Diggin' Up Your Roots ... Greenspond

Nicholas Mercer
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It has been called the capital of the north. At one point in the town’s history, Greenspond, was the centre of activity on this side of Bonavista Bay. The small island can only be reached by crossing a causeway from Shamblers Cove. Houses, built seemingly on top of each other, face the cold winds coming off of the Atlantic Ocean. The people make their living from the sea and it has been the same since the towns settlement. For an area immersed in history, Greenspond boasts some of the more interesting stories you will find. From a rich history of sealing captains, to a courthouse that pre-dates the arrival the 20th century, Greenspond is a community like few others.

An island town

Greenspond’s history begins in a few years earlier than its recorded settlement date.

“As far as I know, in 1695 there were three dwellings here,” said Frank Blackwood of the Cape Freels Heritage Trust.

Those three dwellings were the only source of shelter on Greenspond for the next two years.

It was not until 1696 that there was a greater human presence on the small island in Bonavista Bay.

“There was 13 folk stayed over the winter,” said Mr. Blackwood. “Usually 1697 is the date they have been going with as the date that it was settled.”

The original settlers of Greenspond, like many other towns settled at the same time, were of English descent.

People made the journey from the new world to the old world from the west country in England – Dorset, Devon, Somerset, and Hamphsire.

Names like Bishop, Blandford, Harding, Hutchins, and Chaytor all settled in Greenspond.

The names can still be found in families on the island today.

When these settlers landed in Greenspond, they were met by a network of small islands that would make up the town.

Islands with names like Batterton, Ship, Newell’s, Pig, Maiden, Horse, Puffin, and Copper, with Greenspond being the largest of them all.

Up until 1951, Greenspond was only accessible by boat.

In that year, the town was incorporated and construction began on the causeway, which connects Greenspond to the Newfoundland mainland.

At the height of it’s growth, Greenspond boasted a population that reached into the 1,800s, remarkable for a rural community in Newfoundland at the time.

Today, less than 400 people call it home.

Live by the sea

The fishery has been the main source of industry in Greenspond since 1697.

It will probably remain that way until the sea no longer continues to produce plentiful bounty.

“Fishing was abundant here in the 1600s,” said Mr. Blackwood.

A lot of this had to do with location.

“It was not until 50 years ago that there was really good transportation,” he said. “The sea was your highway.”

This made Greenspond a hub for fishing activity in the area.

It is not only the inshore fishery that the people of Greenspond became known for.

Each year they would make the journey to the shores of Labrador to find codfish.

As time went on, this turned out to be successful venture, and by mid- 19th century, Greenspond had become a prime supply centre and clearing for the Labrador fishery.

In 1838, a customs collector was placed in the area by the colonial government.

Greenspond has a rich history in the seal hunt.

“There are many famous sealing captains from Greenspond,” said Mr. Blackwood.

Historian Judge D.W. Prowse said in a study he did on the area that in 1807 six ships left from Bonavista and Greenspond with 64 men.

In 1860, Greenspond saw 18 ships leave its harbour for the seal hunt, each with a crew of 20 men.

“The sea was your highway.” Frank Blackwood

It was such a prominent industry that most of the sealing captains and crews were drawn from Greenspond itself.

Ships would leave St. John’s and Conception Bay in the fall of the year and anchor in Greenspond until the hunt began in the spring.

Captains like Darius Blandford, who made the quickest trip on record, and Peter Carter, who holds the record for the heaviest load of seals in history, all hail from Greenspond.

It was not only the shipping aspect of the sealing that Greenspond was famous for.

It held an advantageous position because it was in the path of the northern ice flow.

This allowed residents to simple walk out onto the ice flows.

Mr. Prowse recorded that in 1860, 80 men took 17,000 seals in nets.

Capital of the North

Greenspond has often been called the Capital of the North.

It has a lot to do with the islands proximity to the main sea-lanes, as well as the personnel who were stationed in Greenspond.

“The doctor was stationed here, the magistrate was here, a customs office was here,” said Mr. Blackwood. “The clergyman from the various denominations were stationed in Greenspond.

“All of the fish merchants were here.”

This made Greenspond a hub for the region.

Companies like P. H. Hutchens and Sons, Fisherman Union Trading Company, Ridley and Sons, and William Cox and Co.

“Those folks came from England around the mid-1800s arrived,” said Mr. Blackwood.

There were an abundance of tradesmen on the island because of its reputation as a major trading and supply centre.

Blacksmiths, cobblers, and carpenters flocked to Greenspond to be a part of the growing community.

How did it get its name?

Many communities that dot the Newfoundland coastline have a name that has befuddled historians for ages.

Greenspond is no different.

No one is quite sure how Greenspond came to be known as Greenspond.

There are a couple of different stories are floating around out there.

“One rumour says the first two settlers in the area were the Greens and the Ponds,” said Mr. Blackwood. “They just combined both of the names.”

The other rumour centres the origins of its name on the image of the harbour basin.

“Some say it is because the water in the harbour looks like a pond,” he said.

The green aspect of the name takes its origins from the green foliage that is abundant on the island.

On sunny days, the green is reflected in the water of the harbour basin, creating a green hue in the water.

Previous to Greenspond, the island had another name.

According to the French Colonial office records, the island was referred to as Grin d’Espagne.

Translated it means the Grin of Spain.

Organizations: Roots, Cape Freels Heritage Trust, P. H. Hutchens and Sons Fisherman Union Trading Company French Colonial Church of England Salvation Army Anglican church Anglican school Newfoundland School Society

Geographic location: Greenspond, Newfoundland, Bonavista Bay England Somerset Conception Bay Spain Stephen

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Recent comments

  • Hubert Oldford
    February 07, 2015 - 08:46

    my father Walter oldford was born there in 1921, his grandfather was Walter Dyke, My fathers mother was Lillian Dyke.

  • Jason saunders
    February 04, 2015 - 23:01

    visit Facebook page - it all started in greenspond.

  • Barry White
    February 04, 2015 - 16:11

    Genealogy data can be found for this area on the NGB web site. http://ngb.chebucto.org/Bonavista/index-bb.shtml

  • George Burry
    December 13, 2014 - 19:06

    A few pics. of Greenspond, NL.

  • Mary Goodman
    June 28, 2013 - 14:15

    My grandfather Tobias Green was born in 1870, his father Benjamin Green was born in 1830 and his wife Francis Stratton was born in 1830 also. Any information about my family available?

  • Roderick Brentnall
    October 15, 2011 - 19:09

    Interesting to read of the Rev George Smith of Trinity Bonavista and England. He was the grandfather of my g g g g grandmother Mary Smith Oakley (1809-1956) of Greenspond who married John Thorne Oakley (1799 - 1878) in 1824 in Greenspond. Connected to this line are Bellows Hill Angel Stroud Pitt to name a few. Great read!

    • david warren
      May 13, 2013 - 10:56

      My mother, Minnie Kathleen Oakley born late 1800, early 1900, was born in Greenspond. Do you have any information on the Oakleys?

  • Peter Kirby
    September 29, 2011 - 20:59

    I assume it is a typo but the causeway was built around 1981 not 1951.

    • Mary Burry-Ndwiga
      February 04, 2015 - 08:37

      Yes, it has to be a typo.... I got married in 1981 and went to Greenspond to visit my grandparents and we took the boat.

    • Mark Williams
      September 27, 2015 - 13:30

      Mary Burry-Ndwiga, By chance, have you any connection to Zacchaeus (1864-1953) & Johanna (1868-1955)Burry?

  • Jim Stratton
    September 29, 2011 - 11:20

    ...my roots show me that a Thomas Stratton settled here around 1720...A great article, thank you for publishing.