In 2010, archaeologists Barry Gaulton and Steve Mills discovered a winterhouse near Frenchman’s Island in our harbour. This means that people spent at least one winter here during that time period. This is an important discovery – the earliest winterhouse discovered so far.
”The site seems to contain a planter’s winter house with a rock fireplace and an associated earthen foundation. Archaeology sites recognized as winter houses are rare in the archaeological record and I believe that this is the only one from the 17th century.”
Background on Early Newfoundland Settlement
Although Newfoundland was “discovered” in 1497 and claimed for Britain in 1583, permanent settlement was very slow. For the most part, it was discouraged – and by the mid-1600s it was even prohibited.
Newfoundland was seen as a source of fish for European markets and a training ground for sailors. Ships came to the island in spring with fishing crews and returned home in fall laden with fish. Newfoundland was viewed as a “great ship moored near the Banks … for the convenience of English fishermen.” It was basically a commercial enterprise - the stomping ground for European fishermen. There was no system of law - but, out of this, the system of fishing admirals was born. The captain of the first ship that entered a harbour during in spring became the fishing admiral for the season. He was expected to enforce fishery orders and rules and also deal with disputes and petty crimes.
In 1670, settlement orders became even more restrictive. English ships were forbidden to carry settlers or to leave behind any of their crews. The settlers that were already here were forbidden to cut wood, build within six miles of the shore or take any fishing places until the fishermen from England had arrived. Under these rules planters who had lived for years in the island, who had cleared land and built homes, were deprived of all property rights.These laws were difficult to enforce, however, and many fishing admirals did not even try.
Settlers built their houses in small coves where they could escape detection. There they brought up their families, raised vegetables and fished, clinging tenaciously to the land they had adopted in spite of any efforts to remove them.
The winterhouse discovered in Sunnyside dates to this time period. It may have been built by English or French settlers. Research is just beginning to shed light on this time period in our history.
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