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Battle Harbour, Newfoundland

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1770 to 1960
Location: Labrador Coast, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canadamap
Surname/tag: newfoundland
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Battle Harbour (Inuttitut: Putlavak) is a summer fishing station, formerly a permanent settlement, located on the Labrador coast in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada[1]. Battle Harbour was for two centuries the economic and social centre of the southeastern Labrador coast. Mercantile saltfish premises first established there in the 1770s developed into a thriving community that was known as the Capital of Labrador. It fell into decline following reductions in the cod fishery and a major fire in 1930, and was abandoned as a permanent settlement following government resettlement activity in the 1960s.

Battle Harbour is located on Battle Island, facing a sheltered narrow strait separating that island from Great Caribou Island. It is thought that "Battle Harbour" is derived from the Portuguese word batal, boat as depicted on Portuguese maps c. 1560. Battle Harbour is also known as Ca-tuc-to by the Inuit who had inhabited this part of Labrador.


The exact time by which Battle Harbour became a European settlement is unknown, but it is believed that the French did not fish north of Cape Charles before 1718. Captain George Cartwright first visited Battle Harbour in May and June 1775, and recorded in his journal that a privateer had sacked Twillingate and came to Battle Harbour on this coast and had taken a sloop of Mr. Slade's with about twenty-two tuns of seals' oil on board and destroyed his goods there. Later, in 1785, Cartwright had his provisions brought from Battle Harbour to Slink Point aboard a shallop belonging to the firm of Noble and Pinsent whose firm is believed to have had extensive fishery operations on the Labrador coast with base of operations at Chateau.

According to legend, Montagnais Indians, aided by the French, fought their final battle against the Inuit (c. 1760) at Battle Harbour. A burial mound is supposed to mark the site and some attribute its name from this historic event.

The mercantile saltfish premises at Battle Harbour were established by the firm of John Slade and Company of Poole, England in the early 1770s. Lying just north of the old French Shore, Battle Harbour served as the gateway for Newfoundlanders seeking to fish in the resource rich waters of Labrador. The local population increased rapidly after 1820 when Newfoundland fishing schooners adopted Battle Harbour as their primary port of call and made it the recognized capital of the Labrador floater fishery. Battle Harbour remained in the hands of Slade and Co. until 1871, and during this time became a settled community, dominated by the fish merchants, but with its own evolving institutions, especially schools and churches. In 1871 the Slades sold Battle Harbour to Baine, Johnston and Company Ltd. who operated the site in much the same manner until 1955.


In 1851 Bishop Edward Field described Battle Harbour as probably the oldest, as well as the largest settlement on the Labrador coast. The men who came and stayed there were generally from the Island of Newfoundland that used to bring with them servants from Dorset. Some of the first permanent residents were fishermen, carpenters and coopers from Poole, Dorset, Fogo Island and New World Island. As the community grew, there became an increasing need for supplies and merchants took full advantage of that where in some cases local residents paid as much as 100% beyond the regular cash price for goods. The exclusive monopoly was not challenged until 1918, when Battle Harbour's first co-operative was set up, through the initiative of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell.

A year after Dr. Wilfred Grenfell's visit to Battle Harbour in 1892 he built a hospital there. One of the first in Labrador, it opened for year-round service with a qualified doctor and nurse on staff in 1893. In 1896 a new wing was added from the remains of two wrecked vessels.

In the fall of 1930 Battle Harbour was destroyed by fire so devastating that, Grenfell stated, even the Marconi Pole on the top of the hill was burned. The new school and the hospital were rebuilt at Mary's Harbour.

In 1905 the first Newfoundland government lighthouse in Labrador, called Double Island Light, was set up at Battle Harbour, and in 1921 there was telegraph service installed.

Early Families


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  1. Wikipedia article for Battle Harbour. Accessed 2018.

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