Salmon fishing

Currently, there are about 5000 known archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador which range from ~9000 years old to the 20th century. A lot of those sites have seen some level of archaeological investigation. However, one area of archaeological research that has not seen much activity is European salmon fishing. By the 18th century, this industry became very important to European history in the Province. The quantity of salmon landings was regularly reported in the Colonial Office papers which contain a lot of information about these fisheries including documenting disagreements between competing salmon fishers. Such disagreements resulted in the companies getting licenses for specific brooks and rivers that would allow them exclusive salmon catching rights for those places. Unfortunately, many of these establishments in central Newfoundland had run-ins with the Beothuk which all too often did not end well for the Beothuk (Who owned the river in the first place). The Beothuk would take salmon nets, rope, or other gear and the fishermen would try to retrieve them. John Peyton Jr. was on such a trip up the Exploits to Red Indian Lake in 1819 when he captured Demasduit. Occasionally these run-ins didn’t end well for Europeans either such as in 1789 when Thomas Rowsell was killed by Beothuk while he was dipping salmon from his weir at South West Brook in New Bay.

There are several European salmon fishing sites on the Island that are related to this industry. While most of these sites are in central Newfoundland on major salmon rivers there is at least one site on the Avalon on the Salmonier River. The site was brought to the attention of the Provincial Archaeology Office by a DFO official when artifacts including a kaolin pipe, two iron nails, a piece of lead sheet, and two wine bottle bases were found eroding from the ground.

Kaolin smoking pipe, (top), lead sheet (bottom)
Wine bottle pontils or bottoms.

Colonial Office documents indicate that a salmon fishing establishment existed on the Salmonier River in 1723 belonging to John Masters & Phill Watson. The document records that they constructed several buildings for salting and curing salmon and wharves for shipping and receiving goods. The artifacts recovered from the site may relate to the Masters and Watson establishment. 

Colonial Office documents from 1723 describing the Masters and Watson salmon fishing post.

Interestingly, the document goes on to state that all persons are strictly forbidden ‘…to offer any molestation hindrance and disturbance…’ to Masters and Watson. The document doesn’t say who was causing the hindrance or disturbance. Was it other English salmon fishers? The last of the French colonizers in Placentia? Or could there have been Beothuk causing Masters and Watson trouble?

Colonial Office documents from 1723 describing the Masters and Watson salmon fishing post.










4 thoughts on “Salmon fishing

    1. Yeah, you’re right. By that time it was already very important. The whole industry needs research.

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