Profile: Point of Beach Beacon Light

Beacon Light, Harbour Grace, 1947. Photo courtesy War Memorial Public Library Archives.

Since early settlement, Harbour Grace’s Point of Beach has been a notable landmark for mariners. In the 1700s, when surveying Newfoundland’s coastal waters, Capt. James Cook erected as ‘head of stones’ at Point of Beach to aid navigation.

In 1850, shipbuilder Michael Condon Kearney, with help from his Scottish foreman John Gunn, constructed a lighthouse at Point of Beach. Timber for the building was brought from St. Margaret’s, Nova Scotia, and Mirimachi, New Brunswick. Known as the ‘Beacon Light,’ the structure was originally lit by oil. The light soon switched to gas in 1852 and eventually moved to electricity. The beacon was a double light, one being placed over the other. It held this appearance for six miles. Further than this distance, up to ten miles away, the lights appeared as one.

The first light keeper was Capt. George Brown, known as ‘Bully Brown’ in Harbour Grace.

In November 1960, as a cost-saving measure, the federal government decided to replace the century old ‘Beacon Light’ with an open-tower steel structure. Transport Minister Léon Balcer said the wooden lighthouse was in such condition that it would cost $16,000 to replace the structure, but only $2,200 to build a new one.

Do you have any memories of the ‘Beacon Light’ in Harbour Grace?

Artifact Profile No. 8: Grinding Stones from Bannerman River Mill, ca. 1850

Grinding stones (or “runnerstones”) on a wintry day at the Conception Bay Museum grounds, 2021

Did you ever visit our grounds and wonder about these gigantic concrete circles? For years these rings have been a feature in our park on Water Street East, though their original location was much further to the west, at Riverhead, where predominantly Irish labourers tilled the land for subsistence agriculture, to supplement their work in the fishery.

Bannerman River, Riverhead, Harbour Grace, 2020. Photo courtesy Adam Hindy.

During the nineteenth century, Harbour Grace merchants John Munn and Thomas Ridley invested in various local enterprises outside of the fishery. In 1850, the two financially backed a flour mill at Riverhead. The mill was located at Bannerman River (also known as Dawley’s Brook) and utilized the waters’ substantial force to power the mill’s grinding stones (or “runnerstones”). A Scotsman by the name of Cockburn was the miller and Thomas Kitchin was superintendent.

Decades after the mill’s closure, two of the grinding stones once used at the Bannerman River mill were salvaged and brought to the museum grounds for public display, where they remain to this day.

Source: Munn, William A. “The Town Goes Ahead–1845 to 1855,” NQ, vol. 37, no. 2, p. 22.

Artifact Profile No. 7: Otterbury Schoolhouse Class Register, 1954-55

Otterbury Schoolhouse was a one-room schooling institution in Harbour Grace, which operated from 1889-1969.

Early survey maps indicate Otterbury as the area roughly between the beginning of Water Street, Harvey Street, and Lee’s Lane. Interestingly, there are three areas called Otterbury in Conception Bay – one in Harbour Grace, one in Clarke’s Beach, and one northeast of Carbonear. The term refers to an abandoned fishing community. According to local historian Gord Pike, the word may have come from Ottery St. Mary, in Devon, England, or was a corruption of “otter burrow.”

Built as early as 1884, Otterbury Schoolhouse was a traditional, one-room educational institution for Roman Catholic youth in the Riverhead and Otterbury area. The school was located on Water Street West, in the Otterbury district. In 1884 there were 45 students registered. Like other schools of its era, it was heated by a wood-burning stove, and the other students, especially the boys, took turns getting the firewood. There was an outdoor bathroom and all students were responsible for helping keep the school clean.

In the 1930s, Ms. Helena Power was the teacher at the school. Power had previously taught in the United States before coming to Newfoundland. Although Latin was taught in schools at the time, she taught French to the students of Otterbury. (Power later published a book, More Stories from Dickens [1961], which retold the famous author’s stories for children.) During the 1930s an average of 50-60 students attended the school each year.

The school officially closed in 1969. Gordon G. Pike and the Harbour Grace Historical Society helped remodel the deteriorated structure in the late 1990s. However, years later, repairs were needed again; the schoolhouse was then moved to its current location, near the Kearney Tourist Chalet and the SS Kyle, under the direction of Albert (Bud) Chafe. The exterior was repainted in fall 2017.

Moving the Schoolhouse, April 10, 2010.

Otterbury Schoolhouse was designated a Municipal Heritage Site by the Town of Harbour Grace due to its historic and aesthetic value on January 10, 2006. Plans are currently set in motion to revitalize the Schoolhouse as a multipurpose space for the community’s seniors.

Artifact Discussion

The above artifact was donated to the Town of Harbour Grace for the revitalization project. This 1954-55 register belonged to Angela Hickey, who taught at the schoolhouse for her entire career. The register measures 12″ (width) by 17.5″ (length) and is 96 pages in total. The register was donated by Angela Drover, niece of Angela Hickey.

There were 43 students in attendance during this school year. A monthly attendance list follows each name. In September, the monthly attendance was 93%, with the school open 21 days out of the month. In total, the school was open 174 days during this school year, with average daily attendance of 37 pupils. The local Department of Education supervisor, Robert J. Connolly, visited Otterbury three times during the 1954-55 school year, on September 20, December 7, and June 16.

As the pictures above note, students were from “Riverhead,” “Harvey St,” “Water St,” “Hr. Grace,” and the “Pipe Track.” Their guardian’s name is listed, with address.

View the registration roll in high quality (1200 dpi) here:

Page 4: Download link (Google Drive)

Page 18: Download link (Google Drive)

Do you recognize anyone from the roll? Do you have any artifacts from Otterbury or schools in Harbour Grace you’d wish to donate? Call 596-3631 ext. 4.

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.’