Our Lady of Lourdes Parish is situated on the Port au Port Peninsula, on the West Coast of the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador. Its boundaries extend from Mainland, Long Point and Harry's Brook in West Bay Centre. Today it includes the Town of Lourdes and the Communities of Mainland, Three Rock Cove, Black Duck Brook and part of West Bay. Up until 1959, it also included the Community of Piccadilly as far as the "Crossroads," at which time Our Lady of Fatima Parish was established and still exists today. While the Parish itself dates back to 1912, the history of its people goes well beyond that date. The Catholic Directory for the year 1894 states that the Districts of Stephenville and Port au Port were both under Reverend M. O'Rourke. The main church in this area at that time was the Church of St. Francis Xavier at Black Duck Brook. The Directory mentions other "Stations" as Clam Bank Cove (Lourdes), Le Grand Terre (Mainland), Trois Cailloux (Three Rock Cove) and Pic Denis (Piccadilly). It is worthy of notice that the present Diocese of St. Georges was at the time a "Vicariate Apostolic;" in other words, very much a missionary area but not yet a Diocese. There were only six priests in what is now the Island portion of the Diocese. There were twenty Parochial Schools in addition to a Presentation Convent in Harbour Breton and a Mercy Convent at Sandy Point.
We know there was a school in operation in Black Duck Brook before 1899 as the "Catholic School Report" for that year which was made by the talented Inspector of Catholic Schools, Vincent P. Burke, Esq., refers to this school. In reference to the area, the report states, "this is a remote settlement in Port au Port Bay, peopled mainly by French fishermen." The report goes on to say, "owing to the difficulty of getting there, and the short time at my disposal, I had to defer my visit until next year." Apparently, Mr. Burke was successful in visiting Black Duck Brook the following year. His report of 1900 advises that the former teacher in the community had left in April. He further reports, "at the time of my visit (October) another teacher had just been engaged and was then awaiting at the "Gravels" for passage to the place."
The earliest settlers in the area came from Brittany in France. They originally came to fish around the Western shores of Newfoundland and would return to France again in the Fall; a passage that took them about eleven days. Eventually, in order to avoid military service, some of them began to settle and make their homes along the shores of the Port au Port Peninsula, many of them taking local Mi'Kmaq women as wives. One of the earliest centres of activity in the area was "L'Isle Rouge" or Red Island. Up until the turn of the century there were families with temporary homes and their cattle on the Island, however, they had to return to France every Fall after the fishing season. Sometime in the early 1900's after the Treaty of Utrecht, some of them moved over to "La Grand Terre" or "the Mainland." Older folks tell a story of a portion of Red Island being sold to the Abbott & Haliburton Company in lieu of debts owed by the French fishermen, and later the Company acquiring the whole of the Island. The first school at Mainland was built around 1910. With the opening of a new Francophone school in 1973, this original school was converted into a Mission Chapel to serve the spiritual needs of the people of Mainland and remained as such until 2000 when the new "Chapelle Ste. Anne" (St. Ann's Chapel) was consecrated. At present, the old schoolhouse has been designated as a heritage site and is being restored to its original condition. The earliest settlers in West Bay were people who moved there from Stephenville. They were Acadians, originally from the Margaree area of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. There were also people who moved there from the Highlands. The children walked to Clam Bank Cove (now Lourdes) to attend school and learn their Catechism. A little later at West Bay, school was held in an upstairs section of a dwelling occupied by Mr. Ronald Gale. Shortly after this the first school building was built, probably about 1927. In time, families moved here from Black Duck Brook and from the Codroy Valley.
A news report of early March 1912 states, " Reverend Fr. Pineault came from Woods Island last week. He took Friday's train enroute to Clam Bank Cove, Port au Port, where he will be stationed in the future." The area became a Parish with the arrival of Father Pineault. It would appear that he changed the name of Clam Bank Cove to Lourdes very soon after his arrival. The Baptismal Register, written in his own hand the month of his arrival, lists children as having been born at Lourdes. If this is the case, the name was not too well known, for another news item of November 1912 reports, "Father Pineault is bringing his saw-mill at Clam Bank Cove very near to completion." For that matter, even today local residents still refer to a part of lourdes as "Clam Bank Cove." The Catholic Directory of 1914 gives the new name, no longer Clam Bank Cove - but Our Lady of Lourdes Parish; and Mainland, Three Rock Cove, Black Duck Brook, West Bay and Piccadilly are mentioned as "Missions." Father Pineault was Parish Priest from 1912 to 1928. His last entry in the Parish records was made on Agust 6, 1928. During his time a Parish Hall was built and at the time of his leaving a Church at Lourdes, which he began, was near completion. Father Michael O"Reilly was appointed Parish Priest on September 28, 1928. He was to become a central figure in a Land Settlement Program that very much affected this Parish. The program was sponsored by the Newfoundland Commission of Government and resulted in the movement of some twenty seven families from the South Coast of Newfoundland - from Sagona Island, Miller's Passage and Harbour Breton. The first of these were five men who left their homes and arrived here in December 1934. Their families came the following May. The first passage of women and children was by way of an ice-cutter that dropped them off in Humbermouth, in the Bay of Islands. After waiting out a storm for three days in Port au Port, a motorboat landed them on the beach at West Bay and they walked to Lourdes. One of the women, with four children and expecting another, later recalled, "We were almost lost on that trip from Port au Port." For the first few months, awaiting the completion of their new homes, some of them lived in the old Parish Hall. By the Fall of that year they were able to occupy their homes. Others were to follow. Those were hard days as both men and women worked to clear the land and make it produce. These were also the "lonely days," filled with hardships and uncertainties. Some of them were homesick and yearned for their relatives, friends and the way of life which they had to leave behind. The land was made to produce and the new settlers grew accustomed to their new environment. While they could supply themselves with the necessities of life, there was difficulty in finding markets for their vegetables and cattle products. Transportation presented a problem that was virtually insurmountable. The Lourdes Land settlement holds the distinction of being the first successful program of the eight initiated by the pre-Confederation Commission of Government and a great part of this success is credited to the collaboration of the three founding cultures - French, Mi'Kmaq and English.
THE WINDS OF CHANGE
In the early 1940's the lifestyle of the Parish, as well as the whole Bay St. George and Port au Port area, was drastically changed by the opening of the United States Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville. In a very short time, most of the men left the land, and their nets, to seek employment at Harmon Field. The Base brought prosperity previously unknown to the settlers of this area. It put dollars in the pockets of the people but, unfortunately, was only to last for a little more than two decades. With the closure of the Base the people of the area found found it extremely difficult to return to the more traditional lifestyle they had left behind them. Many had forgotten, or had never acquired, those skills necessary to derive a living from the land and the sea. When the closure of the Base was all but certain, several individuals from the Stephenville - Port au Port area came together to form an organization whose chief aim was to assist the people to overcome the economic crisis brought on by the phasing out of the Base. This organization, which came to be known as the Port au Port Economic Development Association, was one of the earliest of its kind and today, along with numerous other such organizations, forms part of the "grassroots" movement which encompasses the entire Province. This organization is still very active today within communities of this Parish and throughout the region generally, and continues to assist local people in developing the necessary skills and infrastructure required to make a living from the basic resources of the area. This organization recently acquired the Provincial Park at Piccadilly and has turned it into a success story. The last four decades have seen remarkable strides in the development of Municipal Government within this Parish. Lourdes, the largest community in the Parish, was incorporated as a Town in 1969 while all the other communities have been designated as Local Service Districts and are being governed by Committees. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish is also very fortunate to have a number of organizations which are directly involved in the affairs of the Parish. The Parish has a very active Branch of the Catholic Women's League (CWL). This organization had its beginnings in 1976 under Father B. Buckle. The local CWL officially became affiliated with the National organization on April 13, 1986. In September of 1982 Monsignor M.A. Murphy established a Parish Council and in 1983 became the Charter Chaplain of Council #8550 of the Lourdes Council of the Knights of Columbus. This Council was very active in the Parish for many years and was responsible for the first-rate Ambulance Service that serves the needs of the Parish today. A Round-Table group of the Knights of Columbus still exists today and greatly contributes to the needs of the Parish. In 1987, a Grotto was constructed on the Parish grounds and today, through the eforts of an all-volunteer "Grotto Committee," it has turned out to be a major tourits attraction for the Parish. There were also a number of organizations set up to serve the needs of the youth within our Parish; the Girl Guide movement had its beginnings in 1979, the Boy Scouts in 1983 and an Army Cadet Corps in the Fall of 1985. The Army Cadet Corps remains as one of the largest Cadet Corps in the Province with membership ranging between 80 - 100 youth, is recognized as being the only bilingual Cadet Corps in the province and now also has a large number of aboriginal, status Mi'Kmaq within its ranks.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
The Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes has had a long and difficult history, from the hardships of the first settlers and later the families of the Land Settlement program, the building up of the Church and Mission Chapels and now the maintenance and upkeep of the aging buildings. The Parish is in many ways unique to this Province, representing as it does the founding cultures of this great Nation as well as the continuing struggle for recognition of its aboriginal peoples. This difference of language and culture, rather than having been a cause for division, has and continues to be a source of pride and strength. The next chapter in the history of the Parish, as well as the whole of the Port au Port Peninsula, has not yet been written...... the future, and what it holds, depends on the people and their continued tenacity to survive and prosper. If the Parish and the Peninsula are to be viable it needs attention, it needs planning, and it needs action. Our people have to be encouraged to have continued faith in their communities, and our governments must be convinced of our potential. Maybe with a "few spud, a pound of beef and the tourist who may come to gaze," the Parish can realize another prosperity hitherto unknown.
The people of this Parish have indeed come a long ways together. With faith in their own abilities and trust in their God, the people of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish must continue to work together as they look to the future with eagerness and anticipation. Towards this end, a vote of thanks is also in order to all Parishioners, both living and dead, residing here and away, whose devotion to God and commitment to their Faith have made possible the growth of this Parish and community of God over the past century.
THANK YOU AND MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL.