History – Southport

Reprinted from Decks Awash, Volume 15, Number 6
November – December 1986
Photographs from MUN Digital Archives

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Boats tied up at Southport, 1986

Southport was originally named Fox Harbour taking its name from nearby Fox Island, itself probably named from the abundance of foxes in the area. According to former resident, Leslie Dean, from whose work much of the following data is taken, Southport is the oldest surviving community in Random Sound.

In 1836, Fox Harbour supported the Wesleyan families of James Dean (from Old Perlican) and Joseph Martin (from Grates Cove) being 12 inhabitants all told. They were later joined by James Lambert and James Avery both of Grates Cove.

Fox Harbour was sheltered and conveniently close to good fishing grounds. It soon attracted more settlers including Robert Pond and his sons James and William, and John Button who married John Dean’s daughter, Elizabeth. By 1845 the inhabitants numbered 38 and owned seven boats. By 1857 the population had almost tripled to 103 while the number of boats had more than doubled to 16, and a schooner was reported. Other settlers who arrived before 1870 and lived there permanently or on a part-time basis included Henry Baker, William Wells, William White, Thomas Pelley, Thomas Smith and Timothy Smith.

United Church at Southport

Southport was the site of the first Methodist meetinghouse on the northwest side of Trinity Bay. It was certainly built before 1859, and may have been built before 1851, for in that year lay reader James Dean baptized Mary Jane, daughter of Thomas and Mary Jane Pelley, temporary residents at Fox Island. The meetinghouse also served as a school. There was also a burial ground that still exists today with graves marked by rocks rather than headstones.

The number of residents (predominantly Wesleyans and Church of England) noted in the census records taken after 1857 fluctuate considerably. In 1869 it was down to 69, up to 86 in 1884, and back to 105 in 1891. Two possible explanations present themselves. First, some people may have visited Southport seasonally but inconsistently for the inshore fishery. Second, permanent residents could have been absent at census time as Southport provided a number of schooner crews for the Labrador fishery.

Wharf at Southport

The Labrador fishery which started in the 1860s and peaked by 1901 was important to Southwest Arm as a whole, but it was of relatively little importance to Southport which appears to have concentrated its efforts on the inshore fishery. For example, while 74 vessels from the Random region participated in the Labrador fishery of 1901 (950 Newfoundland vessels participated in total) it seems that only one, or possibly two, were from Southport. Southport was to specialize in pickled turbot, although this was later, probably starting around the 1920s and collapsing in the 1950s with the advent of frozen fish. The turbot was shipped to Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick. There was also a thriving herring trade.

A sawmill owned by Thomas Pond is recorded by Muddy Pond at Fox Harbour in 1910 but the local streams proved insufficient to run the water-wheel. In 1920, Asa and Alan Blundell and Joseph Pelley built another mill. Logging, however, appears to have played a relatively minor role in the economic existence of Southport compared to settlements like Little Hearts Ease and Hodge’s Cove. Despite this, schooners were built at Southport: vessels such as Hubert Brian, Hubert G. Smith, Sarah Francis, Hubert J., and the Orion built for Edmund Seward as a banking schooner. Fox Harbour finally changed its name to Southport around 1916, the result of a petition led by local merchant John Vey. The community was tired of having its mail go astray, there being, at least two other Fox Harbours in Newfoundland.

The first merchant at Southport was Alcock who set up business around 1900. He acted as a merchant-trader visiting coastal communities in his schooner, trading supplies for fish. A second merchant, Adey from Hickman’s Harbour, set up around the same time but sold out to John Vey of Long Beach around 1910. He carried on the business until 1918 then sold it to Mary Smith who passed it on to her brother, Kenneth Smith. The firm continued in operation until the mid-1960s.

When the first Methodist school was built in 1907 it served Methodists, Church of England and Roman Catholic children. The Church of England members worshipped at St. Alban’s church in nearby Gooseberry Cove, where the Roman Catholics also had a small church. The three denominations appear to have coexisted with harmony although there was competition among clerics for converts. Ken Smith has reported that Southport Methodist Sarah Newton, who married a Roman Catholic gentleman, was told by the Roman Catholic priest to convert or be transformed into a goat. Mrs. Newton challenged him to carry out his threat reasoning that if he could turn her to a goat, he could certainly change her back. She said, if he were successful, she would gladly change her religion.

From 1891, when the population was 105, growth was gradual. The population dropped to 97 in 1901, grew to 117 in 1911 and was almost exactly the same at 116 in 1921. Thereafter there was growth, 149 residents being recorded in 1935 and 175 in 1945. The burgeoning population was sufficient to cause the United Church to rebuild its school in 1946 at which point the Church of England also decided to build one. United Church and Church of England (later Anglican) students were taught separately until 1967 when they amalgamated under one roof some two years before integration. The population of Southport was last reported to be 180 in 1981.



See also the community history under Communities


Transcribed by Wanda Garrett

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.