A cleric’s guide through our history

Newfoundland timeline crosses more than a millennium

Published on August 21, 2013

“The Esquimaux live almost entirely by fishing. They are nearly all Christianized and civilized through the praiseworthy exertions of the Moravian missionaries.”

“The northern part (of Labrador) from Cape Webeck to Cape Chudleigh is the proper home of the Esquimaux. They number about 1,400 of whom 100 are heathen and live to the north of Ramah, the northernmost station of the Moravian Mission.”

Just a couple of curious clippings from a small book published in early 1908 for use in Newfoundland schools.

The author was Rev. Dr. William Pilot, an Anglican cleric and educator and a strong force in shaping our education system in the latter 19th century. Ordained in his native England in 1867, he “came out” to Newfoundland that same year to be vice-principal of Queen’s Theological College in St. John’s. But he did a lot more than that.

“Outlines of the History of Newfoundland,” from which I have isolated two statements which really “date” the book, was issued by Collins, Pilot’s publishers in London, in January of 1908. Later that same year, Pilot suffered a stroke and retired because of it. He died five years later in his 72nd year.

Busy man

Pilot seems, from the small segment on him in the “Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador,” to have been an intelligent person with high output. He was a longtime superintendent of Church of England schools here and also served in a similar capacity for the Salvation Army. He advocated on behalf of our teachers, he introduced certain textbooks — specifically the renowned Royal Readers — and he even found time to serve as a canon of the Cathedral.

His small, red book, the anchor of this column, was intended, so Pilot wrote in his preface, as “a bold and clean outline of the current events of the history” of this place, but “it tries to give more than that; it tries to assign to each event its own relative importance and this to introduce a true perspective into our historical teaching.”

That is the reason, I suppose, why the book starts with a coloured map of the electoral districts at the time.

As it is an outline and tracks periods such as legendary, discovery charters, anarchy, naval governors — and so on — it is easy to read.

Pilot gives credit (with no expressed doubt) to Lief, son of Eric the Red, who in 1001 “sailed from Greenland and made discovery of the continent of America and of Newfoundland.”

And then in 1170, “a Welshman, Madock ap Owen Gwyneth, is said to have planted a colony in Newfoundland.”

It is not difficult to visualize this book as a guide. If you did not know the history of Newfoundland, you could read its 62 pages and come away with a clear sequence of events and something of an impression of how this fishing station evolved into a colony/country and ultimately a Canadian province.

A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Pilot shows his love of places and rocks. In another reference to Labrador, he says that it is “likely to become a great mining country in the near future,” adding that the rocks are, for the most part, igneous (produced by volcanic action). He then lists the wonderful finds ...  all but nickel, destined within a century to be hugely promising in Labrador, but not yet due to take a bow:

“Quartzite, mica-schist, gneiss, granite, crystalline limestone, and metamorphic rocks are found in nearly all localities. Besides Labradorite (valuable as an ornamental stone), talc, copper, pyrites, barytes, cryolite, mica, iron, antimony, galena, plumbago and asbestos have been discovered. Everywhere the land shows marks of upheaval and of a glacial period.”

Pilot includes an interesting little note on the origins of the name. For a period after the time of Corte Real (1450-1501?), Pilot says, the landmass was called “Terra Corterialis — which name has, however, long been supplanted by that of Labrador.

He continues: “Some have supposed that it derived its name Labrador (La-bras-d’or or arm of gold) from its supposed richness. Others affirm that a Basque whaler named La Bradore gave his name to this locality. The ruins and terraces of an old town named Brest, in Bradore Bay, about three miles from Blanc Sablon harbour, are still visible. The town contained upwards of 1,000 inhabitants and was founded by the Bretons.”

In identifying the Indians of Labrador, Pilot refers to their longtime animosity towards the Inuit.

“There are in the interior of the country Indians, called mountaineers or hunting Indians, who once formed a great nation and could bring into the field a thousand warriors to repel the incursions of the Esquimaux, with whom they were constantly at war, and for whom they have still a bitter hatred and contempt. Their number is not known. They all profess the Roman Catholic religion and are visited by a priest once a year from Quebec. They live by furring and exchange their produce for supplies at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s stations.

“There are various other tribes of Indians inhabiting the interior of Labrador, as the Naskapees, Mistassinnis, Montaignais. These tribes rarely visit the coast unless driven by want.”

There is art in Pilot’s phrasing when he reaches the topic of education, clearly a subject near and dear to him. Consider this:

“Too much attention cannot be bestowed on the education of the youth of any country. It lies at the foundation of all true progress and national greatness.

“An ignorant people can make no real advances in those arts which beautify and bless existence, and raise them in the scale of being.”

As Pilot’s book proceeds all the way from AD 870 down to 1908, it is no trouble to pick up little points of interest. Here are a few that caught my eye:

1734: “Of the next three Governors, Viscount Muskerry (1734), Captain Vanburg (1737), and Captain Lord George Graham (1740), there is nothing worthy of remembrance.”

1863: St. John’s supplied with water from Windsor Lake.

1869: Abundant fisheries brought a favourable turn in the tide of affairs of Newfoundland and by 1871 the largest revenue ever made was collected (207,790 pounds stirling).

1896: St. John’s street railway commenced.

1901: Marconi sent (sic) his first wireless message across the Atlantic from Signal Hill.

1901: Volunteer fire brigade established for the Town of Carbonear.

1903: Empire Day, May 24, established as a holiday.

1904: Chinese compelled to pay $300 as poll tax on entering the colony.



Loon Motel

Last week’s column told about a medical symposium held at St. Anthony in 1975. The event offered more than learned presentations. It included a vice-regal visit, lobster dinner, barbecue next to an ice-filled harbour and a brush fire. The following adds to the story:


Hi Paul:

Congratulations on a very good article. I worked as a surgeon with Grenfell Services for 22 years and knew most of the people in the pictures. Jim Williams was a good friend of mine. There is a minor error regarding the Loon Motel which played a considerable part in the lives of the more bucolic members of the Grenfell staff such as myself and Jim. The Loon Motel was owned by three brothers from Raleigh. Art Taylor, the oldest, operated a motorized old schooner collecting fish from fishermen and transporting it to the plant in St. Anthony. The youngest brother, Ray, was a pilot. The motel was actually run by the middle brother, Gil Taylor, and his wonderful wife Marjorie (chef par excellence).

There is a great story about a water-bomber pilot, who was a very close friend of the family and often stayed at the Loon. He had just completely extinguished a fire in the area and still had water on board. For devilment, he decided to dump the remainder on the motel. He knew that it did not open until 5 p.m., so he approached from behind some trees and released the water. As he turned away he saw, to his horror, a tour-bus in the parking lot and people in the back garden!

Howell Jones


Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Email: psparkes@thetelegram.com.