Birchy Bay

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 white man.

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 hides.

Extra Facts on Birchy Bay.....
- 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 caribou.
- 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 other end.
- The first man who drowned in Birchy Bay was an Osmond.
- Adam Peckford inaugarated the first passenger-boat service in Birchy Bay.

Life in Birchy Bay in the early days was simple and hard, but the people were close and happy.

Sources of information:

This section of our homepage is mainly based on a paper written by Katrina Quinlan for her teacher, Ms. Audrey Oake.

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