Chapter IV: Coal, Quarries and Concessions (continued)
Reid justified the withdrawal by pointing to the scarcity of unfractured coal in his deposits. Although the coal miners themselves insinuated that 'scarcity of labour due to poor working conditions' would have been closer to the truth,(6) the problem of fractured coal was genuine, not only with the Grand Lake coalfields, but with nearly every other Newfoundland coal formation. The government, however, failed to appreciate this fact and in 1910 passed the Act for the Confirmation of a Contract for the Development of the Coal Deposits of this Colony.
The Coal Development Act typified government attempts to promote mineral development in Newfoundland. It was too late, overly accommodating and misdirected. The act gave the Newfoundland Exploration Company Limited from England the mineral rights to virtually all Newfoundland coal deposits, including those at Grand Lake. It placed coal mining equipment on the duty-free list, gave free land for coalfield access and promised a tariff on all foreign coal. Not the least of the act's attractions was that it complemented the 1910 Copper Ore Smelting Act. Politicians painted a rosy picture in the House of Assembly of Newfoundland coal being carried by train to fuel a copper smelter at York Harbour in the Bay of Islands. As with most political artwork the image faded rapidly. Neither the coal mines nor the smelter materialized. The Newfoundland Exploration Company left Newfoundland after failing to expend the required $15,000 on coal development in 1910, and the company mining in York Harbour chose not to manage the smelter.
The Grand Lake coalfields were last worked in the years of acute coal shortage during and after World War I. The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Limited (A.N.D. Co.) arranged with the Reid Newfoundland Company and the Newfoundland government to work the Coal Brook seam, and between 1917 and 1920 removed several hundred tons of coal.(7) One-Armed Daniel McCuish, who had left the Pilleys Island mine to join the A.N.D. Co. around 1905, managed the coal operation.
Today most of the Grand Lake coalfields lie under water, as the lake level rose with construction of the main dam that diverts water to the Deer Lake hydroelectric plant. One of the coal seams, however, has been exposed recently along the new road built into Hinds Lake and is being quarried on a small scale by local people wanting free coal to ease their heating bills.
Indians on the west coast of Newfoundland knew of coal in the Codroy Valley long before Jukes explored the area in 1839. Jukes tried without success to obtain a guide to show him the deposits; the Indians, he said, feared revealing the coal to strangers without receiving permission from their king in Nova Scotia.(8) Alexander Murray visited Codroy in 1866, but, like Jukes, found no coal. Thomas Downey of Codroy reportedly discovered coal along a tributary of the Grand Codroy River in 1878, only to die mysteriously before being able to describe its whereabouts. Not until the coming of the Newfoundland Railway were the Indian legends confirmed. As Robert Reid's construction crews neared the Codroy Valley in the fall of 1896, one of the men spotted coal along a stream flowing into the South Branch of the Grand Codroy River. The news passed from him to the foreman and hence to Reid, who informed James Howley that the elusive Codroy coal had been found.
Howley remained in the Codroy Valley throughout the summer, exploring its coal indications. His various discoveries brought a Scottish coal expert named Park and Robert Reid's son, Walter, to the site in August. At Reid's suggestion, Park borrowed some railworkers and costeened the Jubilee seam for three weeks; he stopped when the men intersected a fault that had fractured and pinched out the seam. The 100 tons of loosened coal was later hauled to the railway and used to power the railway engines.
During the height of the coal shortage following World War I, the disintegrated nature of the Codroy coal prevented the Reid Newfoundland Company from retrieving more than 3000 tons of coal from the old workings.(10) The coalfields are now covered by a regenerated layer of vegetation; except for the occasional geologist's pick, it is unlikely that they will see the light of day again.
"...we came at a distance of eight or ten miles from the shore, on a bed of coal at the top of a small bank, ...We immediately set to work with pickaxe and shovel, and after filling our bag with the best pieces of coal, we made a fire on the beach, and had a famous blaze with coals of our own digging. ...After eating a lunch we set out on our return, and got back just at sunset..."(11)
Thus, in 1839, did Joseph Jukes describe finding what became known as the Jukes seam of coal along the Middle Barachois River that flows into St. George's Bay. It was probably this reference to the St. George's coalfields that brought Captain Philip Cleary to the same area about three decades later. Cleary had a special interest in coal, having captained many vessels that frequented Welsh coal mining towns. After retiring in 1870 as the pilot of Newfoundland's first mail steamer, he prospected the banks of the Middle Barachois River, found a second coal seam that he called the Cleary seam, and staked it.
Inhabitants of the Middle Barachois River had, for several decades, quarried small amounts of coal for making fires to harden axes or to take into the interior to warm themselves while camping out. However, when Cleary tried to mine the coal he experienced volatile encounters with French officers. Entrepreneurs who later leased Cleary's claims also received French visitors, and before long Cleary could find no one willing to option the property. Despondent, he returned the coal claims to the government in March 1906 saying that he had wasted $35,000 upon them, that his Notre Dame Bay mines had failed as well and that he felt too old to care further about minerals. Cleary perked up enough to repossess the coal claims a week later, but died on 19 April 1907 at the age of 82.