REPORT OF A COMMITTEE OF THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL, LOWER CANADA.
C.O. RECORDS 45/121.
May it please your Excellency
The Committee have taken into consideration your Excellency's Reference of the Memorial of Samuel Robinson of Spar Point outfitter in the Labrador Fisheries and also the Petition of certain Inhabitants of the place commonly called Labrador on the North Coast of the River St Lawrence soliciting the interference of His Majesty's Government for the purpose of regulating the rights of the People concerned in the Fisheries in that Quarter and settling the disputes that arise among themselves respecting the Privilege of Fishing and also between them and interloping Foreigners.
The Committee have obtained information respecting these remote Settlements from such Individuals in Quebec as were capable of affording it, and they have been led to enquire into the origin of the Establishments and the manner in which they have been carried on. It appears that the Fisheries on that part of the Coast of Labrador have been carried on by outfits from Quebec from an early period after the Conquest.—By His Majesty's Proclamation of October 1763 the whole Coast from the River St John to Hudson Straits was placed under the . . . . (sic) and Inspection of the Governor of Newfoundland with a view as therein stated that an open and free Fishery might be carried on by His Majesty's Subjects on that Coast.
In pursuance of this Proclamation Regulations were made in the year 1765 by the Governor of Newfoundland and were published in this Province for the Regulation of that Fishery and for settling the Rights of the Persons engaged in it, but these Regulations soon became the subject of a remonstrance addressed to the Government of this Province on the part of the Merchants concerned in that Fishery.
From that period however the Government of Newfoundland appears to have continued to exercise jurisdiction over that Coast and in 1809 by an Act of Imperial Parliament it was severed from Lower Canada and annexed to the Government of Newfoundland from whence periodical visits appear to have been made by Persons holding authority as Surrogates which enabled them to settle disputes among the Inhabitants and owners of the Fishery.
In 1835 (? 1825) however an Act of the Imperial Parliament was passed reannexing to Lower Canada those parts of the Labrador Coast from the River St John to the anse à Sablon which had been annexed to Newfoundland
by the Statute of 1809 within which Limits all the Persons who have signed the Petition before the Board appear to be settled.
From the information received by the Committee it appears that there are eight or ten sedentary Fishing Establishments on that part of the Coast the supplies for which are principally drawn from Quebec, and the Persons engaged in these pursuits amount to several hundreds, some of them have resided there many years and the Trade is of considerable value to the Province but none of them appear to have any legal Title to the Soil except that of occupation and possession, beyond the limits of the Seigniory of Mingan nor any legal means of securing their Rights from Encroachments, except by resorting to the Courts at Quebec to ascertain their possession and Privileges; nor is there any Person resident there clothed with public authority either on Civil or Criminal matters, and the Rights of Individuals seem to depend on ancient usage among themselves.
The Committee have not been able to ascertain whether in the Interval between 1809 and 1825 any local Regulations were made by the Government of Newfoundland applicable to these Settlements and it might be susceptible of doubt whether such Regulations if made could be considered as in force since the annexation of that Territory to this Province and altho' by the 56th 57th 58th & 59th Articles of the standing Royal Instructions to your Excellency some security was intended to be afforded to the actual possessions and Property of His Majesty's Canadian Subjects on that Coast the Committee do not perceive that there is any effectual power vested in His Majesty's Government to interfere for the relief or protection of the Petitioners otherwise than by the appointment of a Justice of the Peace, for the Provincial Act relating to the trial of small Causes, even if it could be brought into operation in these Settlements would not appear to be applicable to the difficulties of which the Petitioners complain. The Committee therefore cannot advise your Excellency to adopt any measure of Executive Authority, but they consider it highly important both to the adjustment of these local difficulties among the resident and transient subjects of His Majesty engaged in these Fisheries and also the protection against the Encroachments of Foreigners to which it appears that they are greatly exposed in violation of public Treaties that the subject should be brought before the Legislature in order to the adoption of some efficient Regulations respecting it.
All which is respectfully submitted to your Excellency's Wisdom.
Signed: W. SMITH,
10th May 1837.