Building a new future for Battle Harbour: A Land & Sea archival special
With the moratorium in place, a group in Battle Harbour was restoring buildings from the community's rich past
By the early 1990s, Battle Harbour was a long way from the glory days of its fishery. The town, once referred to as the capital of Labrador, had once been a busy port, boasting the Big Land's first ranger station, telegraph office and hospital. But with the fish dried up and many families no longer living there, Battle Harbour risked dying by the time the cod moratorium came down.
But when Land & Sea visited in 1995, there were plans afoot to give the town a new future — not the same as the one it once had, but one that relied on that history to bring people back to Labrador's coast, even if only for a visit or over the summer.
Beginning in the late 1700s with the arrival of the John Slade Co. of England, Battle Harbour was long the salt fish capital of Labrador. The harbour was lined on both sides with homes, schooners and salmon collectors, said Ben Butt, who was born there in 1930 and had lived there all his life.
"Look when you like, you could see a boat coming or going," Butt said.
At the high point, 50 crews fished out of Battle Harbour, and 20 salmon crews. By the mid 1990s, there were just two. With the fishery all but gone, a local group began working on restoring the town's buildings to what they had once been in the hopes to bringing in tourists and their income.
The group began by restoring the town's church, the second-oldest wooden Anglican church in the province. A historic trust was born, and work began on other buildings like the old salt store or a private home built in the 1840s.
"We're restoring it as close as we can to its original state," said site foreman Clem Morgan of the latter, believed to be the oldest private residence still standing on the coast.
For people like Jim and Yvonne Jones, the restoration work being done in Battle Harbour gave them the means to continue their family's connection to the place. The couple had acquired the town's old store, which once supplied Labrador's entire south coast, and hoped to run it in the summers as tourist groups were beginning to stop in the community.
"I think for both of us, it's just that it is a clear picture of how our families grew up, the way that they lived, how they made a living," Yvonne Jones said, "and I think it's that part of it that means so much to us."