History of European/White Settlement
Content provided by: Gordon Hancock, Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland (retired)
Battle Harbour - Labrador Institute photo
Euro-Labradorians (Europeans and persons of European ancestry settling in Labrador) descend from a diverse set of national, regional, and ethnic backgrounds. Though derived from a relatively small number of immigrants, the population of Labrador includes family lines that are English (mainly of Westcountry and Wessex stock), Irish, French, Channel Islanders (mainly of Jersey), Scots, Orkney Island, Scandanavian (Norwegian and Finnish), German, French-Canadian, and Newfoundlander (principally descendants of West Country and Wessex English, and of Irish from Southeastern Ireland). Patterns of immigration and settlement were greatly influenced by patterns of resource exploitation and associated labour migrations. Some servants and employees arriving in Labrador with mercantile fish firms and trading companies, intermarried with Inuit or Innu women, or with Newfoundland-born women of British descent, and chose to settle there. Other settlers of an European background, mainly those from Newfoundland, initially visited Labrador as seasonal migrants on fishing vessels. Such were the persons who became the main pioneers and patriarchs of permanent White (and Metis) settlement in different coastal localities and regions. More recent settlements of Euro-Labradorians, however, were associated with the development of a major military base and airport at Goose Bay in World War II and with major resource development projects since the 1950s.

The coast of Labrador was the first part of North America known to Europeans. Named in their Sagas as "Markland" (wooded region), it was chanced upon and visited by Norse adventurers from Greenland around 1000 A.D., and rediscovered by others (English, Portugese and French) about 1500. It was not effectively populated by Europeans, however, until the nineteenth century.

In the sixteenth century, the Strait of Belle Isle (or simply, the Straits) and Southeastern Labrador were fished for cod on a seasonal basis by Norman and Breton French. The Basques of Spain and France also established cod and whaling stations in the Straits. These activities, particularly Basque shore-based whaling in the period ca 1540-1615, likely involved accidental or casual overwintering, but no permanent colonization resulted. Likewise no enduring settlement came from the cod and seal fisheries conducted by French and French Canadian adventurers and entrepreneurs in the period 1713 to 1763 when coastal Labrador came under the French Regime. After the Treaty of Paris (1763) coastal Labrador, though then largely dominated by the Inuit, was added to the English migratory fishery. Under English exploitation and policy Labrador began to develop the essential conditions needed for year-round occupation by Europeans and Newfoundlanders. Permanent settlement, however, did not occur until after the end of the Napoleonic and Revolutionary War period in 1815.
Polar Bear - David Yetman photo
Euro-Labradorian settlement can be identified with five distinct geographical regions. These include the Strait of Belle Isle, Southeastern Labrador, the Northern (or Moravian) Coast, the Hamilton Inlet- Lake Melville region, and the inland and western Labrador region. Resident white, but mostly mixed (European/Aboriginal, or "Metis") family settlement, began to emerge in the Southeastern Labrador region in the first half of the nineteenth century based upon summer cod and salmon fisheries and fall and winter sealing activities. The pioneering families on the male side came mainly from the ranks of servants and employees of British and Newfoundland-based mercantile firms and entrepreneurs. The females were mostly Inuit women, but some were Innu.

The places settled included the coastal bases formerly used by migratory whaling, sealing and fishing crews, and surroundings coves, harbours and sites convenient for exploiting marine and terrestrial resources.

The genesis of European settlement in the south, the Straits and Southeastern Labrador, is rooted in the period 1763-1815 when a series of British and Newfoundland fishing and trading companies set up establishments and began supplying sealing crews and trappers over the winter months as well as fishing for cod and salmon in the summer. These entrepreneurs included Nicholas Darby, a Bristol merchant, who took over Cape Charles in 1765 after the eviction of Quebec merchants. Darby made Cape Charles his headquarters but also had fishing crews at Forteau and the Isle aux Bois in the Straits. Darby was forced by hostile Inuit to abandon Cape Charles in 1767 but by 1770 this post was occupied by George Cartwright another English adventurer. Over the period 1770-1786, Cartwright was able to establish friendly relations with the Inuit and set up fishing, furring and sealing posts along the coast from Cape Charles to Sandwich Bay, the latter which he named and settled. Cartwright's efforts suffered set backs from American privateers during the Revolutionary war. This and other misfortunes led to his bankruptcy. Other merchants who sponsored the migration of fishing crews, employees and servants, to southern coastal Labrador included: Jeremiah Coghlan of Bristol, England at Chateau Bay and harbours northward (1770-1782); Noble & Pinson of Bristol and Dartmouth, Devon, respectively, in L'Anse au Loup, Temple Bay, Pitts Harbour and Sandwich Bay (1770-1806); Pinson & Hine and Hunt & Henley (heirs of Noble & Pinson) both of Dartmouth, Devon in the Straits and Sandwich Bay (1806-1830), Slade & Company of Poole, Dorset at Battle Harbour and St. Lewis Bay area ( ca 1766-1861), Benjamin Lester & Company (and heirs) of Poole, Dorset at Venison Tickle (ca 1783 - 1820s); Jersey-Channel Island traders (DeQuetteville and others) at Forteau, Blanc Sablon, and other posts in the Straits (ca 1775-1880s); and Joseph Bird & Company (and heirs) of Poole, Dorset at Forteau, Seal Islands and Tub Harbour (ca 800-1840s).

The Strait of Belle Isle was settled in the 1820s by a mixture of migrants who had arrived in the service of Noble & Pinson, Joseph Bird and DeQuetteville. These migrants originated from such places as Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire in England and the Channel Islands. Settlers from Newfoundland, mostly of English and Irish descent from Conception and Trinity Bays, followed in the 1830s. Most British migrants were single males, however, a few of the earlier pioneers on the Newfoundland side of the Straits were married. The females of these (daughters and widows) helped provide the essential basis for the rooting of a permanent population on the Labrador side. The majority of British settlers in the Straits, however, formed families locally by intermarrying with females who migrated into the area from Newfoundland. These females had either come to work with one of the mercantile firms or were the unmarried daughters of migratory fishing families from Newfoundland's east coast, particularly from places such as Carbonear in Conception Bay.

European settlement in Southeastern Labrador was begun in the 1820s and 1830s and can be related around Battle Harbour and St. Lewis Bay to the activities of John Slade & Company. Around Sandwich Bay and Hamilton Inlet employees of Hunt & Henley were among the earliest settlers. Pioneer families were formed by males from England (Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset) employed by Cartwright, Slade, Hunt & Henley and other firms who found wives among Inuit in the region. Another source of settlers was the migratory crews which, from about 1820, came regularly each summer from Newfoundland to fish for cod. Some Newfoundland migrants formed unions with the pioneer families and became part of the Labrador livyer (settler) population. Many families in Southeastern Labrador can thus trace an ancestry to the northeast coast of Newfoundland especially Conception Bay.

Initially, the settling families traded with their former mercantile employers. Indeed some often leased and occupied fishing and sealing stations formerly operated by these firms, although most established their own. Many livyers or "Settlers" also developed a distinctive style of life which involved seasonal migrations (transhumance), moving between summer fishing stations on the outer coast, and sheltered bays and inlets on the inner coast. The inner coast afforded shelter and access in the winter to forest resources and trapping grounds in the interior, and became the sites of the principal settlements. Before a cod moratorium was imposed in 1992, there were eleven (11) such winter settlements between Lodge Bay near Cape Charles and Cartwright. During the summer months crews from these places fished from some forty seven (47) stations on the outer coastal islands and headlands. Some of these fishing places - Battle Harbour, Henley Harbour, Seal Island, Batteau, Venison Tickle and Spotted Island - were once established sites of mercantile fishing firms and were also well settled by livyers. The livyer families were relocated to more permanent landward settlements - Marys Harbour and Cartwright - under Government sponsored resettlement programs in the 1960s. In terms of origins, Port Hope Simpson, located well inland on the Alexis River, stands quite apart from the rest of coastal Labrador. A company town which grew from a logging camp founded in 1934, it was populated by both Settlers from the coast and by Newfoundlanders.

The first Europeans to settle in Northern Labrador were Moravian missionaries. Encouraged by the Newfoundland governor, the Moravians (who formerly worked among the Inuit in Greenland and knew the native language) came to Labrador in the latter part of the 18th century to pacify and ostensibly to bring Christianity to the Inuit. Mission stations, and settlements, were created at about eight sites including Hebron, Killinak, Okak, Ramah and Zoar. Those surviving to the present include Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik. The Moravians initially discouraged other persons of European origins from living in the region. After 1815, however, a few trappers and small traders from southern Labrador and around Hamilton Inlet (then known as Esquimaux Bay) began to occupy and settle the bays and islands around the mission stations. Some of these pioneers were the offspring of mixed European-Inuit families descended on the male side from former employees of English firms. Most, however, were relative newcomers who arrived un Labrador with the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) or under other auspices such as the migratory fishery from Newfoundland. By the mid-19th Century, Northern Labrador had an European population, which though relatively small in numbers, was distinguished by its extremely complex multinational origins. They included French Canadian, Norwegian, Scots, Irish, Welsh, English and Newfoundlanders. Maternally, however, almost all these families, locally known as Settlers (to distinguish them from Aboriginal peoples), descended from Inuit (or Innu) women.

Among the first Euro-Labradorian trader-settlers in Northern Labrador were Collingham and Marcoux, who established a post in Kaipokok Bay in 1795. Robert Collingham was a former associate (agent, hunter, trapper and carpenter) of George Cartwright in Sandwich Bay while Pierre Marcoux, a French Canadian, previously had a trading post at Hopedale. Settlers appearing after 1815 included Broomfield, Ford, Lane, Reed and Thomas, family lines stemming from individuals employed by English fishing firms to the south. Subsequent in-migrants introduced the surnames Andersen (a former HBC employee from Norway); James, Pottle, Voisey and White (English); and Lyall, and McNeil (Scots, also formerly HBC employees). The northern Euro-Labradorian settlers distinguished themselves by adopting a style of life that combined trading, hunting, trapping and fishing. They were also notable for achieving independence from major mercantile firms. The settlers, who also identified themselves as Baymen, travelled to the outer coast to fish for cod in the summer but moved back wintertime to their family enclaves, or homesteads, at sites peripheral to the Moravian stations. Many of their descendants eventually settled into the nucleated settlements of the Moravians but maintained a separate ethnic identity from the Inuit.

The first Euro-Labradorian families in Hamilton Inlet were headed by two Englishmen (William Phippard and John Nooks (or Newhook)) both of whom had by 1785 taken Inuit wives. They were trappers and hunters and travelled extensively both inland and around the inlet. Later other trapper settlers of Scottish, English and French origins joined them. These include the Blakes, Brooks, Campbells, Michelins, McLeans, Montagues, Pottles, Chaulks and Goudies. The main sponsor of European migration in the 19th Century was the HBC which after arriving in Hamilton Inlet in 1836 and establishing trading posts at Rigolet and North West River then enjoyed a trade monopoly in the region for the next sixty years. Some HBC employees, mostly from Scotland (especially the Orkney Islands) and England (some earlier employed by fishing companies) after serving out the term of a contract stayed on in Hamilton Inlet as settlers. In the early years of the 20th Century more settlers came into North West River when a Quebec fur trading company opened a post. A lumbering operation at Mud Lake and Carter Basin also brought in workers from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The opening of a hospital at Mud Lake (1912) and a boarding school at North West River(1926) by the International Grenfell Association helped support and stabilize settlement in the region.

The greatest boost to settlement in the upper Lake Melville region came during World War II when in 1941 Goose Bay was chosen as the site for a major air force base and airport. The first wave of in-migrants, drawn by the attraction of wage construction jobs, came mainly from coastal Labrador. Many eventually settled in the newly created community of Happy Valley. Expansion of the Goose Air Base in the 1950s brought in a second wave in-migrants, but now mainly from Newfoundland. By the 1970s the Happy Valley-Goose Bay area had a combined population of over 7000 people and had become the major central place and service centre in Labrador.

While a major centre of Euro-Labradorian population was emerging in the Happy Valley-Goose Bay area in the 1960s and 70s, three modern towns, Wabush, Labrador City and Churchill Falls were being created. Wabush and Labrador were developed in western Labrador by iron ore mining companies and populated mainly by Newfoundlanders, Labradorians and Quebecers. Churchill Falls represents a community of families from the same origins associated with the maintenance and operation of a major hydro-electric station on the Churchill (formerly Grand) River in central Labrador.
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