The VERY Early Days at Grand Falls

Dr. Gordon Hancock, a former teacher at Grand Falls Academy, wrote the history of English Settlement in Newfoundland. I was titled (in olde timey English) “So Longe as There Comes Noe Women”, which harkens back to the days of the migratory fishery when settlement in Newfoundland was discouraged and the idea that an area wasn’t really settled until there were women living there.

I think I have dwelt upon this before on previous articles. But the more you dig, the more rocks you turn up; and this might not be the last thing I write on this, because who knows what might turn up in the future.  The first few years of the Grand Falls operation are fascinating. I call it an operation because, at least in the very beginning, it could scarcely be called a town.

I have heard tantalizing, but mostly unsubstantiated evidence from before 1905. Of how one report said that there had been a blacksmith’s force near where Jimi-Jaks is. Another story about a Mr. Whelan of Pilley’s Island who recounted in the 1940s or 50s how he had worked driving saw logs over the falls, and had seen a sign posted in the wilderness, stating that the land was available for sale or development.


Rafting Ice on the Exploits River, 1905-1908, (Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society)

The “boots on the ground” history of Grand Falls, and I mean this being the point after which there were people (of European extraction) living continuously, started on March 29, 1905. I don’t have weather reports from that period, but I’m sure there was snow on the ground. It was on that day that three men: Mr. Frank Ireland of St. John’s, accompanied by engineers Mr. William Scott and Mr. O. Emerson trudged the two kilometers from the Railway to the falls on the Exploits River.[1]

Dam before the dam
The Exploits River at Grand Falls before the dam was built, April 1907. The blasting and excavation of the area and the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam greatly altered the river.

They were there to conduct a survey and to take readings of the river. The river then, undammed, was an altogether different beast to behold, and one can imagine that the spring breakup would have been a spectacular sight as huge rafts of ice flowed down the river and over the falls. It was unharnessed but not unused, at some point log-drivers from at least one of the local mills would have passed through with the logs on the way to Botwoodville or possibly Norris Arm.


Above an early photo of Shacktown and the AND Company Store, present day Lincoln Road near the Worker’s Memorial. (Grand Falls Advertiser)

As news of the venture filtered out and more men were hired some structures began to appear. The first were log camps and buildings. Frank Ireland’s second job at Grand Falls was overseeing the store that the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company built in the summer of 1905 in the vicinity of Riverview Chevrolet and the Workers’ Memorial. Two other men worked with Ireland in this store; Mr. Hugh Wilding Cole of England, and Mr. Andrew Porter of Change Islands.[2] It makes little sense to have built a store, out of logs in the middle of the wilderness, but I believe it is a product of how Grand Falls was being developed in those very early days.

The engineers overseeing the project; Messrs. Scott and Emerson, had come from the Reid Newfoundland Railway. Construction of the Railway, having only finished seven years previous was still fresh in the minds of most, and so were the methods of work and housing. For a large part railway construction workers built temporary shacks. A few men would live in each shack and they would cook for themselves, mostly using provisions bought from the railway store. This is how the early construction crews lived at Grand Falls. In some cases there might have been a cookhouse as well, I cannot see AND Co not having one at Grand Falls, but in any event the AND Co needed some sort of store for both storing and supplying provisions.


Staff at Grand Falls, November 1906. Group photo of “salaried staff” of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. This group included a mish mash of people including Scandinavians, Newfoundlanders, Canadians and people from Great Britain. Some of whom had worked for Lewis Miller, Newfoundland Timber Estates, or the Reid Newfoundland Railway. By the time this picture was taken Grand Falls was beginning to take shape.

So in the summer of 1905, the population of Grand Falls appears to have been three to six named individuals, Ireland, Cole, Porter, Scott, Emerson, as well as George Sanders who joined as surveyor in July. There was  possibly a larger crew tasked with clearing  the land and cutting lines, but because of the fishery this crew was probably small and/or consisting of workers from Millertown. Considering the fact that Newfoundland Timber Estates, by agreement, had until October 1905 to finish up their sawing, further reduces this number. At that point there were no women or families.

Unfortunately, no payroll nor much in the way of correspondence from this very early period has been uncovered, to give an idea of the level of activity. Unless it is in some mislabeled box or attic, the best bet to find anything might be in Lord Northcliffe’s files in the British Library.

Once the sawing of lumber finished at Millertown and the AND Co took over operations from Newfoundland Timber Estates, things began to look more permanent at Grand Falls, and for a time, less permanent at Millertown. The Western Star reported in November of 1905 that “All the houses at Millertown are now deserted and no work will be done there the coming winter.”[3] Interestingly, the same issue reported that there was two feet of snow already down in the area.[4]

59 09 30 Stanley Sparkes Mrs Sparkes first woman in Grand Falls Building of Lady Mary important

Mary Ann Sparkes was reportedly the first woman to live in Grand Falls, beating out Mrs. Hanson by a small margin. Because she and her husband returned to Millertown this may have been lost to history. Sources suggest that Millertown was mostly abandoned during the winter of 1905-1906 with some returning in April of 1906.

The first families in the area came in from that temporally deserted village. The first woman to live in Grand Falls was Mrs. Mary Anne Sparkes, wife of Stanley Sparkes. She was there before Mrs. Hanson, arriving in October of 1905. Mr. and Mrs. Hanson were married shortly before they came to Grand Falls. Their wedding in September of 1905 may have seemed like a bittersweet last hurrah for the five year old village on Red Indian Lake.[5]

Screenshot 2022-11-25 132244

Mrs. Hanson was the second woman to live in Grand Falls. She and her husband had previously lived at Millertown.

It has been documented that the family of Edward Wells also came up from Millertown, as did J.S Goodyear’s family (John Goodyear who was with the AND Company and lived on Hill Road, not Josiah Goodyear, they came a little while later in 1906). Other families that came up from Millertown that fall likely included those of Olaf G. Johnson, and Ben Tulk. It appears that a number of the other workers from Millertown, who not needed by AND Co, went to work with some of the other lumbering concerns in Central Newfoundland, such as Scotsman Peter Dackers. Another person who became a permanent resident, that arrived that fall was Laurence Aylward, but census information suggests his family may have been living at Norris Arm. It is also reported that Tom Brown arrived that November to start work on the Log Cabin for Lord Nortlcliffe.

So as the first Christmas season came to Grand Falls there were about a half a dozen families of three different religions denominations, a skeleton management staff that might have included Mr. A.U Wood and an unknown number of workmen. In fact, when the Hanson’s arrived they found a camp full of workmen at the place on Lincoln Road that was once known as Rowsell’s Curve. Most likely they were employed cutting the right of way for station road and clearing the area for the Log Cabin.

There were three houses in Grand Falls when the Hanson’s arrived: The Manager’s House-which is where the Memorial Grounds is now, the House of Mr. Colbourne the Customs official-about a stones throw away on what became Carmelite Road, and the Staff House. With women and families on site more houses soon appeared in addition to the rough log buildings and tar paper tilts. Soon, there were enough children that a school was needed. By 1906, Grand Falls was a village and not just an operation.

Interestedly, F.E Ireland’s family didn’t join him until December of 1907; I’m guessing they all wanted to see if this thing was permanent before making the move into such a remote area.[6]

I’m not going to conclusively say how many people were at Grand Falls by Christmas 1905. There is also a possibility that some people returned to their home communities for the holidays; but I will attempt to give a concise run-down.

F.E Ireland

Hugh Wilding Cole

Alex Wood

Andrew Porter

Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Sparkes

Edward Wells and Family (wife plus 2 known children)

Mr. and Mrs. Hagbert Hanson

Mr. Edwin Colbourne-customs agent, his family would total 5 if they were with him. I believe he was replaced early on by Nathanial Pike. Colbourne transferred to Bishop’s Falls as customs official.

Mr. and Mrs. Olaf G. Johnson

Parents and family of J.S Goodyear (Not the family of Josiah Goodyear, who arrived the following year; number not known). Update-The family of William and Sarah Goodyear; which would have included three children John, Fanny, and Maud (Born at Millertown in 1903). ( Goodyear was born to this family at Grand Falls in 1906 . They were originally from Ladle Cove, there can be little doubt that they were in some way related to the family of Josiah Goodyear.

It is also very likely that Colin Stewart (and I believe at the time Mr. Burry) had a store set up in a tent at Grand Falls Station sometime in 1905. There also would have been a station agent, or telegrapher at the railway station as well as a couple of section men. I believe a telegraphy office was built near the tracks in the spring of 1905, but it is not known when and if living quarters for the section crew that took care of the section between Bishop’s Falls and Badger moved from Rushy Pond Siding. P.J Connors, although he had worked this section before and possibly up to 1905, did not take over as station agent until 1909.

There might be some records (possibly in the Northcliffe papers in the UK) that might prove me wrong, but it looks like Grand Falls probably consisted of about 30 liveyers in December 1905.


[1] “Grand Falls’ Oldest Worker – F.E Ireland” Grand Falls Advertiser January 21, 1954 p.3; It was also reported that Mr. Joseph Burke joined this party at some point too, but this is not mentioned in the article. Likewise a Mr. Ivany was also mentioned as having worked on the survey that year as well.

[2] Ibid


[4] Ibid


[6] Grand Falls’ Oldest Worker – F.E Ireland” Grand Falls Advertiser January 21, 1954 p.3

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