Conception Bay

Conception Bay is one of the most historic regions in the province of Newfoundland. It was named by the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real, who visited the bay in the year 1500 and claimed Newfoundland for Portugal under "Linea Divisionis", which divided the New World between Portugal and Spain. The first attempt to establish a permanent settlement on the Island was made by John Guy in 1610, in the area now known as Cupids. Other areas in Conception Bay such as Brigus and Harbour Main were settled early because of fine harbours, good fishing and abundant timber for housing and shipbuilding. A quick glance at any map of Newfoundland shows the vast number of settlements that dot the coastline, starting with Bauline on the Northeast side and ending with Grates Cove on the Northwest side. Each of these communities have a unique history and character all their own. This page can only scratch the surface in an attempt to share the beauty and history of this unique area.


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The first pictures in this section are taken from the community of Portugal Cove, only 20 minutes from downtown St. John's. This town is the site of the terminal for the Bell Island ferry, making Portugal Cove somewhat of a transportation hub. The first picture is taken from the hill behind the community, looking towards Beachy Cove. The second is of one of the ferries heading "across the Tickle" to Bell Island, a trip of only 15-20 minutes. Bell Island itself can be seen in the third picture, taken from the road leading south from Portugal Cove. Little Bell Island and Kelly's Island are shown in the fourth picture, which are located south of Bell Island. Kelly's Island is rumoured to be the location of a buried pirate treasure, although little evidence or this exists. Continuing south from Portugal Cove, one reaches the picturesque community of St. Phillips. The church in the foreground commands a spectacular view of Conception Bay, and the community itself has become a haven for "Townies" trying to get away from the city.

Taking the ferry across the "Tickle", one can visit a variety of interesting sites on Bell Island, including the old iron ore mines, World War II gun batteries, and the lighthouse on the north end of the island, perched high atop an almost vertical cliff. The first picture below is taken from the ferry, looking back towards Portugal Cove. The second is of the aforementioned lighthouse, perched high atop that formidable cliff. The third picture is of a sea stack just east of the lighthouse, which is connected to the rest of Bell Island by on a small cobblestone beach. The forces that acted to create this sea stack are still at work however, as indicated by the tunnel passing through the base of the column, then entrance to which can be seen in the bottom left corner of the picture.

Returning on the ferry and continuing along the coast, one passes though St. Thomas, Paradise and finally Topsail, the first of the communities that make up the area known as Conception Bay South, more commonly referred to as CBS. The first picture is of Topsail Beach, a popular spot to relax in the summer. The second picture reflects my interest in environmental engineering. Just so you know though, the Topsail Treatment Plant doesn't really refer to the ocean.

From Topsail, the road continues into Manuels, built at the mouth of the Manuels River. The river descends over a beautiful waterfall, shown in the first picture, before entering the harbour, shown in the second picture.

Leaving Manuels, one passes through such illustrious locales as Upper Gullies, Long Pond, Foxtrap, and finally Holyrood. Holyrood is the site of several major industrial sites. In years past Ultramar operated an oil refinery here, although all that remains today are a series of abandoned storage tanks. The Holyrood Thermal Generating Station was built to supply additional power for the phosphorous plant in Long Harbour, Placentia Bay, which was once responsible for dimming lights in St. John's when the blast furnaces were fired. The Holyrood TGS still operates however, and rumours of plans to expand it are afoot. This shows the optimism regarding industrial development of the island, from nickel smelters to oil transshipment facilities. The picture below however, shows the more serene aspects of this little town, taken from a bridge over the Holyrood River looking upstream.

From Holyrood, one passes by Lakeview, Harbour Main (one of the oldest communities in the province), Chapel Cove, Gallows Cove and eventually the area known as Avondale. The first picture is of Avondale itself, and the next picture is of the restored Avondale station. This little-known attraction houses some wonderful artifacts from the hey-days of the Newfoundland Railway, complete with a locomotive, rolling stock and several hundred feet of track. An interesting note is that the existing track was saved only after a group of townspeople sat on as much track as they could. It's a worthwhile place to visit, I guarantee.

Beyond Avondale, the communities of Concpetion Harbour, Kitchuses, Bacon Cove, Colliers, and Marysvale await. Beyond these lies the town of Brigus. This community is home to the Hawthorne Cottage National Historic Site, which is the house in which Captain Bob Bartlett was raised. Captain Bartlett was one of Canada's greatest Arctic explorers, leading Peary in his failed attempt to reach the North Pole. Hawthorne Cottage is now a museum, and is just one example of the wonderful architecture that can be found in this historic village. Brigus could easily be confused for a small fishing village on the south coast of England. Brigus also shares the distinction of being one of the oldest settlements in the province.

Cupids (the site of the first attempt at colonization of Newfoundland), Makinsons, South River, Clarke's Beach and South River are next, and a side trip leads to the towns of Bareneed, Port de Grave and Hibb's Cove (also known as Hibb's Hole), which occupy the narrow strip of land that juts out between Clarke's Beach and Bay Roberts. The first picture shows how narrow this piece of land is, and also the location of Bareneed itself. Port de Grave is next, a community whose picture can be found gracing many calendars and is considered one of the most photogenic communities in Newfoundland. The last two pictures are of Hibb's Cove, the second of which shows a excellent sea stack formation at the outer edge of the harbour.

Back on the main road, one passes though Country Road, Shearstown, Bay Roberts, Spainard's Bay and Tilton, with a side trip taking the tourist to Bishop's Cove and Upper Island Cove. The main highway however leads to Harbour Grace. At one time a rival with St. John's for the title of largest community in Newfoundland, Harbour Grace still exhibits many of the spacious mansions of wealthy businessmen and historic storefronts near the water. The first sight to greet the traveller on approach to Harbour Grace is the looming hull of the SS Kyle, beached forever more at Riverhead. The SS Kyle is one of the most famous coastal boats to have serviced the far flung communities of Newfoundland and Labrador, which may explain why she was not scrapped but left to rest in Harbour Grace. The next picture is of the Harbour Grace Museum, located on the water's edge not far from the mansions mentioned earlier. The last picture is of the old penitentiary and courthouse, which is now a historic site.

North of Harbour Grace and beyond the village of Bristol's Hope is the old town of Carbonnear. This aged community is now a major service centre for this area of Conception Bay, with shopping centres, government offices and a hospital. The town has a rich and colourful history as well, with legends of Irish Princesses, Pirate captains and French raiders all playing a part in the development of this town. The island in the background was used as a safe haven during French attacks, although sitting and watching your homes being burned from a distance must have been an unpleasant experience.

North of Carbonnear are many other communities, each with a rich and colourful history and special traits that await discovery. As time permits, I will try to visit more of these communities, and add more pictures to this section, so be patient or else come and see these towns for yourself. A partial list of these communities includes:


For more information on travel in this region, check out the Newfoundland & Labrador Department of Tourism HomePage.

Avalon Region - Attractions


That's it for now. Click here to return to the main page, or continue on to Trinity Bay.
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