History & Genealogy
HISTORY OF BRIGUS
Written by Rev. Roland Wells
Just when Brigus was settled is uncertain. That there were plantations there soon after John Guy settled in Cupids, there can be little doubt. In any event Brigus is a very old settlement. It has had a number of spellings such as, Brigue, Breckhouse, Brighouse and Brigus.
When William III was on the Throne in 1695 a party under Boisbriand, one of D’lberville’s Lieutenants, was sent to burn Brigus. This would indicate that Brigus was a growing settlement at that time. The Brigus planters (fishermen) were very shrewd and built their houses among the woods, but it is given as tradition, that when the enemy on this occasion, were leaving the village of Brigus, the barking of a dog brought them back to finish their work of burning seven houses erected at Frog Marsh, the south side of Brigus.
By 1775 the population by an influx, particularly from England, Ireland and Wales progressed considerably. And Brigus became the most progressive and prosperous settlement in Conception Bay.
Brigus glided into the 19th Century with great ambitions for larger ships, in 1819 Capt. William Munden built in Brigus the "Four brothers" a ship of 104 tons, the first one hundred ton schooner in Newfoundland to prosecute the sealfishery. In 1847, 66 sailing vessels left Brigus for the sealfishery, and 33 of them were under the command of Brigus Masters.
Brigus was all alive in the early decades of the 19th Century, and her property was the envy of Conception Bay. But the introduction of steam gave Brigus a staggering blow, as it did to many fishing villages along the coast.
In political life Brigus played an important role. Her local men represented the people for quite some time. Men like Charles Cozens, Robert Brown, John Leamon, John Bartlett. Capt. Nathan Rabbits won the District in 1874. He was followed by Capt. Nathan Norman. In 1832 John Bartlett was again successful. The men of Brigus could manage a ship in the angry sea, and keep the House of Assembly from running on the rock of political misadventure.
There were many Arctic Heroes that came from Brigus. Capt. John Bartlett was an Arctic Hero with the American Explorer Hayes, and also with Admiral Peary. Capt. Sam Bartlett (younger brother of John) also took his place with Peary. Capt. Robert Bartlett was in charge of the S.S. Roosevelt on the great occasion when Peary claimed the North Pole. There were other Arctic Heroes that left their mark upon the town, Capt. Arthur Bartlett, Capt. William Norman (of the Battery) Brigus, who rescued Admiral
Greely when they were at death’s door from starvation. Capt. Isaac Bartlett another relative of the famous Bartlett family rescued Capt. Tyson and crew after drifting on an iceberg for 1500 miles. And we have with us today in Brigus Capt. William Bartlett, known as the Commodore of the sealing fleet in Newfoundland.
Brigus had her days of Adversity and days of prosperity. Perhaps her most prosperous period was from 1830-1880. During those days Brigus was regarded as one of the money centres of the island. Rev. Philip Tocque wrote of things as they were then, "The Mundens, Normans, Perceys, Whelans, Bartletts, Roberts and Wilcoxs reside here, who are some of the richest planters in Newfoundland.." He further adds, "Brigus is well cultivated and for the extent of population has a large number of good residences."
Brigus was a fishing community, and life was centered around the rocks and coves: Large fish stores and businesses were in evidence everywhere and sailing vessels and blacksmith shops were always a bee-hive of activity. Those who travel in the Town today can still see some of the old homes, rock walls and foundations, marking the place of yesterdays. But times have changed, and so has Brigus. Yet we can still boast of buildings over one hundred years old in use as institutions of learning and for worship.
St. George’s Anglican Church (which is still there) was consecrated in 1845. The Brigus United Church was dedicated in 1875. The first R. C. Church was built in 1832, and the first Mercy Sisters arrived in Brigus, from Ireland, in 1861. Rev. John Percy (a local son) began preaching, in the Methodist Church in 1804.
The Town of Brigus was incorporated in November 1964. It’s first Mayor was Fred Bartlett. The present Mayor is David G. Hiscock. Rev. R. Wells was the first Clergy Mayor elected in the Province. Thus giving Brigus another first.
Brigus has a Regional Library, a Fire Hall, a Volunteer Fire Brigade, Knights of Columbus, Royal Canadian Legion, Ambulance & Funeral Services, Post Office, LOL Lodge, and retired Judge Rupert Bartlett, a native son, and a nephew of Capt. Robert Bartlett, whose name rang around the world in connection with his explorations.
The Town also has pave roads, water & sewer system, street lights, etc and each summer many tourists visit the small park at Bishop’s Beach, to view the historic tunnel.
True, the fishery has declined over the years, but one would have to say that a large number of people, directly or indirectly are connected with the fishery (cod), and find employment at the fishplant operated by J.W. Hiscock sons limited.