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.’

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.

Amelia Statue

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.


Preparing to Depart, 1932


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.

200994001 - Amelia Earhart

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


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.