Starting Out In Canada: Cuper’s Cove

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The history of Canada goes back thousands of years with the First Nations and the many unique cultures they helped to create throughout the landscape.
When we look at the European settlement of Canada, there have been many early settlements including the Vikings landing in Newfoundland and remaining there for decades.
This isn’t about the Vikings though. Today, we are looking at Cuper’s Cove, one of the earliest European settlements and one that would have a lasting impact on Canada.

Located on the southwest shore of Conception Bay in Newfoundland, Cuper’s Cove was established in 1610 by John Guy on behalf of the Society of Merchant Venturers out of Bristol. The organization had been given a charter by King James I of England to establish a colony on the island.
Cuper’s Cove would become the second colony in North America to last over one year, after Jamestown, and while settlers would leave in the 1620s, some would stay and help make sure that the site would be continuously inhabited for centuries.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, let’s dive back into the beginnings of this interesting colony.

The Start

By the late-1500s, seasonal fishermen from the European countries were travelling to Newfoundland to take advantage of the ample fishing. With competition fierce to get to the grounds, the English decided they wanted to establish a colony on the island to be the first to fish the ample fishing grounds.
After the successful establishment of Jamestown in 1607, and with word arriving that Samuel de Champlain was looking to establish the settlement of New France, England did not want to waste anymore time.
In 1607, the Society of Merchant Ventures, which included some of the most important people in England, including Sir Francis Bacon, formed the Newfoundland Company. The company then petitioned King James I to get approval on establishing a colony on the island.
John Guy, a member of the company, visited the island in 1608 to find a good location. Returning back with his recommendation, the petition for a colony was accepted on May 2, 1610 and a charter was issued to the patron of James Guy, the Earl of Northampton.
With approval and a site chosen, John Guy, Phillip Guy, William Colston and 39 colonists left on three ships to settle in Cuper’s Cove. They would make landfall in August of 1610.

The Colony
The colonists were a good mix of individuals that included blacksmiths, carpenters, masons and apprentices in a wide assortment of fields. Cuper’s Cove was not prime fishing grounds, but that did not matter. What mattered was that the colony would be a great place to stay for the winter and a great place to launch out of when the fishing season began.
John Guy would be the first governor of the settlement, and John Slaney served as treasure.
Clearing of the area began quickly and by May of 1611, a colony was springing up consisting of a dwelling house, store house, a second dwelling house, a forge and a workhouse. There was also wooden defence works that included three cannons.
The dwellings at the colony were made of cobble and flagstone floors covered by wood timbers.
After a mild winter, John Guy reported back to England that things were good. Livestock was shipped over and helped the colony thrive during its early years.
In 1612, 16 women were brought to the colony in the hopes that this would help Cuper’s Cove become self-replicating
Throughout 1611-1613, the colony continued to thrive and expand. By 1613, there were 16 structures at the site and land had been cleared for crops and livestock had their own pastures.
From 1612 to 1613, there were at least 62 people at the colony and only a few deaths had been recorded due to scurvy. In addition, a child was born to Nicholas Guy and his wife on March 27, 1613, the first English baby born in Canada.

The Decline
The colony did have problems. While the soil was great for growing vegetables, it was not so good for growing grain. In addition, Peter Easton, a local pirate, harassed the settlement on a regular basis and livestock had to be paid to him to get him to leave the colony alone.
In addition, John Guy left the colony in 1615 and never returned to Newfoundland after having a disagreement with the company. He would die in 1629.
In 1615, Captain John Mason was appointed as the proprietary governor of the colony. He grew tired of having disputes with fishermen and with the difficulties of the landscape. So, in 1612, he abandoned the colony in favour of New England. Mason would go on to found New Hampshire and today is considered to be the Father of New Hampshire.
From 1616 to 1618, the famous First Nations man Squanto lived at the colony after he was captured by the English, taken to Europe and then brought back to North America. he would greet the pilgrims when they arrived at Plymouth Rock years later.
There is some evidence that people continued to live in the colony for many years, even up to the 18th century before the area was finally abandoned. That being said, many fishermen would continue to use the cove and Cuper’s Cove is now known as the Town of Cupids.
Coupled together from fishermen who stayed in the area after its demise, the rising up of the Town of Cupids, it could be said the area has been settled for over 400 years. This makes it the oldest continuously settled official British colony in Canada.
In 2010, Cupids celebrated 400 years of history and the governor general even came out to celebrate. On Aug. 17, 2010, Canada Post released a stamp to honour the founding of the community.


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