The History of Calvert



The Twentieth Century – the Eve of New Technology

The early decades of the twentieth century began much the same as the prior century had ended. The inshore fishery at Caplin Bay was still based mainly on the use of the single line cod jigger or baited hook. The use of multiple hook trawls was also a popular method that produced larger catches at certain times of the year. These methods could be used successfully by individual fishermen in small boats (punts or dories). Although the use of nets and seines in the cod fishery was mentioned at Caplin Bay pre-1830, the introduction of the cod trap in the late 1800s eventually came into vogue there as an alternate fishing method, with a much higher catch potential. The cod trap is a large, box-shaped, stationary net that can fish unattended once fixed in the water. However, this method required a larger boat called a skiff, used in conjunction with a dory, and a minimum crew of four fishermen. As in previous centuries, sun-dried salted cod was still the main commodity produced from the inshore fishery, most of it destined for overseas markets.

Caplin Bay, like most of Newfoundland, progressed at a slow, but steady rate, with few changes in the day to day lives of its residents. Even though things had improved in some respects, day to day living was still a continuous cycle of hard physical work. In 1911, the Newfoundland Railway began construction on a branch line from St. John’s to Trepassey, which passed through Caplin Bay. Although the train only ran until the 1930s, in its time it gave residents more flexibility to travel and decreased the isolation that was part of rural Newfoundland life. In October 1920, a new Roman Catholic Church was dedicated at Caplin Bay and three months later the settlement, now with a population close to 400, received its new name, Calvert. In 1929, the settlement reached a new milestone when electricity was turned on for the first time. By 1935, the census records noted that some Caplin Bay residents had radios in their homes.

A New Identity - Canadian.

On March 31, 1949, we became Canadians, with Newfoundland’s entry into Canada as its tenth province. Initially, this new identity had little effect on the way of life at Calvert, but gradually technology, social programs, improved education, etc. opened up more opportunities, especially for younger people, to find employment outside the traditional fishery and its related occupations. The introduction of television in the 1950s helped people to better understand what was going on in Newfoundland and the rest of the world. In the 1960s, most students were finishing their education at a high school level, with many moving on to attend university and technical schools at St. John’s. Since most of their newly acquired skills were not applicable within the rural setting of Calvert, there was a subsequent migration to larger centres, such as St. John’s. In the early 1970s, Calvert and area received residential dial telephone service, both local and long-distance. Cellular service and the Internet became available in the first decade of this century, so that, from a technology point of view, it is now on a par with larger centres throughout the province, and the world in general.

End of an Era - The Cod Moratorium.

After Confederation, there was a gradual shift in the way that codfish was harvested and processed. Starting in the 1950s, although there was still a high demand for sun-cured salted cod, opportunities opened up for fresh frozen fish to be sold to domestic and international markets. Initially, to avail of this market, Calvert fishermen had to offload their catch from their boats at either Ferryland or Fermeuse or have it trucked there by a local buyer. About 1974, some members of the Sullivan family established a small feeder fish plant at The Beach in Calvert giving fishermen the option of selling their unprocessed fish right out of their boats. As fish stocks declined, fishermen eventually had to go farther to sea, hence the introduction of long-liners in the 1980s that could fish the waters of the Grand Banks and provide accommodations for the crews on extended trips offshore.

The 1990s brought a monumental change in the way of life that had been the norm in Newfoundland for several centuries. On July 2, 1992, after years of concern over declining cod stocks, a two-year moratorium on the northern cod fishery was announced by the Canadian government. In 1994, it was extended through a five-year fish aid program and to date the ban on open fishing has not been lifted. Calvert, like most other Newfoundland settlements that were almost entirely dependent on the cod fishery for its economic survival, had to look for other sea resources to fill the void left by the collapse of the cod fishery. This new resource came in the way of the crab and shrimp fisheries. These species have sustained the economy, and at present, alternate fisheries based on other species are still being actively explored.

Outmigration, along with the passing of older residents and the trend toward smaller families, has resulted in a gradual decline in the population over the past half-century. By 2011, Calvert’s population had declined to about 250. What the future holds in store, no one knows, but residents of Calvert like their forbearers are resilient and resourceful. Almost three decades have passed and the cod moratorium is still in effect since cod stocks have been very slow to recover. Like all Newfoundlanders, residents of Calvert hope to see the day when the cod stocks will again rise to a level sufficient to sustain a viable fishery. Certainly, they can take heart when they look back to where they have come from over the past two hundred years. When viewed in the context of the hardships that our ancestors had to endure - today's problems, though worrisome, may seem rather trivial.


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Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador - Brief sketches of some residents of, and visitors to, Ferryland from the summer of 1597 and continuing into the 19th century.


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