A Glimpse Into Our Past
According to our
forefathers, the Beothuck Indians were the
first to reside in Birchy Bay. They use to trek from their
permanent residences at Red Indian Lake, along the shores of
Exploits Bay going as far north as Fogo Island. Birchy Bay was an ideal
place for a stop over, because of a plentiful supply of sea trout,
salmon, birds, and seals from the sea. Arctic hares and caribou could
be found in the forest clad coastal area. In addition to those
attractions, Birchy Bay was a
quiet land - locked area with three outlets that could be monitored
from a high hill (Jumper Head, located nest to the museum.) This
hill was traditionally called the "Look-Out", so called this
because the Indians used it to check the advances of the meandering
There is authentic
evidence that the first permanent white
settlers come to Birchy Bay in 1887, although the census taken as
far back as 1857 records permanent settlers at that time. The only
logical explanation is that some came to stay for a brief period, but
later changed their minds and left.
In it's earliest years,
the only means of commercial
livelihood the community had to offer was the fur trade. Very
little commercial fishing was done here since most of the men returned
to their homes out along the coast after the winter trapping and went
to Labrador to fish in the summer. The first commercial fishery in
Birchy Bay was the lobster fishery.
The grand timber stands,
with their easy availability due to
a large brook flowing through the centre of the community, (located
next to the museum,) was not long ignored. In the first year of the
twentieth century, James and Thomas French, along with their sons,
formed the Birchy Bay Lumber Company and built a large steam
powered saw mill. For a number of years, they employed every
available man in Birchy Bay from twelve years of age and up. At one
time twenty-one men worked at the mill. The timber stands also provided
boat building materials. Many schooners were built for the Labrador
fishery. One of the largest was Over the Top, built by James French and
launched in 1918.
Around 1910, a forest fire
destroyed much of the good timber
in the area, causing problems for the Birchy Bay Lumber Company.
Eventually, the big mill had to close down.
Most of the settlers in
Birchy Bay were religious people of
the Methodist faith, and in 1902 the first church was built.
Many men using long ropes
with block and tackle hauled the first community school to a new
location. There it was enlarged and
became a part of the Pentecostal School. Mr. Rupesinghe taught the
first Pentecostal School for kids.
People lived mostly off
the land and sea, and apart from rare cases,
clothing was made locally by hand and later by hand-operated sewing
machines. Most of the
boots worn by people were "Skin Boots" made from seal skins and cow
Extra Facts on Birchy
- William Hodder from Birchy Bay served in the Royal Navy in
World War 2.
- Edith French, wife of William French ran the first post
office in Birchy Bay in her home.
- It was said that a man, Andrew Canning, could run almost as fast as a
- The first bear in Birchy Bay killed itself by grabbing a
piece of meat on a piece of string that had a trigger tied to the
- The first man who drowned in Birchy Bay was an Osmond.
- Adam Peckford inaugarated the first passenger-boat service in Birchy
Life in Birchy Bay in the
early days was simple and hard, but
the people were close and happy.
This section of our
homepage is mainly based on a paper written by Katrina Quinlan for her
teacher, Ms. Audrey Oake.