Quirpon (pop. 1986 – 212)
A fishing community on the extreme northeastern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, about 35 km north of St. Anthony. Quirpon Harbour is the most northerly sheltered harbour on the Island and has been frequented by migratory fishermen since the sixteenth century. Quirpon Harbour is formed by Quirpon Island and is entered from the north, where the approach is somewhat sheltered by Jacques Cartier Island. Little Quirpon Harbour is entered from the east, a better approach in some respects, but is quite shallow, while the tickle between the two anchorages is not navigable by most craft. The name of the harbour comes from its resemblance to Le Kerpont, near St. Malo, from whence came some of the earliest fishermen. Quirpon has been spelled a variety of ways, including Carpon, Carpunt and Karpoon, and is pronounced locally to rhyme with harpoon.
The explorer Jacques Cartier probably knew the harbour by reports from Breton fishermen before he anchored there in 1534 (and again in 1541). The rich fishery in the waters around Quirpon made it one of the centres of the French migratory fishery on the Petit Nord. Though ice kept ships from arriving before early June, during the summer large numbers of French boats fished the grounds less than 5 km from shore. In 1763 James Cook charted the area and described Little Quirpon Harbour as “a very snug place for mooring ships”. Though settlement was not encouraged on the coast of the Petit Nord, increasing numbers of English fishermen kept fixed establishments there in the nineteenth century. Quirpon was also the site of one of the earliest meetings of Inuit people with a Moravian missionary. In 1764 the missionary Jens Haven was brought to Quirpon by an English ship, and in September met with a small group of Inuit who came into the harbour from Labrador. He followed them across the Strait to begin his missionary work. It is not certain whether Inuit peoples had come to Quirpon solely to trade with European fishermen or whether they had been visiting the area since the prehistoric period.
The French continued to fish in the area in significant numbers into the nineteenth century. (An 1818 convention gave American fishermen access to Quirpon Island, but not to the occupied shore) In the mid-1850s establishments from St. Servan and St. Malo dominated the fishery. By this time Newfoundland fishermen, out of Conception Bay ports such as Brigus, Bristol’s Hope, Cupids and Harbour Grace, had begun summer fisheries in Quirpon. Eventually some settled permanently, the first being Fred Pynn, who was gardien of the French premises there in 1872. Little Quirpon and Quirpon Island tended to be used for the most part for seasonal fishing stations. A permanent population was first recorded in the 1857 census, with 10 families comprising 69 inhabitants. Family names recorded there in 1869 were mostly common family names of Conception Bay: Bartlett, Bessey (Bussey), Crabb, Tucker and Simmonds. Three people, all with the surname Pynn, owned fishing premises. Many of the settlers wintered at sites in Pistolet Bay to the west, as both Quirpon Island and the adjacent mainland were quite barren. As late as 1874, when 109 French fishermen were at Quirpon, Newfoundland fishermen were outnumbered.
In the 1880s, with the decline of French influence and the increasing involvement of Conception Bay ports in the Labrador fishery, Quirpon took on added importance. It was the usual “last stop” in Newfoundland for Labrador schooners preparing to make the dash across the Strait of Belle Isle to Battle Harbour and, through the firm of J.& J. Maddock, a minor supply port for Labrador “stationers” out of Carbonear. There were also families coming each year to L’Anse au Pigeon on Quirpon Island and year-round residents at Fortune, just outside Little Quirpon harbour to the southeast. By 1884 a Wesleyan church had been built. The population of 194 shown in that year’s Census may have included a number of short-term residents. In 1891 the permanent population was 77 at Quirpon and 37 at Little Quirpon. There were approximately 250 Newfoundlanders fishing from the harbour with two schooners and 40 other boats. The French still maintained two fishing rooms in the vicinity and English schooners were present in the fall and spring. After the turn of the century, migratory fishing in the area decreased, coming to a virtual halt after the decline of the Labrador fishery in the 1920s. Quirpon then became the base for a resident inshore fishery, with a population approaching 150 by the 1940s. Common family names of Quirpon mostly originated in Conception Bay, members of the Bartlett, Hedderson, Patey, Pynn, Roberts, Taylor and Tucker families having been involved in the fisheries in the area for generations.
Nearby communities, such as St. Lunaire-Griquet and St. Anthony had become the local mercantile and service centres in the early 1900s, and by the 1930s provided most services to Quirpon. In the 1960s, when Quirpon was connected by a dirt road to the highway, 47 people from the community were resettled to larger centres, especially St. Anthony. And the last few families left Little Quirpon, Fortune and Jacques Cartier Island, so that by 1970 Quirpon proper was the only settled part of the community. In 1992 Quirpon was still reliant on the inshore fishery and a small fish plant operated seasonally.
W.G. Gosling (1910), C. Grant Head (1976), Harold Innis (1940), D.W. Prowse (1895), E.R. Seary (1959), JHA (1872), Lovell’s Newfoundland Directory (1871), Archives (A-7-2). Newfoundland Historical Society (Quirpon). ACB
L’Anse au Pigeon (pop. 1935 – 37)
A summer fishing station located on the northeast side of Quirpon Island, off the eastern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula. The cove’s name is a relic of the time when French migratory fishermen frequented this region of the French Shore during the 1700s and 1880s.
Following the ceding of French fishing rights in Newfoundland in 1904, and maybe earlier, fishermen from Newfoundland communities, particularly Notre Dame Bay, began prosecuting the shore fishery from L’Anse au Pigeon. The 1935 Census returns, the only one in which L’Anse au Pigeon was listed, record Augustus Bridger, Thomas Hillier, George Oake and Azariah Roberts fishing there.
Maggie Colbourne (interview, July 1990). Census (1935), Newfoundland Directory (1936). BWC