The island of Newfoundland has a long and indented coastline that includes several major bays. Newfoundlanders conceived of their geography as a series of "shores" and "bays." The major areas within this imagined landscape include: the west coast, the south coast, Fortune Bay, Placentia Bay, St. Mary's Bay, The Southern Shore, Conception Bay, Trinity Bay, Bonavista Bay, Notre Dame Bay, White Bay, and the Great Northern Peninsula. While these are in part arbitrary geographic designations, there are concrete historical experiences that make them real. There are also factors that account for differences among the bays.
Reproduced by permission of Ben Hansen ©1994. From Ben Hansen, Newfoundland and Labrador (St. John's: Vinland Press, 1994) 35.
Communications within these areas, as well as ethnic and economic similarities gave these "regions" some internal coherence. Each of these bays had particular qualities in common, for both geographic and historical reasons. For much of our history, communications and transportation were easier by sea than over land - with the consequence that sometimes communities within a particular bay had more frequent contact with each other than Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in other bays. Particular areas of Newfoundland were also settled at different times, and with settlers from different parts of the British Isles and Ireland, so there is a measure of ethnic homogeneity within individual bays. St. Mary's Bay, for example, had a high portion of Irish Roman Catholic people among its settlers.
The communities in each of the major bays tended to share the same economic foundation as well. Bonavista Bay communities participated in the offshore seal hunt, for example, while Placentia Bay communities often participated in the Grand Banks fishery. This encouraged common cultures with particular areas. The way of life could be strikingly different from the people in another bay. In addition to Newfoundlanders feeling an attachment to their communities, they sometimes felt some sense of belonging to a larger "community" of their bay. One might hear people describing themselves as "Placentia Bay men" or "Placentia Bay women" for example. Those who had moved to urban centres were often the strongest in their identification with their home bay and community.
Reproduced by permission of David Clarke ©1997.
While nearly all communities in Newfoundland had an economic and political relationship with St. John's, particular bays often had unofficial "capitals" of their own. A larger outport, such as Twillingate in Notre Dame Bay, could be the site of a hospital to serve the residents of the bay; or as with Greenspond in Bonavista Bay, have the courthouse for its area. Clergymen also moved from one small community to another within a bay, serving the spiritual needs of the residents of the bay who lacked clergy of their own. Wealthier merchants, such as the Ryan family of Bonavista, also had agents who operated in other communities within the area. So economic and social connections tied bays together.
Reproduced by permission of Ben Hansen ©1994. From Ben Hansen, Newfoundland and Labrador (St. John's: Vinland Press, 1994) 11.
Since most communities in Newfoundland and Labrador are located on the coast, and travel from one community to another was easier by sea, electoral districts were organized by bays. Unlike many British colonies, Newfoundland had not been divided into counties. All the communities in a bay may have been included in the one district, or, in the case of a heavily populated or geographically large bay, have been divided into two districts. "Green Bay" may have been an electoral district, while Bonavista Bay was divided into "Bonavista Bay North" and "Bonavista Bay South." The administration of government services and the court system also conformed to the "bays" into which the colony was divided. With the development of roads to all but the most remote of the outports during the 20th century, transportation by sea became less important and the cohesiveness of particular bays less important.