History of Greenspond

History of Greenspond by Linda White, 1997

Situated on the north east coast of Newfoundland, Greenspond is comprised of several islands: the largest is Greenspond Island, and the smaller ones include Batterton, Ship, Newell’s, Wing’s, Pig, Maiden, Groat’s, and Puffin Island. There are several explanations of the origin of the name “Greenspond”. The most popular is that it is based on the names of two of the early families, Green and Pond. Another states that the name reflected the green of the trees that covered the island and the harbour basin which resembled a pond. Records from the French Colonial office referred to Greenspond as “Grin d’Espagne”, which could have subsequently been pronounced Greenspond by the English settlers.

The early inhabitants of Greenspond hailed from the West of England, mainly Dorset but also Devon, Hampshire, and Somerset. The names of these early settlers can still be found there today: Bishop, Blandford, Bragg, Burry, Burton, Butler, Carter, Chaytor, Crocker, Dominey, Easton, Feltham, Granter, Green, Harding, Hawkins, Hoddinott, Hoskins, Hunt, Hutchins, Kean, Lovelace, Lush, Meadus, Mullett, Mullins, Oakley, Oldford, Osmond, Parsons, Pond, Rogers, Samson, Saunders, Smith, Stratton, Way, Wheeler, White, Wicks, Woodland, Wornell, Wright, and Young.

Greenspond is one of the oldest continuously inhabited outports in Newfoundland, having been settled in the 1690s. In the first 100 years after settlement, the people of Greenspond lived from the bounty of the sea. The community thrived and became a major trading centre  because of its proximity to and its position on the main sea lanes and was known as the “Capital of the North”.

Greenspond’s chief asset was its proximity to the inshore cod fishing grounds. During the 19th century, fishermen not only exploited the local fishing grounds but also went further afield to find codfish, some as far as the coast of Labrador. By mid century it had become a prominent supply centre and clearing port for the Labrador fishery which led to the appointment of a collector of customs by the colonial government in 1838.

The annual seal hunt was another asset in the Greenspond economy. The community’s advantageous location, in the path of the northern ice floe, enabled land-based hunters using guns and nets to capture seals. By the early 19th century the seal hunt had become an important part of life at Greenspond. Historian Judge D.W. Prowse reported that in 1807 “from Bonavista and Greenspond 6 ships went to the ice with 64 men.” He also reported that in the town of Greenspond itself 80 men took 17,000 seals in nets. In 1860, 18 vessels, each with a crew of about 20 men, prosecuting the seal hunt out of Greenspond. Because most of the crews and sealing captains were drawn from Greenspond and neighbouring communities, sealing ships would leave St. John’s and Conception Bay in the fall of the year and anchor in Greenspond Tickle until spring when the hunt would begin. There was great pride in the accomplishment of local sealing captains, such as Darius Blandford who made the “quickest trip ever recorded” and Peter Carter who secured the heaviest load of seals in the history of the industry.

Its importance as a major trading and supply centre meant that Greenspond enjoyed a steady population growth of prosperous tradesmen and artisans: tinsmiths, blacksmiths, coopers, cobblers, carpenters and others.  Merchant firms included Slade, Fryer, Brooking and Co., William Cox & Co., Ridley & Sons, E. Duder, W.Waterman, Philip Hutchins, Harvey & Co., James Ryan, and J&W Stewart. These companies were primarily engaged in the buying and selling of fish but also in supplying and outfitting for these fisheries. The fish-trading business houses were also general stores. Early in the 20th century, the Fishermen’s Protective Union, which had a large branch in Greenspond, opened a Union Trading Store in the community and in 1910 Greenspond ahd the honour of hosting the Union’s annual Convention.

Gradually Greenspond acquired the services and facilities needed by a bustling commercial town. In 1848 there was a regular mail and passenger service, a fortnightly steamer, and a weekly overland route between Greenspond and St. John’s. To insure the safety of the steamer into Greenspond after nightfall, the government erected a lighthouse in 1873 on Puffin Island at the approach to Greenspond harbour. In winter when the steamers did not run, the trains transported the mails to Gambo and from there couriers – often Micmac – carried it overland to Greenspond. John Joe, perhaps the most notable Micmac courier travelled for many years with his dogs from Gambo to Greenspond. The laying of a submarine cable between Greenspond and the Newfoundland mainland in 1885 and the subsequent provision of a telegraph service greatly enhanced Greenspond’s communication with the rest of Newfoundland and the outside world. The turn of the century marked Greenspond’s zenith with a population of almost 2000, a resident doctor, magistrate, policeman, customs officer, clergy, postmaster, teachers, and numerous business enterprises.

The fabric of the church is deeply woven into Greenspond’s history. The early settlers from the West Country of England brought their religious affiliations with them. The first visit by a clergy was Rev. Henry Jones of the Church of England, who under the auspices of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel served in Bonavista Bay in the 1720s. His first trip to Greenspond was in 1728 but the first church came much later. St. Stephen’s Church was opened in 1812 and owes its construction to the efforts of Governor Sir John Duckworth who had allocated funds for the building of the church. In 1829 a resident clergyman, Rev. N.A. Coster, was appointed to Greenspond followed by Rev. Julian Moreton in 1849. Moreton wrote: “the mission of Greenspond … is the largest … in the diocese of Newfoundland, extending along the 70 miles of coast and requiring a journey of 200 miles to visit all its stations.” The size of the mission facilitated the enlargement of the church in the 1850s.

Wesleyan Methodism made its first appearance in 1796 when Rev. George Smith, a travelling missionary from Trinity, organized a small Methodist class in the community. Services were held in stores and private houses, and, with the assistance of laymen, Methodist membership gradually increased. In 1862 Rev. John Allen became Greenspond’s first Methodist clergyman in a mission that extended from Flat Islands to Musgrave Harbour. In 1873, the first Methodist church was opened with a seating capacity for 600. It served the congregation until 1965 when it was torn down to make way for a new building. In the late 19th century the Salvation Army came to Greenspond and built a citadel up on the Island. Later, as membership grew another larger citadel was built down by the main road. There were never many Roman Catholics in Greenspond. In 1826 there were 500 Protestants and 100 Catholics but many of them were to move elsewhere. The 1874 census shows 945 Church of England adherents, 499 Methodists, and 79 Roman Catholics. In 1901 there were only 18 Roman Catholics listed. Nevertheless,they built a small Roman Catholic chapel in Pond Head.

The history of education in Greenspond followed that of the churches. In 1815 the residents of Greenspond petitioned the government to appoint Thomas Walley as lay reader and teacher. By 1828 the records show that there were 186 day school pupils, 220 in Sunday School, and 75 in Adult school. In 1848 Rev. Robert Dyer recorded in his diary that a visiting judge had claimed that the school in Greenspond was the “largest in the island”. The Methodists opened a school in 1880 and a Salvation Army school opened in 1900. It can be said that Greenspond’s export of human resources  equals or exceeds its export in cod, seals, salmon and the like.

Throughout the 20th century the fishery remained the major economic enterprise of the people of Greenspond: a bait depot was established in 1946, a fresh-fish processing plant was built in 1957 and a smokehouse was opened in the 1970s. In 1951 the town was incorporated, and with municipal government came water and sewer facilities, improved light and power services, improvements in local roads and, perhaps, the most important of all, the construction of a causeway connecting Greenspond Island with the Newfoundland mainland. In the 1990s Greenspond continues to thrive, a superb example of a Newfoundland coastal community which has survived and prospered for three hundred years despite the inherent fluctuations in a fishing economy.


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