ‘Harbour Grace Affray’ of 1883; St. Paul’s Anglican Church; Immaculate Conception Cathedral; the old Courthouse; and much more.
As well, the Museum offers a guided hike, Travel the Trail, with local author Patrick J. Collins. This historical hike, of moderate difficulty, details the murders of Robert Crocker Bray, Jane and Garrett Sears, and Elfreda Pike, and the history of naval communications in Harbour Grace. Look out for upcoming dates on the Museum’s social media.
Our Haunted Harbour Grace event takes place each year during the Halloween season.
We have also held several successful book launches in recent years. We welcome any authors, poets, historians, etc., who would like to use the Museum for a public event.
We have plenty of material on the history of Harbour Grace on our ‘Resources’ page and in the ‘Archive.’ We also have lots of audio and video material. Our WWI database of soldiers from the greater Harbour Grace area is now fully digitized. The website is updated regularly with new material; so check back often.
The Museum is currently closed for the 2020 season (reopening spring 2021). Off-season inquiries should be directed to Patrick J. Collins, Board Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GPS Coordinates: 47.693588, -53.211448
Street Address: 1 Water St East, Harbour Grace, NL