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Fortune, Newfoundland

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Date: 1800 [unknown]
Location: [unknown]
Surname/tag: newfoundland
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This article is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland, and needs to be edited for length and content. Anything you can do is appreciated.



The town of Fortune is situated on the western side of the Burin Peninsula, near the mouth of Fortune Bay. It is built along the shore of Fortune Barasway, a body of water which forms the harbour and extends inland for approximately .8 km (.5 mi)[1].

The name Fortune is thought to have originated from the Portuguese word fortuna; M.F. Howley (n.d.) claims this to mean a place of misfortune while W.B. Hamilton (1976) claims it means a place of good fortune.


Pre-British Colony

It appears on Spanish and Italian maps of the early Sixteenth Century, including Majollo (1527), Verrazano (1528) and Ribeiro (1529), which would indicate that Europeans, probably fishermen, were in the area around that time.

French fishermen were also at Fortune near the end of the Seventeenth Century. In a census of French settlements on the south coast of Newfoundland for the year 1687 a place listed as Baie de Fortune but believed to be Fortune itself is listed as having a population of seventy- two people.

Most of the French appear to have left the Fortune area during Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), but four French famlies reported at Fortune in 1714 had sworn an oath of allegiance to King George I of England. The area was probably frequented well into the Eighteenth Century by French fishermen who went into Fortune Bay in search of bait.

British Colony

At the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 the British settlers on St. Pierre were forced to leave that island in accordance with the Treaty of Paris of that year, which ceded the island to France. Many of them settled on the shores of Fortune Bay. In 1765 Captain James Cook surveyed the south coast, including the Burin Peninsula, and in his report published in 1794 he described Fortune as a place with a sand-bar which allowed fishing boats passage at quarter-flood tide. He also reported a small fishing village situated near the bottom of the barasway which offered good anchorage.

After 1880 the Bank fishery began to develop; several Fortune businessmen including John E. Lake and C.B. Spencer began to outfit schooners, and by 1884 Fortune had ten vessels engaged in the Bank fishery. In that year there were forty-seven fishing boats reported as well. During the summer schooners fished mainly on the Grand Banks but in the winter many went to the western marine banks and the Strait of Belle Isle.


John Lake, the first permanent British settler in Fortune, was a Methodist and in the period from 1801 to 1811 regularly held church services in his home. In a letter from nine Fortune residents to Governor John T. Duckworth, dated September 19,1811, there is a request that Lake's home be allowed to continue as a meeting hall until a proper church could be built. With the appointment of Rev. Richard Knight to the Grand Bank-Fortune Bay Methodist circuit in 1817 Fortune began to receive the services of a Methodist clergyman.

The Salvation Army first arrived in Fortune in 1888 and held services in the Orange Hall, and later in the Masonic Hall, until a barracks was constructed around 1890.

While there were a number of Church of England adherents in Fortune from the early 1800s they did not constitute a large portion of the population until after 1950, when there was a large influx of Anglicans from other Fortune Bay communities.


The first school was begun in Fortune in 1817 by a Mr. Woundy. Classes were held in an empty dwelling house until a school building was constructed around 1825. Woundy remained the teacher until his death in 1848 although he did spend some time in Burin in the 1840s. There were thirty-eight pupils in 1838, but by 1846 conditions had deteriorated to the point where only nineteen of thirty-five students were attending. The school inspector reported in that year that the school was particularly dirty and felt it his duty to report "to the Secretary of the Protestant Board at Burin, a complaint which some of the inhabitants of Fortune made to me against their schoolmaster, that, besides being incompetent from old age he was very passionate with the children and addicted to using oaths and other improper language".

A new school was built in 1854. Owned by the community, it was operated by the Fortune Elementary School Board. In 1867 James N. Haddon became the teacher at the school and remained in that position for forty-six years.

Early Families

By 1800 there was an established resident English population in Fortune. Around that time a Placentia Bay resident named John Lake, considered to be the founder of Fortune, happened upon the harbour by accident. He was on a trip to Fortune Bay in search of bait when a storm forced him to seek shelter in the harbour. He liked the location and returned the next year with his brother; they were soon joined by other families from Placentia Bay. Houses were built on both sides of the barasway and in addition to fishing the settlers had soon established gardens and were raising cattle. In addition to Lake and his brother some of the early settlers were William Gallop, Edward and Thomas Kearly, James Vie, J. Mauger, Samuel Forsey, John Andrews, J. Buffett and James Hamilton.

By the time of the first official Newfoundland Government Census, in 1836, the population of Fortune stood at 163, mainly Protestant Episcopalians and Dissenters. There were twenty-two vessels of varying sizes engaged in the fishery and 25 ha (62.5 acres) of cultivated land. The population had risen to 421 by 1857. Over the next twelve years the population increased substantially to 669 but after 1874 levelled off to around 800 until 1891.


What links to this page.


  1. Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1994 volume 2 (Extract: letter F). Entry for Fortune, p. 337. Memorial University of Newfoundland Website. Accessed 2018.

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