In 2006 a heritage inventory survey was conducted on the Burin Peninsula. Prior to this project just 19 archaeological sites had been registered on the peninsula and only four archaeologists had conducted work there. The heritage inventory survey added another 11 registered sites to the total for the Peninsula.
The heritage inventory was conducted over a 6 week period in 19 Burin Peninsula communities. More than 1200 local individuals and heritage groups were interviewed by the project archaeologist and five local students were hired as assistants. Based on the recommendations contained in the 2006 heritage inventory report five Burin Peninsula areas were seen as having elevated archaeological potential. Three of the areas were in Little St. Lawrence, one was in Burin and one in Little Mortier Bay. In 2007 a colleague and I conducted a small survey following up on some of the higher potential areas as indicated by the heritage inventory survey. This post focuses on a portion of Little St. Lawrence.
Little St. Lawrence was likely used by Basques fisherman as early as 1597 and is a known site of an early French fishing station from 1640:
Went to Little St. Lawrence which is a good harbour; and good for Codfishing, but no Salmon, there is very little woods in those parts… There ffishes one planter, who hath not taken the Oath, he caught the last year about 280 Quintls of ffish p boat, there are Two ffishg Roomes. for Ships, which is all fflakes (Taverner 1718:230v). (Penney 2011)
Part of our focus in Little St. Lawrence was on the eastern shoreline of the harbour and a small island connected to the mainland via a tombolo beach. According to the 2006 heritage inventory survey this area contained the remains of both a fortification and a historic whaling facility. While we found no evidence of either of those structures, this island does contain an extensive European occupation including what we believed were several cellar pits and the outline of several buildings along the shoreline.
We did a small amount of testing in and around some of the features and found a few artifacts confirming the European occupation.
We were pleased with what this site revealed and believed it had research potential. In 2009 we got a much better picture of the research potential when Gerald Penney Associates Limited conducted an historic resources impact assessment for a mining company on the Burin Peninsula. In searching through the history of the area they came to the conclusion that our Little St. Lawrence site was a trading premises built by Newman and Company, an England/St. John’s-based fishery and supply firm, in 1784. The company operated in the area until 1810. During their research for the area’s history they found out that the HMS Pegasus visited the area in 1786. J.S. Meres, a member of the Pegasus crew, made several sketches of the area, one of which was titled “A view of Little St. Lawrence Harbour”. The perspective of the Meres painting appears to be looking directly at the Newman and Company trading premises. We can easily line up several of the features we found with several of the buildings in the paintings.
The Meres painting was preserved in the HMS Pegasus log book. During the summer of 1786, the 28-gun frigate visited Trepassey, Great and Little St. Lawrence, Placentia, and St. John’s. J.S. Meres was her navigator and keeper of the log book. This 1786 voyage was the first for Prince William Henry, the future King William IV of England, as a ship’s captain. He was appointed to the position by his father King George III. Upon his appointment the Prince wrote to his brother:
“I have just received information of the plan proposed for me. I am to spend this summer on the Newfoundland station, the winter in the West Indies, to windward: the following summer in Nova Scotia & Canada, & then proceed to Jamaica for the next winter, & the remainder of the three years is to be spent on the different West Indian Stations.“
The Prince spent four days in July of 1786 in Little St. Lawrence, which, in a letter to the King, he judged “as far more preferable to that [country] we left to the eastward.” “The Guernsey and Jersey people”, he writes, “are settled in these parts & are peaceable & well behaved.” On 17 July he left for the 19 miles distant Placentia. (Rollman)
The town may be called Little St. Lawrence but it certainly has a big history.
BARNABLE, Stuart 2006 Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory.
PENNEY, Gerald 2009 Report HRIA (Stage 1) Canada Fluorspar Inc. St. Lawrence, NL.
PENNEY, Gerald 2011 Burin Peninsula – Indicated Historic Resource Potential.
ROLLMAN, Hans Prince William Henry In Newfoundland.