The rise and fall of one of the last great logging villages of eastern Newfoundland and Labrador was the topic of a presentation last week at the Beaches Heritage Centre in Eastport.
Marine historian Dan Conlin delivered the presentation, which focused on the remote community of Minchins Cove, located within the boundaries of Terra Nova National Park.
Conlin, who works at the Marine Museum in Halifax, said because the community is located within park boundaries, there's a special case to be made for digging into its history. What Conlin discovered is that Minchins Cove is an excellent example of the province's logging history.
"This little cove is really a microcosm for thousands of families of Newfoundlanders who lived in the woods. There's hundreds of ghost towns all around Newfoundland and Labrador, but this one is in a National Park, so it's going to get a bit more attention," said Conlin.
Approximately 30 people attended the talk, which was held last Wednesday, to hear how the community came to be and its subsequent demise.
"1817 was the first time the name 'Minchins Cove' appeared in print on a map. However, there were two Minchins Coves, one in Clode Sound, one in Newman's Cove," began Conlin, explaining this probably happened because the original Minchin Family - who most likely came to the area by way of Bonavista - settled in various coves around Bonavista Bay.
"When a surveyor named Duke travelled around the cove, he described how every cove he came to had cabins and it was clear people were shifting from one cove to another. It appears the Minchin family had two camps and both coves named after them."
People remained nomadic throughout the area's existence, but by 1870 several families in the area had become well established, sending two schooners each year to the Labrador fishery, with another eight boats working the local sounds.
During Conlin's research, he conducted several interview with people who have a history in Minchin's Cove. Then, much like today, old anecdotes have bears featuring prominently.
He was told one story of a young man who went down to the wharf during squid season, "He went to the eastern part of the cove, jumped off the wharf onto the beach and landed on the back of a bear. Fortunately, both of them were unscathed by the incident," said Conlin.
On another occasion, a man bludgeoned a bear to death with just a stick and an axe after it had become caught in one of his snares. Apparently, the man forgot to bring his rifle with him and didn't feel much like going back for it, so he poked the bear with the stick and, when the bear was distracted, whacked it with the axe.
By the late 1880's, epidemics and a series of poor fishing and farming years had caused many deaths and discouraged others from permanently settling in the cove. By 1890 the settlement had been largely abandoned.
However, increasing demand for lumber and the advent of the railway made it possible for people to return to the area, which was abundant in hardwoods and close enough to deep water that schooners could pick up their loads close to the cove.
Soon, sawmills were cropping up in the area and people were returning, with one family in particular, the Kings, becoming fairly successful.
Conlin mentioned how the Kings had found a way to make use of the natural running water between Minchins Pond and the cove itself, and built a chute to run logs directly to the mill on the water.
"In many ways Newfoundlanders were ahead of their times . . . and they understood how to use water energy in order to become more efficient."
The King's operation thrived until about the 50s - largely out of their resourcefulness and frugality - when the whole area had been stripped of good lumber.
By that time, Newfoundland and Labrador had joined Confederation and the people wanted a national park to call their own.
The federal government bought any private land within the boundaries they had mapped for the park, but to this day remnants of Minchins Cove's settlements and the economy that flourished around them are still laying in wait to be rediscovered.
"The legacy of the mill is still there, you can still see the slab wood. Salt watery slabs last for a long time. It's also a popular destination for campers, especially where the mill used to be," said Conlin.
Afterward, Conlin explained to the Packet why it's important to consider the experience of people who have either lived through the events or had relatives who had, when it comes to telling the story of a specific location.
"I think it's important to combine oral history with documented history. Oral history records all kinds of things that weren't written down, but also people comments on the official written history. It's especially important for these small communities with no paper trail. These communities rose and fell with hardly anybody writing anything down. The oral history is critical."
In the case of Minchin's Cove, Conlin found the perseverance and tenacity of the Kings to be an interesting part of his research, but added none of that would have been uncovered if he didn't take the time to hear the stories.
"It sounds simplistic, but talk to the old timers and write it down. There's a hundred things we didn't know until we started doing interviews, so recording those is really important."