Historical Background
L'Anse au Loup c1964 (larger version)
9000 years of human habitation
Since John Cabot returned to England in 1497 and reported that the waters around the 'newe found lande' were teeming with cod, the French have been plying the seas of the Strait of Belle Isle. For more than 260 years they have toiled at harvesting whales, cod and seals, and left an indelible mark upon the many coves, rivers and headlands along what is now known as the Labrador Straits. French place-names that have lasted across the centuries is a testimony to the valuable contribution they have made to the settling of what must have been a hostile territory in those days.

Labrador Straits
It is conceivable that the French have been coming to the Labrador Straits long before that famous voyage of John Cabot. There are reports of fishermen sailing to Labrador from France at least as early as 1504, but as toilers of the land and sea they were likely more concerned with earning a living than getting their names inscribed in history books. Thus, the first known actual documentation of the French in the Strait of Belle Isle was made by Jacques Cartier in 1534. On this voyage he encountered Breton place names such as Baye de Brest, and Baye des Islet and others, which support the claims that French fishermen were already active in the area. Other Breton place names such as Belle Isle, Ile de Groix, and Karpunt/Quiberon were also found along the Strait of Belle Isle, or "Le Grande Baye", as the French and Basques preferred to call it. While the Spanish Basques concentrated their efforts on whaling, the French Basques seemed more interested in cod fishing.

Cartier named Blanc Sablon because of the white sand he saw at that place and while there, he made mention of a French ship from Rochelle. This, again, lends credence to the argument that the French had frequented the Labrador Coast in the very early 1500s. For the next 500 years, the waters of the Strait of Belle Isle have been acknowledged as being among the richest fishing grounds on the east coast of North America.

Although there are periodic gaps in the documentation of French activity in the Labrador Straits during the 16th century, there is still strong evidence to suggest that their presence had been more or less continuous. We know that Jacques Cartier made a return visit in 1542. The Spanish Basques were in peak operation between 1540 and 1580, and it is likely the French Basques were there during that time as well. In 1588, for example, a French Basque crew was shipwrecked as far west as Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

At the start of the 17th century, Champlain concluded that the commercial value of the fisheries of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was potentially more profitable to the French than that of any other commercial enterprise in the colony. From that moment onward, the cod fishery started to develop in earnest.

For reasons that are not altogether clear, the concentration of the 17th century French fishery took place mainly in Northern Newfoundland. It is suspected that shore-based fishing in Labrador was discouraged by the frequent attacks and pillages by the aboriginal peoples. That may help explain why there were only two French ships fishing out of Blanc Sablon in 1675.

Augustin Le Gardeur du Tilly, sieur de Courtemanche, was a French-Canadian military officer who decided to seek his fortune on the south coast of Labrador. He was born in 1663 to a Norman family who had immigrated to Canada. In 1702, operating under the protection of the Governor General of Canada, Courtemanche was granted a concession from the king of France that would allow him to hunt, fish, and trade with the Natives. This concession extended all the way from Kegaska River on the Quebec Lower North Shore to Kessessakiou (Hamilton Inlet) in Groswater Bay.

With his main fishing establishment at Baye de Phelypeau (Bradore Bay), Courtemanche and his crews of Canadian French concentrated mostly on the seal fishery. Meanwhile, the French cod fishers, in northern newfoundland, sensed the improved security in Labrador from Courtemanche and moved a 'little farther north' into the Strait of Belle Isle (or Petit Nord).

Towards the end of the 1600s, England and France were at war which ended with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. While the French maintained possession of Labrador, they were effectively expelled from much of Newfoundland. Thus they began looking to Labrador for alternative fishing venues. Consequently, the number of concessions in Labrador increased after the treaty, but the duration and size of the concessions were much less than before. Three of these concessions along the Labrador Straits included one at Riviere des Francais (Pinware River)- 1716; one at Isle St. Modet - 1735; and one at Anse-a-Loup in 1748. Marine statistics from France indicate that fishing activity continued in the Strait of Belle Isle each summer through to 1763. The Treaty of Paris, ending the seven years war, ceded New France, along with Labrador, to Britain and the French were forced to abandon its 'official' presence in the area.

The Strait of Belle Isle temporarily became part of Quebec again from 1774 to 1809 to allow for the continuation of the Quebec-based seal fishery. The Newfoundland Act of 1809 divided the responsibility for Labrador between the Governors of Quebec and Newfoundland. The boundary at that time ran through the Blanc Sablon River. Though the French were, by treaty, not supposed to be fishing in Labrador after 1763, there were many reports of French fishermen throughout the region until at least the mid 1800s.

As the name indicates, L'Anse-Au-Loup had been frequented by the French at an early date - possibly as early as 1500. The literal translation of the name is, The Cove of the Wolf or, as we say in English, Wolf Cove. In fact the wolf has, for many years, been incorporated into the official town logo. Even the local hockey team has bought into this translation as it uses the nickname, Wolves, on its jerseys. Yet, it would not be too much of a stretch to think that in actual fact the name has less to do with the animal, Canis Lupis, and perhaps more to do with Loup Marin - a term the French used as a reference to seals. Considering the importance of the seal fishery to the Quebec French in the early 1700s and knowing the vital role L'Anse-Au-Loup has played in the seal fishery in the succeeding two centuries, this bay must have been essential to the sealing successes of Courtemanche and his brother-in-law, Francois Martel de Brouague.

Schooner Cove, and all of L'Anse-Au-Loup, has a very rich history, both physically and culturally. Hillside terraces tell the story of the raised beaches left by the emergence of the valley floor following the extreme weight of the Laurentide glacier which disappeared from these shores some10,000 years ago. A people, referred to by archaeologists as Paleo-Indians, have left evidence of their existence in the Labrador Straits as far back as 9000 years ago. At least five prehistoric sites have been uncovered at Schooner Cove spanning as much as 8000 years of occupation. Some of these prehistoric encampments have been identified as Maritime Archaic Indian, and at least one has been identified as Groswater/Paleo-Eskimo.

The first shore-based establishment by Europeans was likely owned by the Basque Whalers. There is strong documentary evidence to suggest the Basque whalers and fishermen lived and worked in Schooner Cove seasonally for about 100 years starting in the mid 16th century.

Furthermore, because of the sickle-shaped point of land at the southwestern extremity of the bay, it is very likely that even the Vikings would have sought its shelter from the nasty southwesterly gales, more than 500 years before the Basques. The only Viking evidence discovered to date are the tiny rod-holes found in the rock believed to have contained iron rods used by the Vikings to anchor their vessels to the shore. While these 'Fairy Holes', as locals call them, may not be sufficient evidence that the Vikings had indeed landed there, it does cause one to keep an open mind on that possibility.

At about 1710 Courtemanche's successor, Francois Martel de Brouague set up a trading post/fort in Schooner Cove. By 1717 there were 2 French Ships fishing out of this place and in 1726 the French caught 10,000 quintals of dried cod at 'Anse-a-Loup, employing 270 men and four ships. In 1743 five ships and 295 men caught 15,600 quintals. Up until the 1763 treaty, most reports indicate 2 or 3 French fishing ships, with crews of between 75 and 100 men, operated out of L'Anse-Au-Loup each season.

Meanwhile, in 1748 Joseph Deschenaux, a writer from Quebec, was granted a concession, or business territory, to fish for cod, net seals, trap fur and trade with the aboriginal peoples. The trapping of fur and netting of seals would seem to indicate some overwintering by Deschenaux's people. Coincidently, the boundary of Deschenaux's concession appears to be almost exactly the same as today's municipal boundary.

Enter the English Based Ship-Fishery:
Shortly after the 1763 treaty between England and France, fish merchants from the southwest of England arrived on the scene in Labrador. The firm of John Noble and Andrew Pinson established a base in L'Anse-Au-Loup (Schooner Cove) and elsewhere along the coast. They competed with other well-know merchants of the time such as Captain George Cartwright of England and Phillip DeQuetteville of the Isle of Jersey. Although the establishment of Noble and Pinson changed ownership and names several times over the subsequent years, the premises remained operational until the late 1920s when the final owner, Job & Brothers of St. John's, eventually closed its doors at Schooner Cove forever.

For both the French and English, their obsession with the Labrador Straits originated in the lucrative fishery. Even today, the economic mainstay of the region is still driven by both the fishery and its spin-off jobs. The region's current economic flagship is the Labrador Fishermen's Union Shrimp Company Limited, a unique company borne and bred from a political marriage between the local fishers of the area and the Fish, Food & Allied Workers Union. "This cooperative-type venture arose like a phoenix from the east out of the storms and crisis of the fishery with a crusade-like agenda to be the masters of their economic future". The success of the Labrador Shrimp Company is testimony to the resolve of the local people to tackle their own problems head-on and set their own agendas. All they ever ask of government is a chance to put their ideas to work.

L'Anse-Au-Loup Today
L'Anse-Au-Loup was incorporated in 1975 and has since grown to be one of the more prosperous towns in the Labrador Straits Region. Nearly 80% of the town is serviced with water/sewer facilities and each year council invests funds into the connection of new homes to this system. The Town of L'Anse-Au-Loup has bought-in to its role of promoting economic development.

While the cod moratorium has placed some restrictions on the municipality, the Town of L'Anse-Au-Loup is developing and growing in spite of this fisheries setback. Largely as a result of the continued success of the fish processing plant, many of our youth are opting to remain at home and out-migration, while still a concern, is not yet a major factor for the Town. A substantial number of the residents boast full-employment in permanent full time / permanent seasonal positions with the private sector, governmental, and/or non-governmental agencies.

After the 1763 Treaty with France, and continuing to the early 20th century, fisher persons had been seconded from England seasonally, and L'Anse-Au-Loup had become one of the more important fishing stations in the Straits region.

Pioneer settlement began during the 1830s, and by the mid 1800s, larger numbers of people were settling and establishing their own fishing rooms. Some of these settlers, especially the males, came directly from the Isle of Jersey, England and Ireland while many of the females came mainly from the Conception Bay and Trinity Bay areas of Newfoundland. In 1869, the Census recorded 47 people in L'Anse-Au-Loup, 24 of those were born in Labrador. The population gradually increased so that by 1921 there were 106 people registered as living there.

With a current population of just over 600 L'Anse-Au-Loup's economy has always been and continues to be the fishery. In the early 1970s, before the days of the fresh fish processing facilities, many people were employed in the local salt-codfish plant. During this period, the private sector, governmental, and non-governmental agencies, began to relocate their mainstream places of business from other areas in the Straits region to L'Anse-Au-Loup. These businesses/agencies provided not only the necessary transportation, communication, and electrical services to the region but also an alternative means of employment to the residents as well.

Much has been accomplished in recent years and the Town of L'Anse-Au-Loup has benefitted significantly from its ability to concentrate its efforts on various short and long term community economic development priorities. The construction of the new Town Centre and Fire Hall, and partnering with The Harbour Authority and the Regional Recreation Board to improve their respective facilities are just the latest successful projects taken on by L'Anse-Au-Loup

In August 2003 the town hosted a Come Home Year celebration. For ten days the population doubled in size, and by all accounts it was a tremendous success both in terms of nostalgia and in terms of the much needed boost to its local economy. These past successes clearly indicate that the Town of L'Anse-Au-Loup is proud of its accomplishments and will continue to be a good custodian of programs supported by public and private financing.

[It is acknowledged that much of the information quoted above regarding the early French presence in the Labrador Straits is derrived from a paper by: Charles de La Morandiere (1962). Histoire de la peche francaise de la morue dans l'Amerique septentronale. Tomes 1-3. Paris: G.-P. Maisonneuve et Larose.]

This "History Page" was researched and compiled by: Lawrence Normore, Community Economic Development Officer, Town of L'Anse-Au-Loup (with assistance from the Quebec Labrador Foundation).
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