The heyday of the Veys

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

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Ted Vey

When the Vey family moved from Grates Cove to Long Beach in the early 1860s, it was largely to find timber supplies to build schooners for the Labrador fishery. That they were successful can be shown by the fact each Vey household owned a schooner.

“Long Beach was a very busy community in those days,” recalls Alfred T. Vey, whom everybody knows as “Ted” (from his middle name Theodore) to distinguish him from the many other Alfred Veys there have been in the community. “The Veys and the Barfitts were the first families here, and the Gosses came a little later. Some schooners were built in Long Beach in the older days, but most were built outside it. There were around 25 families when as many as seven schooners left for the Labrador in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

Ted spent his youth in the Labrador fishery, sailing from Long Beach with his father.

“I was to Labrador from the age of 11 to 1945, when the last of the Veys’ schooners went,” he relates. “Our schooner the Melba at 70 tons, was one of the biggest. She was always a sailing boat, but we put an auxiliary motor into her later on. We went from Batteau to Cape Harold, all along the Labrador shore wherever we could find fish.

“We’d leave around June 20 and came back when we had a load of fish. Some years that might be the third week of August, but usually it was early in September. We dealt directly with the merchants in St. John’s — R.G. Randell before he went out of business and then with Steers. All the Long Beach schooner skippers sold their fish to Steers. There would be 8-10 men to each schooner, and when I was growing up you might not find a man home in the summer.”

Some men worked in the woods when the Labrador fishery ended in the 1940s, but most went into construction.

“I started a sawmill myself and retired in 1971. Ours was the biggest mill and the only one in the area with a tractor this side of Goobies. That made me an important man in the area,” Ted quips. “I had my five sons working in the mill and another three men cutting logs in the woods. Two sons still live here and my daughter lives two houses up. The other boys are in Baie Verte, Labrador City and St. John’s.

 “A lot of families had to leave to find work. There were five or six Barfitt families, but they’ve all gone now. There are two branches of Veys in Long Beach — our family and another group up the beach, most of whom have left. Any Veys elsewhere are from Long Beach. Most families came here in the resettlement from Island Cove and the islands. That was long before the road which only got pavement three years ago. More families are moving in now.”  

Community life 60 years ago was a lot different from now, especially in terms of transportation.  

“Most goods were brought in by schooner from St. John’s in the spring and fall, and anything in the winter came by train to Northern Bight,” explains Ted, who smiles at the memory of what passed for a road then. “The station agent had a Model T Ford, but he would have needed a helicopter here. The road was like a woods trail and could only be used by horses, but it was a good snowpath in the winter. Every family had a horse and we had two until we got the tractor. The horses might weigh anywhere from 600 to 1,000 lbs. They weren’t the real big horses you see hauling things for show now.”  

With a large number of families, Long Beach was important enough to warrant two schools and two churches.  

“Four of the early families built a Church of England church, and my grandfather’s brother built the first Wesleyan church,” Ted notes. “There were very few Wesleyans then. Both churches had schools — the Church of England built the first one. They remained separate schools until they closed — there was no amalgamation here. There was always a school until around five years ago, and we had all grades to Grade 11. This community has graduated teachers, lawyers and a minister.”  

Now the beach is a quiet place, but on a misty day we can imagine the hustle and bustle taking place in earlier days as we snap off some shots of what is a very photographic community nestled between two coastal hills.

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, March 2019

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