The Search for Winter Shipping

I was asked to identify some pictures a few years  ago related to the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. They depicted a ship that appeared to be stuck in ice. The ship was the SS. Tritonia and she was headed into Botwood. The year was 1912 and it took that ship, recently fitted with a reinforced ice breaking bow over a month to get down the frozen bay of Exploits.

Tritonia Botwood
The Tritonia trying to get down the Bay of Exploits.

The Tritonia was carrying a load of coal to supply the town of Grand Falls. By the time it docked at Botwood at the beginning of March it has exhausted its cargo in its attempt to break through the ice and so failed one of the early attempts in the search for Winter shipping by the AND Company.i

Tritonia at Botwood.JPG
The SS Tritonia was a regular caller at Bot wood before World War One. Even with a specially strengthened bow there were occasions where she was stuck in the ice for weeks trying to get down the Bay of Exploits. (JCM Hayward Photo)

Even before the pulp and paper mill was established at Grand Falls it was known that winter shipping would be a problem on the North East Coast of Newfoundland. Both Botwood and Lewisporte were usually frozen solid by January.

In 1908 the AND Company made arrangements to purchase land and arrange for a right of way in the community of Southern Harbor in Placentia Bay. They purchased a couple of parcels of land I believe with the intentions of building a railway spur from the mainline to Placentia Bay that they could use for shipping when Botwood was frozen over.ii  I later found out that the intention was the set up a shipping facility in LaManche Placentia Bay.[i]

Paper moving AND Co.JPG
Paper ready for shipment. (JCM Hayward photo) 

Nothing ever became of the Southern Harbour/LaManche shipping port. The first paper which was shipped in the Winter of 1909-10 was shipped though St. John’s. The Placentia Bay idea might have met obstacles from the Reid’s or might have been scarpped when the Heart’s Content Branch lines were planned in 1911. This would provide access to an ice free port that wasn’t St. John’s and the government was flipping the bill for construction. This branch line was opened in 1915 consequently the AND Co built a wharf and facilities there.

The Heart’s Content branch line as it passes though Heart’s Delight. Because of paper shipments through Heart’s Content this was one of the few branch lines kept open in winter. 

Heart’s Content may seem to be a strange location from which to ship paper, but it was a good deep water port. The Heart’s Content Branch line stayed open longer than some of the others built around the same time because of the traffic from the paper company. Lines like Trepassey and Bay De Verde relied mainly on limited passenger service and were spectacularly unprofitable.   They only lasted a few years after the Government took over the Railway from the Reids in 1923. In fact, for many years, Heart’s Content was the only one of these Branch Lines keep open in the winter if only to accommodate the paper shipments.

Noah Sooley
Section foreman Noah Sooley (left) and section man Solomon Reid on the Heart’s Content branch line. Most likely in the last years the line was operating. It was said that Sooley put down the tracks when the line was built and took them up when the rails were sold for scrap after the closure. There are very few photos of the Heart’s Content branch.

The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company used Heart’s Content for winter shipping for twenty years. The end came as a result of the Commission of Government’s Decision to close the branch line. It was the depths of the Great depression and Newfoundland was in such financial hardship, that self-government had been suspended and a commission appointed to govern the colony. I pray that I never see the day when we are governed by any government that was as frugal as the commission of government. Being the Newfoundland in the pit of the Great Depression, everything was on the chopping block including the Heart’s Content branch line. Apparently the decision was not viewed favorably by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company.

 Many AND men regretted this change. At Heart’s Content the Company had built up a first class crew to handle paper carefully, there were no water or pilotage charges and cargoes were assembled and shipped at a minimal cost.[ii]

 It was also noted that the shipping of paper from St. John’s would also provide badly needed employment to men in the capitol city. The move to St. John’s as a winter port necessitated the building of a 400 foot pier and a large storage shed capable of housing 3500 tons of newsprint.

Sir Humphrey icebreaker.jpg
Ice breaker, Sir Humphrey Gilbert.

Paper would be shipped from St. John’s and I do believe Port Aux Basque until the winter of 1959-60. That winter the Bay of Exploits was able to be regulatory opened due in part to the arrival of the icebreaker Sir Humphrey Gilbert (Botwood History). In 1960 the MV Crystal Falls, a 42 foot ice-breaking tug came to Botwood to be used to help keep the Harbour open. Icebreakers would continue to make winter shipping possible right up until the last cargo of paper was shipped from Botwood in February of 2009.

Crystal Falls Judy Gill.jpg
The Crystal Falls was an ice breaking tug that was fitted with a sort of ice breaking plow or ram. She was used at Botwood for over 40 years. (Facebook, Judy Dean Gill) 
Last paper ship botwood cbc.jpg
Interestingly enough, the last cargo of paper left Botwood in the middle of winter.  The last ship to load paper at Botwood was the MV Schippersgrcht. The first cargo of paper aboard the Kastalia in 1910 went to England. The last cargo in 2009 was bound for Egypt(CBC NL)

Around the same time that Heart’s Content had been choosing for winter shipping there was another scheme to avoid the constraints of winter ice in the works. This came from the likes of none other than Harry J. Crowe. Crowe proposed a railway line that would starch from Bishop’s Falls to St. Alban’s (or Ship’s Cove it was noted) on the South Coast. Crowe acquired a ‘franchise” related to the building of this Railway sometime during the administration of Edward Morris. Most of the information comes from a newspaper clipping from the early 1920’s. At the time Crowe was working on a plan to develop areas in the Bay D’Espoir region for pulp and paper. In any event neither the south coast railway nor the pulp and paper development ever came to fruition. By the time a highway had been built on roughly the same route, Botwood was kept open year round by ice breakers.

search for winter shipping.jpg
Story from either the Daily Star or the Western Star detailing Harry Crowe’s plan for the railway from Bishop’s Falls to the South Coast, Circa 1920 (Memorial University DAI) 


[i] This was the site of one of the earliest mines in Newfoundland. LaManche lead mines had been active in the 1890’s and there may have been some preexisting infrastructure in place like a road or railway sidings that may have made this area more attractive.

[ii] Unpublished typescript history of the AND Co.

-Bryan Marsh


    • The Conception Bay side might have, if I recall two separate lines the Conception Bay side must have been connected to the Bay De Verde Branch. The branch from Whitbourne to Heart’s Content stayed open until 35 and the tracks were still down even longer.


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