Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador Canada

Discovering Harbour Grace, Newfoundland Labrador: A Historical and Touristic Overview

Harbour Grace, Newfoundland Labrador, is a town steeped in history and natural beauty. Nestled in Conception Bay on the Avalon Peninsula, Harbour Grace is one of the oldest towns in North America, tracing its roots back to the 16th century. Today, it is home to a population of 2,796 (as of 2021), primarily engaged in fishing and fish processing.

The Rich History of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland Labrador

Founded in 1517 by French king Francis I, Harbour Grace quickly became an important port and fishing centre. By 1550, it was a thriving seasonal fishing community, with permanent settlement beginning in 1583. The town was named after Havre de Grâce (now Le Havre), France, a common trade destination for fishermen from the British Channel Islands and West Country.

In 1610, pirate Peter Easton made Harbour Grace his headquarters, establishing a fort overlooking the bay. Despite attacks by the French, the settlement survived throughout the 17th century. In 1618, Bristol's Society of Merchant Venturers received a charter from King James I of England to establish a settlement near Harbour Grace, "Bristol's Hope", appointing Robert Hayman as its first Proprietary Governor.

Over the years, control of Harbour Grace became a point of contention between the English and the French. Despite being razed by the French in 1697 and 1700, and briefly captured in 1762, the population grew. By 1771, the population was close to 5,800. The town continued to grow, peaking in population in 1921 with 11,458 residents.

As trans-Atlantic aviation became more popular in the 1920s and 1930s, many aviation pioneers, including Amelia Earhart and Thor Solberg, chose to make their crossing from the nearby Harbour Grace airfield. In July 1941, the Royal Canadian Navy established a High Frequency Direction Finding wireless station on the airfield. After WWII, the airstrip was left to deteriorate but was restored to a usable condition in 1977.

Harbour Grace, Newfoundland Labrador: A Snapshot of Demographics

According to the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Harbour Grace had a population of 2,796 living in 1,307 of its 1,483 total private dwellings. This represented a change of -6.6% from its 2016 population of 2,995. With a land area of 33.71 km2 (13.02 sq mi), it had a population density of 82.9/km2 (214.8/sq mi) in 2021.

Historical Highlights of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland Labrador

Harbour Grace has a rich history, with many notable events and landmarks. The first English account of the capture of St. John's by the French came from Harbour Grace Island in 1708. Laurence Coughlan, credited as the founder of Methodism in Newfoundland, laid the foundations of Newfoundland's first Methodist movement when he served as an Anglican priest in Harbour Grace from 1766 to 1773.

The Harbour Grace Court House, constructed in 1830, is the oldest surviving public building in the province and a National Historic Site of Canada. St. Paul's Anglican Church in Harbour Grace, built in 1835, is the oldest stone church in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Harbour Grace Regatta, held annually since 1862, is the second-oldest continuing sporting event in North America.

The first railway line in Newfoundland was completed to Harbour Grace in 1884. The first flight by a Canadian from North America to England embarked October 9, 1930, in the plane Maple Leaf (aka Columbia), piloted by Capt. J. Erroll Boyd and navigated by the American, Lieut. Harry Connor. Amelia Earhart took flight from Harbour Grace on May 20, 1932, to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Today, Harbour Grace continues its tradition as a fishing and fish processing centre. In addition, because of its rich history and many historical buildings, including the 1870 customs house, now the Conception Bay Museum, a small tourist industry is emerging. The Gordon G. Pike Railway Heritage Museum and Park (c. 1881–1884) was designated a Municipal Heritage Building in 2006.