Past and Present
By Erin Foley
Fox Harbour is a Placentia Bay community situated 14 km north of Dunville, approximately 50 km from the TCH and 120 km. from St. John's. From just about anywhere in Fox Harbour you can look out over the harbour and see the northside of Argentia across the water. Fox Harbour is surrounded by many tall hills. Many people who come to Fox Harbour hike up these hills, taking their camera along with them to take pictures of the breathtaking view over the whole harbour.
The present population of the town is 634. There is a convenience store/takeout in the community, a bed and breakfast, and two construction businesses. There is also a post office, fire station, and a library in Fox Harbour. The library is located in the town council building and at one time, the library in Fox Harbour was the only one in the area outside of Placentia. The nearest gas station is in Dunville, which is ten minutes away by car.
Fox Harbour was
originally a fishing community, but in the last few years the number
of fishermen in Fox Harbour has declined. However, you will still
find many boats afloat along Fox Harbour's docks that are still in
use. Most of the people who live in Fox Harbour are employed in the
surrounding communities, largely Placentia. It can indeed be said
that some of the finest ball players around came from Fox
In Fox Harbour you can find many scenic wonders. Whether it be in summer or winter, the view of Fox Harbour and from Fox Harbour is spectacular.
When you first enter into Fox harbour, you descend a hill called Birchy Hill. This hill is closed in by many different types of vegetation. Trees such as birch, juniper, spruce, fir, dogwood and alders are mixed throughout. In the fall, coming down this hill is a treat in itself. Beautiful colors of crimson, gold and the green from the pine trees blend perfectly. A little further down the road you will come across a lovely sight known as Little Falls. This is a small version of a waterfall which is just as breathtaking as some of the larger ones. Little Falls is one of Fox Harbour's natural wonders. Deeper into the harbour you can find two more hills: Crow Hill and Burnt Hill. Crow Hill is found on the right side of the harbour. This is a large hill which seems to look out over the town. It also contains a trail for sightseers who would like to hike to the top. Once on the top, the view of the whole harbour is spectacular. Burnt Hill is located on the left side of Fox Harbour and tends to border the other side. If you travel to the top of Cemetery hill, which leads to Fox Harbour's graveyard, you can see over the harbour and out into Placentia Bay. Different islands, such as Fox Island, Burke Island, Long Island, Merasheen Island in Placentia Bay can be seen from Burnt Hill. Also the view of the water from Fox Harbour is wonderful and during the summer, you can see the ferry coming into Argentia from the right side of the harbour.
The community of Fox Harbour has been settled since the early 1800's when three families headed by George, Martin, and Matthew Spurvey arrived from England. All of them returned to England in the 1820's except for a Matthew Spurvey. Other families had settled in Fox Harbour by then with the arrival of Healey, Kelly, and Dreaddy families from Ireland in 1806. It is uncertain why people settled in Fox Harbour. One commonly held theory is that people moved there because land around the Placentia harbours was already claimed. Another theory claims that people were hoping to get away from the French vessels and pirates. It is said that the name Fox Harbour originated from the large numbers of foxes that used to come down to the fishflakes and eat the drying cod.
The community was listed in the census of 1836 together with Ship Harbour and Seal Cove and the three shared a population of 42 people, all Roman Catholic. There were six dwellings in the communities and five boats at that time. By 1857 Fox Harbour warranted its own listing in the census with a population of 147. There were 14 boats operating out of the harbour and about 80 people involved in various aspects of the fishery. In 1869 there were 218 inhabitants, all of whom were Roman Catholic. Some people started emigrating to the United States, but numbers continued to increase as new families moved to 'the Harbour' and brought the population up to 471 by 1921. New families continued to move into Fox Harbour from other parts of Placentia Bay with the start of the Argentia Naval base in the 1940's. By 1961, the population was 746, the community was incorporated in 1964, and the council building was opened in 1969. When the base phased down in the 1970's more people left the community in search of work in St. John's and other Canadian cities. The population declined to 627 in 1976. Today there are over 600 people in the town of Fox Harbour.
Local fisherman caught cod primarily and like fishermen in Fox Harbour today they supplemented their earnings with other species such as lobster, salmon and herring. French fishermen were buying herring from local fishermen in the late 1800's and some Fox Harbour men were bringing their catch into St. John's. A fair amount of trade was taking place with American and Nova Scotian traders. Illegal trading with St. Pierre also appeared to be a source of revenue for fishermen. This was quite risky at the time, but the rewards must have been high for men to take such risks. There were three lobster factories in 1891, but landings were low by 1900 when only 43 cases of lobster were retrieved from 390 traps. Although the fishery continued to be important for many years, toward the later part of the 1800's people had jobs in lumbering, and railway and road. This was probably a prosperous time for the fishery according to the number of stores in the community. In the early 1900's Thomas Duke, Patrick Healey, Peter Healey and Patrick Hearn were all operating stores in Fox Harbour. Many people left the fishery to work at the base in the 1940's and, as a result, activity in the fishery declined. When the base was phased down in 1970, people began returning to the fishery once again for employment.
Some saw milling was undertaken in the community, and a Mr. Healey of Fox Harbour built a waterwheel early in the twentieth century to harness power on Little Fox Pond and Fox Pond. In 1970 remains of this wheel could still be seen on the north side of the road leading to Fox Harbour. Gasoline engines powered later mills and some of the timber cut was used by the Silver Cliff Mining Company of Argentia from 1922 to 1925.
Despite the high numbers of Roman Catholics in the community the first church wasn't built until 1890. Prior to that the nearest church was in Little Placentia which is now Argentia. People travelled there by boat, for there was no road connecting the communities until much later. In October, 1919 the first church was torn down and the foundation stone for a new church was laid on the same site. Fox Harbour became a parish (Sacred Heart Parish) in 1945. Father O'Brien was the visiting priest from Argentia at the time and Father Penney was appointed the first parish priest. Sacred Heart Church is still serving the needs of Roman Catholics in Fox Harbour.
The railroad connecting St. John's to Argentia was put through in the 1880's. The Ville Marie station was built in 1888. From there Fox Harbour residents could take a train to Argentia or St. John's. It was not uncommon for people to walk to the railroad station at Ville Marie, about four miles from the harbour. Fox Harbour had its own local road from 1892 to 1920. However a road connecting to other parts was not actually built until the 1950's and then it was put there mainly because of the Argentia naval base. The road was paved in 1972, making things a lot easier for the many people commuting to work daily.
Fox Harbour was said to be quite shook up by the tidal wave in 1929. It shook dishes in cupboards and destroyed boats and fishing gear. Some people thought it was the end of the world.
With the nearest hospital in Placentia and no roads connecting to it, the people in Fox Harbour had to rely heavily on homemade remedies. Dick Davis was something of a legend in this regard. He was a blacksmith who performed all sorts of medical duties in the community and was thus called a doctor. He set bones and stitched cuts and had a number of remedies for stopping bleeding. These included using cork and turpentine. At the time, he was considered a lifesaver in the community. He was regarded by the people as a genius. Today, Fox Harbour medical needs are served by doctors clinics in Placentia, by a new hospital complex located in Placentia, and by hospitals located in St. John's, depending on the nature of the medical condition.
In 1857 there was a school listed in Fox Harbour with 32 children attending classes. This was not the first school, for a report by a Roman Catholic school inspector indicates that the first school had been established in 1848. As time went on the school building situation was far from ideal. The school was too small to accommodate everyone so some children were taught in old uninhabited houses. The school became part of the parish hall when it was built in 1900.
St. Regis, a new two-room school, was built in 1946 and was enlarged 10 years later. It eventually provided for the needs of the community. High school students were bused to Laval in Placentia beginning September, 1968 until September 1978 when St. Anne's Academy opened in Dunville. This gave students the opportunity to get their high school education closer to home. However, in September, 1996, things changed again with the reorganization of schools in the area and high school students were required once again to attend Laval High in Placentia, a trend which will probably continue for some time.
St. Regis school in Fox Harbour no longer exists. Now the kindergarten to grade six students from Fox Harbour attend St. Anne's Academy in Dunville. A couple of years ago the school was torn down because it had not been in use for a few years.
There is a legend that came from Fox Harbour about a woman whom they call the "Lady in White." The story is that many, many years ago, a young man and woman had fallen in love and gotten married. As they were riding along the path after their marriage,in the area by the bridge along Fox Harbour road, their horse lost control and the carriage in which the couple was riding crashed into the river below. People say that after midnight, a woman appears, and she lingers around the place of her death in search of her husband. It is said that she is very old looking and has long grey hair and that she is still wearing her wedding dress that she died in all those years ago. Strangely, there has been no recollection of the woman's husband who died with her. People claim that they have actually seen the "Lady in White" in the area mentioned.
In recent years, the people of Fox Harbour decided to dedicate a week (usually in July) to celebrate Fox Harbour and its people. Every year, the citizens in the town invite their relatives and former residents of Fox Harbour home for a week of fun and festivities. It is also a time for everyone to see people that they have not seen for years, which is the probably the main reason why the festival takes place and why so many people come home.
During the festival, many events take place. There are dances for both children and adults. There are also many variety shows throughout the week in which many local artists and performers take part. There is also a parish garden party at this time, which includes food, games, music and lasts usually from about lunch time to supper time. Also, some of the local fishermen offer their boats for the occasion and take small groups on a small tour of Fox Harbour and the surrounding areas. Lastly, it has become tradition to play exhibition softball games during the festival between the families and friends of Fox Harbour. This is an exceptionally special time for many men and women of Fox Harbour because they get the chance to play the sport that they grew up with.
Just off Fox Harbour road about halfway between Dunville and Fox Harbour is Fox Harbour Park. This site offers a camping area, a picnic area, a swimming area and a walking trail leading from the park to Fox Harbour. The park is frequently used by the residents of Fox Harbour and by other nearby towns during the summer. It is mostly used however, by young children and teenagers for swimming.
Also, directly in the town are a playground and a ballfield for the recreational purposes of the residents. Both the playground and the ballfield are used during the whole summer by the children involved in the recreation program which is coordinated by Fox Harbour's Recreation Commission.
An area called
the neck in Fox Harbour is used mainly for recreational
purposes too. It is a great area for swimming and people go there
many times during the summer to catch caplin when they are
Sources for Historical Information
Smallwood, Joseph R. (1984) Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John's: Newfoundland Book Publishers.
Women's Institute. (1970). Home of Wooden Boats and Iron Men. Dunville: Women's Institute.
of Continuing Studies and Extension, Memorial University. (1988).
Decks Awash. The Placentia Area. May - June ed.
This Page is part of a Historical and Cultural Web Site created by students of Laval High School, Placentia, NFLD (A0B 2Y0) Edited February, 2000