All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Railway/Coastal Boat Service

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In 1973 CNR established a separate unit for its ferry and marine services (which became CN Marine in 1976 and Marine Atlantic in 1986). With the expansion of the Province's highways, coastal boat services were provided only to the south coast and the Labrador. In the 1990s the south coast service was replaced by a system of provincially-run ferries. In 2001 Marine Atlantic continued to operate the Gulf ferries and a coastal freight and ferry service to Labrador, with Sir Robert Bond (which replaced the Carson on the Labrador after she was sunk in 1977) and a new Northern Ranger.

The Fisherman's Trip to Labrador

Every year, coastal vessels transported fishermen and their supplies from the Island of Newfoundland to the Labrador fishery. This voyage was known as the "Fisherman's trip." The trip began in May or early June, depending on weather and ice conditions along the Northern Peninsula and along the Labrador coast.

The vessels would leave port in St. John's and make their way up to Conception Bay, stopping along the way to pick up passengers. At any given stop, people would already have their supplies lining the wharf, awaiting the arrival of the coastal vessel. Some of the necessary supplies included nets, cod traps, trap skiffs, lumber, other smaller boats, and enough food to last the fisherman until the end of the summer. Before the 1960s, fishing crews often brought along livestock, such as chickens, sheep and goats, which filled the lower holds of the vessels. Larger skiffs were hoisted and attached to the lifeboat davits, outside of the lifeboats. At every stop, loading and unloading could take up to 12 hours. The coastal vessels were filled to the brim with supplies and passengers. Fishermen would stay in the upper deck holds, while their wives and children, who paid $6 for a government subsidized ticket, stayed in the regular passenger accommodations. About a week after the first "Fisherman's trip" started out of St. John's, a second Coastal vessel left to repeat the run. These two coastal vessels would make up to two trips each before all fishermen were "on the Labrador."

After the 1960s, fishermen and supplies made the trip on separate coastal ships. Charter vessels carried freight and supplies, while the Railway-operated coastal vessels transported the fishermen and their families. This practice continued until the Moratorium in 1992.

The S.S. Bar Haven dining saloon with passengers and staff, South Coast, c. 1949.
The S.S. Bar Haven, South Coast, c. 1949. Provincial Archives, The Rooms.
The S.S. Home at Snug Harbour.
The S.S. Home at Snug Harbour, Labrador. The steamers transported 300-400 fishers per trip to the various fishing stations. Harry Cuff Publications.
The S.S. Burgeo mooring on Labrador coast, 1940.
The S.S. Burgeo on Labrador coast, 1940.