The southern end of Trinity Bay, including Bull Arm, contains some very interesting archaeology sites. Looking at the map below (See the red polygon), we are dealing with 34 sites that contain components from every precontact Indigenous group that inhabited Newfoundland and several interesting European sites.
Some of the more interesting sites in the area would include a site just outside the community of Sunnyside. The archaeology site is made up of the base of several stone walls and the base of a chimney. These remains were the foundation of a telegraph station that received the first transatlantic telegraph cable from Ireland in 1858. The cable lasted three weeks before it stopped working. It wasn’t until 1866 when the Great Eastern landed at Heart’s Content that the first permanent cable was installed.
To the southeast is a recently discovered site that appears to consist of the remains of a 17th-century winter house. The site is being excavated by a MUN Archaeology Professor and an independent archaeologist. The site seems to contain a planter’s winter house with a rock fireplace and an associated earthen foundation. Archaeology sites recognized as winter houses are rare in the archaeological record and I believe that this is the only one from the 17th century. More information on that site can be found in volume 9 for the 2010 field season of the Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review.
Another impressive site in the Bull Arm portion of Trinity Bay is found at Stock Cove and the related Stock Cove West site. The Stock Cove site was found in 1978 and became the focus of a Master’s Thesis written by a MUN grad student. While the site contains mostly Dorset Pre-Inuit material including several Dorset houses (one of which is likely a longhouse), it also has Maritime Archaic and Groswater Pre-Inuit components. There are also late Recent Period, Beothuk and European components.
The related Stock Cove West site, which was found in 2009, also has cultural components from the Maritime Archaic, Pre-Inuit, Recent Period, Beothuk, and Europeans. This site has become the focus of a multi-year research project led by two archaeologists from the United States. More information on the site can be found in volumes 8 & 9 Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review.
Another significant site is found in the southeast corner of Trinity Bay on Dildo Island. Essentially this whole island is an archaeology site with cultural components related to the Maritime Archaic, Pre-Inuit, Recent Period, Beothuk, and Europeans. The island is of such significance that it was designated in 2010 as a Place of Provincial Significance.
Some of the precontact components contain Dorset Pre-Inuit house pits and a Recent Period hunting camp. As significant as that is, the European occupation of the island is potentially just as important.Dildo Island also played a role in a number of highly significant events in the European history of Newfoundland including John Guy’s and Henry Crout’s exploratory voyages into Trinity Bay in 1612 and 1613. During Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), 204 Trinity Bay men spent the winter on the island defending themselves against French attack. The Lester merchant family based in Trinity had fishing premises on the island in the 1700s. Over the nineteenth century, the commercial cod fishery expanded into the bottom of Trinity Bay and in 1889 the first cod hatchery in what is now Canada was established on Dildo Island. This was a world-class facility – one of the most modern and largest of its type at the time. Provincial Historic Commemorations Program
Another important site is on Frenchman’s Island. This site was found during the same research project that found Stock Cove in 1978. It is likely that this island is the one referenced by John Guy in his letter recounting his travels around Trinity Bay in the of 1612:The seventh day we spent in washing, and in beginning a house to shelter us when we should come hither hereafter, upon a small iland of about fiue acres of ground, which is joined to the maine with a small beech: for any bartering with the sauages there cannot be a fitter place. Howley 1945:17-18.
The archaeological work which took place on the island in 1980-81 found no definitive evidence of this house. Yet, this is the only island in this end of the bay and it is the correct size, therefore it is likely the same island. There was considerable evidence for other occupations found on the island including Maritime Archaic, Groswater and Dorset Pre-Inuit, Recent Period, Beothuk and Europeans.
During the 1980 field season, the archaeologist thought he had uncovered part of a Dorset habitation structure. He was unable to confirm the presence of this structure in 1981.
The island also contained a considerable late Recent Period – Beothuk occupation. One of the features found in this portion of the site contained a midden that was composed of bone and shell. Excavation of this layer also uncovered numerous corner-notched, stemmed, triangular bifaces and European artifacts. Initially, the excavator thought that the European artifacts found in this layer were an indication of a European – Beothuk contact site. However, from the selection of European artifacts found it appears the European occupation likely dates to the 18th century.
The European component of the island is thought to be related to a military occupation, possibly dating to the period of Queen Anne’s War. There are four pits and trenches on one end of the island that are thought to be related to this occupation.
Finally, the Archaic occupation of the island seemed to be very sparse and was limited to just a handful of artifacts. This biface seems to be made of a dark blue or purple Rhyolite which is not an uncommon material for Archaic sites on this portion of the island.
This area of Trinity Bay contains some important and interesting European archaeological sites with potential ties to people who played a significant role in this Province’s past such as John Guy. Considering the near lack of precontact aboriginal sites on the Avalon Peninsula, the density of such sites in this small area of Trinity Bay is surprising. It is not immediately clear why this area has played such an important role in the Province’s past but thanks to archaeology we have a better understanding of these sites and events.