History of Shoal Harbour

(inc. 1972; pop. 1991, 1402). Historically a sawmilling and lumbering community, Shoal Harbour is located on the western side of Trinity Bay, just north of Clarenville . In 1993 Shoal Harbour was largely a residential community for the regional service centre of Clarenville, and in that year the two communities were amalgamated as the municipality of Clarenville-Shoal Harbour (later changed to the town of Clarenville). The community of Shoal Harbour predates its larger neighbor.

Located several miles from the open ocean and sheltered by Random Island, the Shoal Harbour area was used for winter woods work by fishing communities near Trinity and on the other side of Trinity Bay from the early 1800s. In the winter of 1847-48 two brothers named Tilley of Hant's Harbour began winter work in the area and soon decided to settle year-round, building a sawmill in 1853. Joseph Tilley settled at Little Shoal Harbour (now a part of Clarenville), while ``Scholar'' John Tilley  is traditionally regarded as the founder of Shoal Harbour. John Tilley was visited by the Rev. Henry Pedley in 1859, who noted that he ``had no time to visit his saw-mill, or to take a walk into the country to see the large pines, now only to be met with some three miles in. But I saw his farm, a good extent of land for these parts, bearing fine crops of potatoes, oats and grass'' (cited in Tocque). Shoal Harbour first appears in the Census of 1857, with a population of 23. Like many of the people of Hant's Harbour, the Tilley's were Wesleyan Methodists, and by 1866 had constructed the first church in the area. The first resident clergyman was William Swann , who came there in 1871.

The Tilley's were soon joined by other families, many of whom were related by marriage or were also from Hant's Harbour. Common family names of Shoal Harbour by the 1890s included Butler, Clinch, Ivany, Lowe, Palmer, Tuck, Tilley and Wiseman. There were 104 people by 1891. In that year the railway line was built through Shoal Harbour, leaving the coast to follow the Shoal Harbour River across the base of the Bonavista Peninsula to Port Blandford . The line provided better access to the country around Thorburn Lake which had come to supply the sawmills of Shoal Harbour. By this time, however, the pine which had originally attracted settlement was largely cut out and many people began to work in railway construction, or left Shoal Harbour for seasonal woods work in the area around Port Blandford. Still, by 1901 the population of Shoal Harbour had increased to 178. Meanwhile, control of most of the usable land in the community passed out of the hands of the Tilley family. The Tilley sawmill was closed in about 1900.

Forest fires in 1892 and 1903 damaged timber in the area, while the earlier blaze burned the Shoal Harbour Methodist church and several dwellings. Subsequently sawmilling interests were reorganized to log Random Island and, after the completion of a branch railway from Shoal Harbour to Bonavista in 1911, the interior of the Bonavista Peninsula. Production shifted from lumber to more specialized mills, such as the box mill established by the Wiseman family (largely producing biscuit boxes) and a cooperage established by William Mills and Sons to the north of Shoal Harbour. After the completion of the Bonavista branch railway Mills Siding grew to rival Shoal Harbour ``proper'' and was the location of the Mills family mill and general business. In 1935 the population of Shoal Harbour and Mills Siding was 310.

In 1935 the population of Clarenville was also 310, but Shoal Harbour's neighboring community soon experienced a major period of growth, as an asphalt and creosote plant was built near the Clarenville railway yard, followed by a shipyard in 1942. There were almost 1000 people in Clarenville by 1945 and services for the area soon became more concentrated in the larger centre. There was a major influx of people from resettled fishing communities in the 1960s (from 1966 to 1976 the population of Shoal Harbour grew from 568 to 1009). Subsequently, much of the growth of Shoal Harbour has been tied to developments in Clarenville.

Huntley Butler (letter, 1979, Smallwood files), D.B. Mills (MHG 102-B-1-29), Philip Tocque (1877), Carol Tulk (MHG 41-D-1-26), Census (1857-1991), McAlpine's Newfoundland Directory (1894), Archives (A-7-2/M/21), Newfoundland Historical Society (Shoal Harbour).