Harbour Grace

All posts tagged Harbour Grace

My posts have gotten pretty irregular, and they are going to stay that way for a little while. I’m trying to focus on getting more detailed research done and preparing for conferences and the like. I do need to learn to build a better balance between blog posts and in-depth research (such as shorter, less detailed posts) but I haven’t found that balance yet. I’ll get there.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Conception Bay Museum for the launch of the poetry book Flightpaths: The Lost Journals of Amelia Earhart by Heidi Greco. I snuggled in with the pirate Peter Easton and enjoyed an imagining through journal entries and poetry of Amelia Earhart’s last days.


Peter Easton, a well-known pirate who often used Harbour Grace as his base. Photo by author.

Greco fell in love with Earhart’s story, and has researched her life and the stories around her disappearance. She uses this information to follow what might have been Earhart’s thoughts as she and Fred Noonan find themselves crashed on a small sandbar, Noonan with severe injuries, and Earhart with a severely injured ankle. Greco allows Earhart to expresses herself with short journal entries, poems, and dreams, exploring her life from the first plane she ever spied, to her marriage to George Putnam, to her childhood and relationship with her sister, to her solo flight from Newfoundland, to her friendships with Katherine Hepburn and Eleanor Roosevelt. Through dreams the wanderings of the mind, Greco explores some of the theories as to what happened to Earhart as she attempted to fly around the equator. She looks at Earhart finding herself in a Japanese prison camp, in a witness relocation scenario, in an institution, and simply as an excuse for the United States to explore the Pacific Islands. Some of the poems and journal entries are so powerful that they will bring a tear to your eye and cause you to mourn the loss of Earhart.


Heidi Greco reading from Flightpaths at the Conception Bay Museum. The camera insisted on focusing on the sunflower, brought by Greco as a reminder of Earhart’s Kansas. Photo by author.

What made Greco’s launch even more powerful was that she choose to launch it in Harbour Grace on the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s solo trans-Atlantic flight. Most fitting, she read the poem “Grace” about that flight which even mentions “With a gifted thermos of homemade soup tucked beneath my arm,/ I ducked into the cockpit, smiling and waving”, a wonderful touch that I feel shows Newfoundland hospitality at its finest.

Artifacts of aviation in Harbour Grace, including the log from the Harbour Grace Airfield. Photo by author.

After the reading, it was wonderful to explore the museum. I have been there before, and will be there again. The museum showcases so many important parts of the area’s history, not just Earhart but the Harbour Grace airfield and Harbor Grace’s role in the Trans-Atlantic Air Race, the Kyle and its search for Old Glory. With so much history beyond aviation, the museum looks at the pirates in the area, the fishery, government, and life in Harbour Grace.

Outside the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace. Photo by author.

While at the book launch, I did have the oppotunity to meet many wonderful people from the area whom I only knew through facebook. First, the ladies of The Moose Curry Experience who post great recipes and have helped me with in the field identification with a tweet or two. I was also talking to Florence Button who runs the museums in Carbonear. I will admit I haven’t been into the Railway Station Museum, the Rorke Store or the Post Office Museum, but will make a point of visiting them the next time I am out in Carbonear (which is pretty regularly). Finally, I made arrangements with the wonderful folks at the Conception Bay Museum to let me check out some of their historic documents to get the research ball rolling on a history of Harbour Grace (one that might compliment Challenge of the Atlantic which is now out of print).

A picture of the Harbour Grace Airfield which was taken on a much sunnier day. Photo by author.

Overall, it was a great day, and I enjoyed spending my evening with a glass of whiskey and a wonderful book of poetry.

Boyd and Conners with the Columbia in Harbour Grace in September 1930. Parsons and Bowman 1983, 66.

Boyd and Conners with the Columbia in Harbour Grace in September 1930. Parsons and Bowman 1983, 66.

On September 28th [1930] they [Captain Errol Boyd of the Royal Air Force and Lieutenant Harry P. Connor of the U.S. Naval Reserve in the monoplane The Columbia] flew low over St. John’s and dropped a message in a cigarette can. The message, addressed to J.M. Barbour, Superintendent of the Anglo-American telegraph company, was picked up by a young man named Kent who delivered it to Barbour. The message read: “Saying hello to everybody in St. John’s. Sorry we can’t land. Bet there are some beautiful girls there! Many thanks for your cooperation on this flight. Boyd and Connors” (65-6).


The most prominent thing about The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland by Bill Parsons and Bill Bowman are the beautiful pictures of Harbour Grace. After this, are the wonderfully personal stories associated with the history of the aircraft that stopped in Harbour Grace. The pictures were taken by Reuben and Bill Parsons, and between them, they captured some of the most important aviation moments in Harbour Grace’s history, and everyday life in the town. The pictures of Harbour Grace put the airfield within the context of the community; a town that is one of the oldest in Newfoundland, has a rich fishing, shipping and ship building history, and even served as the capitol of Newfoundland for a period. With such a varied history, it seems reasonable that Harbour Grace would expand their view and form the Harbour Grace Airport Trust Company in 1927.

The Pride of Harbour Grace aviation monument. Photo by author 2010.

The Spirit of Harbour Grace aviation monument. Photo by author 2012. This DC-3 was the last one flown by Royal Cooper.

The interest in aviation was perhaps sparked by the Atlantic Air Race as one of the crews planning to attempt the crossing, lead by Rear Admiral Sir Mark Kerr, set up in Harbour Grace. The airstrip for the attempt was located where St. Francis High School now stands and ran parallel with Water Street, between the railway and the harbour. Kerr’s Handley Page Atlantic never attempted the crossing from Harbour Grace, but did make a test flight to St. John’s in 25 minutes. Before the attempt could be made, Alcock and Whitten-Brown made their successful crossing and the crew of the Handley Page decided to make an attempt from New York instead of Harbour Grace. It never made that attempt either.

Harbour Grace Airfield. Photo by author 2010.

Harbour Grace Airfield. Photo by author 2010.

The airstrip was constructed through the financing of the 21 member committee, a grant from the Newfoundland Government, and with the help of T.A. Hall (government engineer who was also involved in determining the location of the Gander Airport) and R.H.K. Cochius (available from the Highroads Commission for technical advice). The airstrip took only a month to build, and is located near Lady Lake, to the south of Harbour Grace. According to the crew of The Pride of Detroit, the airstrip was one of the finest they had ever seen. Mabel Boll, who was in Harbour Grace in an attempt to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic (Amelia Earhart left Trepassey on a successful flight two days after Boll’s arrival in Newfoundland), donated $500 to the president of the airport toward further development “of what was considered to be a thoroughly efficient airport service” (42).

The Pride of Detroit, the first aircraft to use the Harbour Grace Runway, landing on 26 August 1927. Parsons and Bowman 1983, 24.

The Pride of Detroit, the first aircraft to use the Harbour Grace airstrip, landing on 26 August 1927. Parsons and Bowman 1983, 24.

After the above history about the airstrip, the book focuses on the individual aviators (and aircraft) that passed through Harbour Grace. The histories talk about failed and successful trans-Atlantic crossing (sometimes attempts at around the world flights). In 1927 alone, some twenty trans-oceanic flyers had been lost leaving North America to cross the Atlantic (27). Each section talks about the aircraft, the aviators, and their fate as they leave Newfoundland (whether they were successful in their attempt, did not attempt and where they went after Harbour Grace), and other interesting notes of history. Inside this book is a great deal of information, coupled with beautiful and rare pictures.

Wiley Post and Harold Gatty with the Winnie Mae in Harbour Grace on 23 June 1931. Parsons and Bowman 1983, 72.

Wiley Post and Harold Gatty with the Winnie Mae in Harbour Grace on 23 June 1931. Parsons and Bowman 1983, 72. Wiley Post is a well-know Alberta aviator, and is prominently featured in the Alberta Aviation Museum.

My biggest complaint with this book is the lack of captions on the pictures. I don’t know which pictures were taken by Bill and which were taken by Reuben. Of course, the years on the pictures would give a good indication, but cannot be credited with certainty. As well, some of the pictures have locations and people identified, and others don’t. Of course, there are many pictures that clearly show the name of the aircraft in the picture, or a recognisable face, such as Amelia Earhart, but captions also help give quick points of reference instead of always needing to read the associated article for details such as the aircraft, pilot (and crew), and date.

The Pride of Harbour Grace. Photo by author 2010.

The Spirit of Harbour Grace. Photo by author 2010.


Parsons, B. and B. Bowman
1983      The Challenge of the Atlantic: A Photo-Illustrated History of Early Aviation in Harbour Grace, Nfld. Robinson-Blackmore Book Publishers: Newfoundland.