The History of Flatrock
Flatrock is situated 12 kilometres northwest of the capital city of St. John’s , Newfoundland and a short walk around the shoreline will quickly show visitors how the community got its name.
Flatrock was settled in 1762 by Norwegian and Irish families as well as people from England, Scotland, France and Norway.
Among the first settlers was a French officer named Balone who lived in “Boyles”, which is commemorated by the road name “Boyles Lane”. The area was lived in by the Wades. Balone had left St. John’s when the French were fighting over Signal Hill. He was an educated man who knew he was fighting for a worthless cause.
Another settler was Stoyles. He was from Ireland. Stoyles Cove is named after him today. The third man was a McDaniel. He was from Scotland. He lived over on the beach area. The first child born in Flatrock was a McDaniel.
In 1782 a man and his wife by the name of Mayo came to Flatrock. They lived on Red Head. Mayo would take long walks with his dog over the hills in Stoyles Cove, back northeast to Three Island Pond. It would remind him so much of Scotland that he would think he was still there.
In 1827 a vessel owned by Bowrings was on its way to Bonavista Bay with a load of cargo. It was shipwrecked just off Stoyles Cove. Mr. Mayo’s dog barked, bringing his attention to the disaster. Mayo succeeded in saving most of the vessel’s crew – all except a Mr. Cooper. Cooper’s duty on the vessel had been to make barrel hoops. At that time fish was exported in barrels.
In the history of Flatrock, it has been said that because of the dog’s barking to save the crew, that very spot is called “Dog Rock” today.
In the middle of the 1800’s two other men lived at Stoyles Cove – Paddy Rogers and Michael Goff. Paddy and his wife, Peggy, owned a large piece of ground. They had one of the best vegetable gardens ever to be seen. The garden is recognized as “Peggy’s Garden”.
Paddy Rogers and Michael Goff built a wooden ladder to go down to the beach to fish. This was later replaced with an iron ladder which was used for many years.
In 1840 a man named Bill Dawe came to Flatrock from England. Communication was bad in those days and word of mouth was the only means of hearing any news. As the story goes, Bill Dawe had heard that a woman living out in Harbour Grace had a horse and long car for sale, so Bill Dawe went over to see her. Bill was an Anglican, but he married the widow woman, and the two came back to Flatrock on the horse and long car, united as man and wife. Bill Dawe had turned Roman Catholic.
In 1818 Denis Maher from Tipperary, Ireland came to settle at Flatrock. Previous to that he had lived in Nova Scotia and St. John’s.
The Powers settled in Flatrock in the early 1800s. Then came the Burkes, Wades , Graces, Carews, Masons and Martins. Edward Everson came from Norway in 1858. The Stamps, Corcorans, Allens, Kehoes, Hogans, Houlihans, Maynards, Parsons, and the Moreys settled in Flatrock around 1871.
The chief reason that people settled here at that time were fishing and a chance to own their own piece of land. People moved from Ireland because times were bad in Ireland at the time. A lot of people from Ireland were potato farmers. It is believed that twenty-five came over here on the “Old Polina”.
The people who lived here years ago went through many hardships. They cleared all the land by hand; the only tools used were a pick and a shovel. Rocks were carried off the land in bags on a man’s back. The ground was then ready for plowing. These people planted enough vegetables to last all year. The women did most of the garden work and the men tended to their fishing.
Fishing was not easy. There were no engines until 1916. The fishermen would row to the fishing grounds early in the morning, fill their flats, row back to shore and split and salt their fish. The women helped a lot with the splitting and salting of the fish spending many hours in the fishing stages. During the fishing season the fish was sold to the fish merchants in St. John’s. No money was received for the fish. The merchant gave the fishermen supplies instead; people would always owe the fish merchant. The fish merchants brought them here, and it seemed as if the merchant owned them.
In the Spring the men would walk to St. John’s and try to get a berth on the sealing ships. If they were lucky they would get a job to go to the ice fields and hunt seals.
Women in those days carded sheep’s wool, spun the wool to knit socks and other clothing which they traded in St. John’s for some material needs. They made all their own clothing and household effects. Picking berries was another way of earning some money.
The first houses build in Flatrock were built from sods. Studded tilts were built from logs and moss. The houses had saddled roofs and screens were used to partition off the rooms. Pipes made from stone were used to bring the smoke to the outside from the stoves. Later homes were built out of chopped sticks and sawed lumber but they still had saddled roofs, with rock chimneys and open fireplaces. Food was cooked and bread was baked in covered pots over a fireplace. They used what were called “crooks and hangers” and pots were made from iron.
Houses were lit up at night from the light of cod oil lamps. The oil was obtained from the livers of the cod fish, placed in containers with moss used as a wick. There lamps were hung from rafters in the ceiling of the house. Later kerosene lamps were used. In 1927 Flatrock got its first electric lights.
The first road connecting Flatrock with Torbay was along the shoreline going through Gallows Cove and along the Torbay beach. When people went to church in Torbay they would go by this route. Because of this they named it “Church Cove”. After a period of time a Michael Wade obtained permission to build a road but when he wasn’t paid for it he build a house across the road and refused to allow anyone to pass. When the government finally paid him, he removed the house. Great difficulties were met in building the new road which is called Wind Gap today. The road to the new line now known as a section of Pouch Cove Highway was built in 1830.
During the years of the first settlers, people had to walk to Torbay to go to Mass. In 1827-30 Father Troy, parish priest of Torbay, would come down over the hills of Flatrock to visit the old people. This went on for many years – walking to church in all kinds of hard weather – until 1882 – when the first Roman Catholic Church was built which was known as St. Michael’s.
The cemetery was built in 1915. The first man to be buried there was a Thomas Martin. Prior to this the people of Flatrock buried their dead in Torbay.
The old church was torn down in 1967-68 and in 1970 the new church was opened.
The first school in Flatrock was at the location where Jack Burke lived on Wind Gap Road and was built in 1876. In the 1900’s a little red school house was built across the road from where the church is today. In 1929 another school was built which was replaced by a new school in 1962 which is now known as the “Flatrock Community Centre”.
The children years ago were never compelled to attend school. They usually went from the ages of seven to nine. Some never went at all. A lot of the children then had to stay at home to get the firewood and do all the chores as their fathers would probably be away fishing in places like Boston.
Flatrock had a colorful history going through a depression and two wars. In the Second World War Flatrock lost two native sons : Joe Houlihan and Joe Maher.
A memorial plaque exists today on a rock near Houlihan’s Lane.
People who settled in Flatrock years ago made up songs about everything that took place. They lived a simple life, but had their own ways of creating entertainment. One tradition during Christmas was the “Ribbon Fools”. The men would dress up with garments made from flour sacks. The shirts were covered with necklaces, broaches, and colored ribbons. The men would go throughout the community borrowing all the necklaces they could find. They would sew these on their shirts. They also wore big caps made in the shapes of boats with sails on them. They would visit every home in the place. Each house would be obligated to entertain them and have a dance. This went on for the twelve nights of Christmas and a great time would be had by all.
People in the community who were good singers would sing for all the dances. There was also a man named Pat Dooley who played the fiddle for two dollars a night. People would dance until four in the morning and then leave and go out to their fish nets.
The first paving of any roads in Flatrock took place in 1966. Flatrock was starting to grow in population and in 1975 a Town Council was formed with the first Mayor elected being Kevin Parsons. The Deputy Mayor was William Connolly with the others members of the first council being Philip Grace; Frank Maynard; Phonse Murrin, Danny Kavanagh, Gerard McGrath and George Wilkinson.
Today Flatrock is a growing community with a population of 1,683.