Tourism, Culture and heritage

Our beginnings

Harbour Main was the earliest settled of the three communities. In its early history, many planters or masters owned fishing rooms with indentured servants who were tasked with fishing, cleaning, and salting fish, among other duties. The masters were most commonly English and the servants were often Irish.

Servants who escaped from St. John’s (and were then considered fugitives from the law) frequently took refuge in Harbour Main, earning it the unofficial name of Rogues’ Roost.

The first census of Newfoundland, as conducted by John Berry in 1675, states that an Irishman named Jeremy Fortune was the first recorded resident of Harbour Main. Fortune had a fishing room but not a stage, apparently to avoid attracting unwanted attention from pirates and privateers. One of the few Irish plantation owners, Fortune was well established with an impressive fleet of five ships and twenty-seven servants.

During the 1650s, the only French settlement on the island was Plaisance (present day Placentia), but the French governor Jacques-Francois de Mombeton de Brouillan, in retaliation for English attacks on Plaisance, convinced the French to support an attack on the English and Irish coastal inhabitants.

In the winter of 1697, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville led the forces of New France on a land invasion of the Avalon Peninsula while Brouillan supported him by sea. D'Iberville led a force composed of people of New France, Acadians, Mi’kmaq and Abanakis along the coast, destroying 23 English settlements from Ferryland to Heart’s Content, killing 100 settlers and leading to the deportation of 500 more. Jeremy Fortune’s premises were burned to the ground.

D’Iberville returned to Harbour Main in 1705 and attempted to eradicate the town permanently. However, the English persevered and in 1746, a Carbonear man named Moore resettled and registered land that is now known as Moore’s Hill, opposite Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Hall. By 1774, Harbour Main was a booming business place with many settlers and 34 fishing stages.

(Photo Credit: Our People, Our Church: Sts. Peter and Paul Parish)

(Photo Credit: Wayne Walsh)

By the late 18th century, most inhabitants of the area were descendants of people from England and Ireland, with some exceptions. The Lacours and Fureys were French Huguenots (Protestants from Northern France) who came to the area via Jersey, the Channel Islands, England. The Ezekiels, who were Jewish, also came from Jersey.

The 1805 census done for Governor Sir Erasmus Gower recorded the following English names in the area: Woodford, Wall, Penny, Hicks, Barrett, English, Baker and Mason. Irish names recorded in Harbour Main included Keating, Kennedy, O’Neil, Terry, Meany, Gorman, Joy, McDonald, Hickey, Sullivan and Mullowney.

By 1836 Harbour Main had a population of 550 living in 81 dwellings that were large enough to house the servants engaged in fishing. The 1857 census reveals that between 1836 and 1857, the population of the area had increased by 300 people, 52 of whom had been born in Ireland.

Our Livelihoods

The early settlers of Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview earned their living primarily by fishing, participating in the shore fishery, the Banks fishery and the Labrador fishery. Since most fish was sold for credit, not cash, and there was little manufactured in the country, people supplemented what they earned from the fishery by planting gardens and by wooding, foraging and hunting.

The gardens produced enough root vegetables and hay to feed family and some livestock, usually including a horse. Settlers kept a few hens and sheep, maybe a pig, and along with rabbits, partridge, turrs, and occasionally a seal, the diet would have been monotonous but adequate.

Cutting and hauling wood, for which a horse was almost essential, produced longers for fences and flakes, timber for houses and sheds, and fuel for heat and cooking. It was probably unending drudgery for old and young alike, but presumably it was better than what they had left back in England and Ireland.

Berry picking was a more welcome diversion, particularly for girls and women who rarely got far from home. Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview is still a prime place to find berries, particularly blueberries, and people come from other communities in the fall to harvest the hills and barrens.

Beginning in the 1890s, men from Conception Bay centre began to migrate annually to New York to work in high steel. The work was hard and dangerous but compared to working on open boats in the North Atlantic, it was well paid, and it used the skills in rigging and hauling that the fishery had taught so well. It was "stay and starve or find work elsewhere."

The Great War and the Depression of the 1930s was devastating for everyone in the country and Harbour Main was no exception. The downturn in the fishery at that time meant that men had to look elsewhere for work, and as soon as World War Two brought the Americans to the island, many people abandoned fishing entirely and went to work either on the nearby Bases (Argentia, Gander, Stephenville, and Fort Pepperrel) or away in the Boston States and beyond.

The ironworkers of Conception Harbour, Avondale and Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview were famous for their ironworking skills and bravery and were welcome all over the United States and beyond. Some stayed and made their homes in the US, but many returned each fall to their families in Conception Bay.

Our Church

It was only after Bishop James O'Donel arrived in Newfoundland with permission from the Governor in 1784 that Catholicism could be practiced openly.

The first priests who served the district were Irish priests stationed in Harbour Grace and visited parishioners in the Harbour Main district's villages infrequently. The first chapel was built sometime after 1811 but before 1818, but the area was still serviced by priests from Harbour Grace until 1833 when it came under the supervision of St. Patrick's Parish at Brigus. In 1857, the parish of Sts. Peter and Paul was established. In 1917, Father R.M. Shea of Brigus began building the church that is currently in use.

(Photo Credit: Our People, Our Church: Sts. Peter and Paul Parish)

(Photo Credit: Our People, Our Church: Sts. Peter and Paul Parish)

(Photo Credit: Our People, Our Church: Sts. Peter and Paul Parish – painting by former resident T.S.A. Freeman)

The current church was designed and built by a native of Harbour Main, Nicholas LaCour. LaCour worked as a carpenter specializing in bridge-building in Newfoundland and Canada, but he eventually returned home and dedicated himself to building churches. Lacour designed and erected the three Gothic altars for Sts. Peter and Paul Church, one of which he donated to the church.

Sts. Peter and Paul hold regular mass in the Church, Sundays at 9:30 am, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:00 am.

Our Literary Legacy

Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview has a legacy of storytellers, singers, and writers.

Foremost among the traditional oral poets is John Costigan, known as "Johnny the Light." Johnny the Light was born in 1892 in Gallows Cove, Harbour Main. He and his twin brother were the keepers of the lighthouse at Salmon Cove Point, but in 1932, while rounding the head near Ram's Horn Bight with a load of coal, their punt was swamped and both men were dumped into the freezing sea. Only Johnny survived.

He tended the lighthouse for decades but is best remembered as a folk historian and poet. He often composed works to memorialize local events and performed them at community events right up into his nineties, from "The Frolic, 1913" to "Tribute to the Centennial" of 1982. He died at the age of 93.

Joe Costigan, the son of Johnny the Light, along with his wife Deborah, digitized many of Johnny's poems after his death, but Joe, too, was a noted folk poet. Some of his work was published in The Shoreline newspaper.

Johnny LaCour's "Red Cap Hole," about the area near the lighthouse where fishermen used to take shelter, is one of the few of LaCour's surviving songs. It appears in the book Our People...Our Church, published to commemorate the one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish. Included in that volume is "Dear Old Chapel's Cove" by Eddie Fahey, a lament for the author's home, as well as two songs by Hubert Furey.

Hubert Furey is well-known as a storyteller of rural life inspired by the people he met as an educator and resident of Harbour Main. Since his 2016 live performance of the comic tale "Raisin Bread," Hubert has performed at venues throughout Newfoundland. He has published two books, As the Old Folks Would Say and The Present.

Newfoundland and Labrador's foremost poet, Mary Dalton, was born and raised in Lakeview. Dalton is the author of five books of poetry, including Merrybegot, Red Ledger and Hooking: A Book of Centos and as well as poetry chapbooks Between You and the Weather and WasteGround.

Patrick Kavanagh grew up in Harbour Main and wrote the novel, Gaff Topsails in 2005. The community of Gaff Topsails is an outport modelled on Harbour Main prior to Confederation and includes fictionalized events and people from Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview.

Writer Robin McGrath was born in St. John's but married into an old Harbour Main family and retired with her husband, John Joy, to that community.

She is the author or editor of 25 books including award-winning poetry and novels. McGrath is a long-time columnist for the Northeast Avalon Times and a regular contributor to a number of magazines and journals.

Esther Slaney Brown, who was born in Chapel's Cove, published her first book Labours of Love: Midwives of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2007.

Stories from our Past

Cat’s Cove Ruffians

With Catholic emancipation in 1829, many restrictions on Catholics were lifted. Irish Catholics dominated the Newfoundland legislature from 1830 to 1860. The formerly dominant Protestants found this situation intolerable. Curiously, it was friction within the Catholic community that brought that era to an end.

In the 1861 election, in the districts of Harbour Main and Harbour Grace, while all the candidates were Catholics, only one pair in each district had the backing of church officials.

Father Kyran Walsh, parish priest of Harbour Main, backed candidates G. J. Hogsett and Charles Furey against Patrick Nowlan and Thomas Byrne. The voters of Salmon Cove (today called Avondale), who also favoured Hogsett and Fury, had to go the poll in Cat's Cove (now Conception Harbour) where voters favoured Nowlan and Byrne.

On polling day, fearing interference with Salmon Cove voters by Cat's Cove people, Father Walsh led a contingent of 300 men from Harbour Main to Cat's Cove where, inevitably, violence broke out. One man, George Furey, was killed and several others were wounded.

At Harbour Main, returning officer Pat Strapp was forced to declare Hogsett and Furey the winners, but subsequently endorsed a writ saying Nowlan and Byrne had the most votes. When this was discovered, Strapp’s life was threatened, his cattle killed and his house and outbuildings burned down.

According to Cyril Byrne, a number of men from Cat’s Cove were tried for the murder but none were convicted, and they returned home to shouts of celebration.

Bishop Mullock was so incensed that he placed Cat's Cove under interdict, closing the church and forbidding the celebration of mass or the administration of the sacraments for a full year. Patrick O'Flaherty wrote that the interdict was referred to as the "Curse of Cain" and to this day, people of Conception Harbour are often referred to as "Cat's Cove Ruffians."


Byrne, Cyril J. "The Church on the History of the Parish of Harbour Main," in Our People...Our Church, ed.. Rev. J. Glavin. Harbour Main NL: n.p., (1983).

O'flaherty, Patrick. Lost Country: The Rise and Fall of Newfoundland 1843-1933. St. John's NL: Long Beach Press, 2005.


Indentured servants were men and women who signed a contract (also known as an indenture or a covenant) by which they agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for transportation to Newfoundland, food and shelter.

Plantation. Every fishing property usually included a planter's house, a store with goods and supplies, and cabins for fishing equipment and the crews.

Privateers were essentially pirates with government protection in order to pursue less than legal goals in wealth, dominance, and control of the seas

Longer, lunger. A long tapering pole, usually a conifer with bark left on, used in constructing roofs, floors, surfaces of stages and flakes, etc; fence, rail.

Sources of Information on the History of Harbour Main:

Browne, W. J. "In Praise of Our Land: IV - The Old District of Harbour Main”, Newfoundland Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 4 (April 1935): pp. 5-11.

Byrne, John P. "A History of Harbour Main", a paper written for History 231, a course at Memorial University, no date.

Glavine, Rev. J. “Our People...Our Church 1857-1982”. Sts. Peter and Paul Parish: Harbour Main, Chapel's Cove, Lakeview, NL, 1983.

Strapp, Alice. "History of Harbour Main." A paper prepared for Professor Matthews of the Memorial University Dept. of History, no date.

Williams, Alan F. “Father Baudoin's War: D'Iberville's Campaigns in Acadia and Newfoundland 1696, 1697”. St. John's: Memorial University of Nfld.,1968.

NOTE: There is a list of the twenty identifiable graves in the old Irish cemetery located between Woodford's Road and the Post Office to be found in the Heritage file of the Town Council office and in the Sts. Peter and Paul Parish Office in the Parish Hall building. Vertical files on family names of Harbour Main, Chapel's Cove, Lakeview, along with other useful information, can be accessed at the Holyrood Public Library, and there are also vertical files on the community in the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, MUN, and at the A.C. Hunter Library in the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's. Both student papers and topic and place files are held in the Folklore Archive at MUN.