Adapted from Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, pp 511-513
Merasheen (inc. 1963; pop. 1966, 271). Spread haphazardly around a snug harbour on the southwestern tip of Merasheen Island, the resettled community of Merasheen was once home to almost 400 people. While a local tradition holds that it was named after two Frenchmen (Mere and Jean) who discovered and settled the area in the 1600s, other sources suggest Merasheen was first known as Mer aux Chiens ("ocean of the seadogs or seals").
The English, Irish and Scottish began to settle permanently in Merasheen as early as the late 1700s and by 1836 there were already 188 people living in the community. Seary records a tradition that a "Pomeroy, from Ireland, settled at Merasheen about 1820,"while some of the oldest headstones in the graveyard indicate that families of Bests, Hennesseys, Movelles and Wards were also among the first settlers. Another community established in the early 1800s and located over a ridge to the north (on the site of an ancient graveyard) was named Little Merasheen. By 1857 there were 127 people living at Little Merasheen. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s the two communities were enumerated as one, their combined population peaking at 380 by 1921. By this time additional family names at Merasheen included Connors, Ennis, Houlihan, Pittman and Wilson. The 1857 Census was the first to record the existence of a Roman Catholic church and school.
With a narrow rock-encumbered entrance and a 30-foot high promontory (named Soldier Point, presumably after a battle that occurred there between the English and French), Merasheen Harbour was suitable only for small vessels. The inshore cod fishery provided the main means of summer and fall income, with lobster being caught in spring and herring in the ice-free harbour throughout the winter. The cod was sold mostly to merchants at Harbour Buffett and Spencer’s Cove. But by 1939 residents of Merasheen were operating a general purpose co-operative through which half of the community's fish was sold. The co-operative also operated a small herring factory and a liver factory (which closed around 1950 due to lack of markets), and supplied members with vegetables from Prince Edward Island, coal from Nova Scotia, dry goods, lumber and salt.
By 1953 approximately one third of Merasheen's 348 residents were members of the co-operative society. But Alberto Wareham had also established a branch store in Merasheen by this time and was purchasing approximately half of the fish. By 1957 the Newfoundland government had provided a community salting and drying plant to replace the individually owned stages and flakes scattered around the harbour.
Operated by the local fishermen, the plant was equipped with cold storage space, pickling vats, dry storage and hand flakes for outdoor drying. An artificial dryer was also procured.
Merasheen was not connected by road to the other communities on the island, although, like the more central communities, including Best's Harbour, Broad Cove and Tacks Beach, it had a narrow footpath which ran by many of the beachside houses. The only medical services in the 1950s were provided by the hospital ship Lady Anderson, which visited the community once a month. Merasheen also had the first "trade school" in the region. Established by parish priest Monsignor Anthony Fyme in an attempt to lessen dependence on the fishery, the school trained students for careers in mechanics and other trades.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the population, predominantly Roman Catholic, declined slightly - to 291 by 1961. But the formation of a community council in 1963, the addition of a fourth room to the school, the processing of herring by Fishery Products and the provision of an electric power plant all seemed to give hope for the community's future. The majority of people, however, soon submitted a petition for resettlement and by 1965 the government centralization program was under way. Most of the residents moved to Freshwater, Jerseyside, Placentia, Point Verde and St. John's over the next couple of years. There were only five or six families left at Merasheen by 1968 and no teacher was allocated for that year. Within weeks the community, at one time among the most prosperous in Placentia Bay, was completely abandoned. But many families continued to fish out of Merasheen. With 40 to 60 fishermen there in the 1970s and 1980s, the provincial government spent more than $50,000 in repairing facilities which had fallen into disrepair.
In 1980 the first Merasheen reunion was organized by Loyola Pomroy and Bill Wilson. Held from July 23 to 27, the event was attended by approximately 400 people. The first reunion of a resettled community, it was so well patronized that by 1990 two more reunions had been held.
Sources: Vivian Hann (1978), Harold Horwood (1969), J.B. Jukes (1969), Adrian and Loretta Pomroy (interview, Dec. 1990), E.R. Seary (1977), DA (Aug. 1976), DN (July 28, 1980), Eastern Newfoundland Settlement Survey 1953: Merasheen (1953), E of C:N (1949), Evening Herald (Oct. 10, 1919), ET (July 20, 1985), Fishermen's Advocate (June 17, 1955), JHA (1854), Merasheen Reunion (1980), Monitor (Oct. 1980), Newfoundland Herald (July 26, 1980), Newfoundland Lifestyle (Oct. 1985), Centre for Newfoundland Studies (Merasheen), Newfoundland Historical Society (Merasheen), Stacey Collection.
MERASHEEN ISLAND. At 35 km in length and up to 9 km wide, this largest of the Placentia Bay islands was once home to hundreds of people. Its position in the centre of the Bay, between Long Island and Isle Valen, made it an ideal location for prosecuting the region's lucrative fishery.
Merasheen Island is believed to have been occupied by French fishermen as early as the sixteenth century. People of British descent began to settle in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Several communities were listed by the first Newfoundland Census in 1836. Merasheen, the largest settlement on the island, had 188 inhabitants by that year, and there was a total of 62 settlers at the smaller communities of Tacks Beach, Virgin Cove and Brule (sometimes called Great Brule in later census reports to distinguish it from Little Brule to the north). On the western shore. Virgin Cove was the closest of these communities to Merasheen, while the most distant was Brule on the northern end of the island. Tacks Beach was located on King Island, the largest of the Ragged Islands, just off Merasheen Island's northwest coast. By the 1845 Census Merry Harbour (11 km north of Virgin Cove) and Indian Harbour (5 km southeast across the Island from Merry Harbour) were also recorded with respective populations of 11 and 20. In the Tacks Beach region. Baker's Cove was first recorded with 11 inhabitants in 1874, Coopers Cove with 9 in 1884, and Best's Harbour with 43 in 1901. As various other small settlements - such as those at Jean de Gaunt (alt. John the Gong) and those on the Barren and Harbour islands - sprang up, the region became one of the most highly populated in Placentia Bay.
Efforts to distinguish among the myriad of nooks and coves on Merasheen Island resulted in many descriptive names which survived into the twentieth century, including Dough Ball Cove, Forked Duck Rock, Jaw Bones Cove, Potato Point and Naked Man Ridge (the location of Captain James Cook's station when he surveyed Newfoundland's coast in the 1760s). While many of the areas, such as Baker's Cove and Best's Harbour, were named for early settlers, others were named for geographical features — including Rose au Rue (Roche Roux, "reddish rocks"). Merasheen was an Anglicization of "Mer aux Chiens" (ocean of the seadogs or seals). Coopers Cove may have been named for a barrel-making enterprise in the area and Jean de Gaunt appears to have been named after Edward Ill's son. Indian Harbour, Howley suggested, was simply a translation of the French name "Havre Sauvage," but Jukes thought that the settlement was named for Red Indians, who at that site were the victims or perpetrators of "some atrocity." At any rate, by the late 1800s there were several families in the community, including the names Bavis, Hayes, Kerrivan, Rogers and Wise.
While there was some involvement in the Bank fishery, the economy of Merasheen Island was dominated by the inshore cod, herring and lobster fisheries. In the early 1800s Christopher Spurrier and Company - and later C.F. Bennett and Company - had established one of the region's most important trading centres at Isle Valen. William Brown of the Tacks Beach region also traded, with a vessel named the Good Intention. Harbour Buffett and Spencers Cove on Long Island also became dominant trading centres. By 1920 the Warehams had opened a herring factory at Spencers Cove and were collecting fish from communities on Merasheen Island. From the early 1900s there were also several lobster factories on the island, while at Rose au Rue there was a Norwegian whale factory employing about 50 people.
As there were no roads connecting the settlements, many had their own churches, graveyards and schools. The feeling of isolation was acute. With the start of World War II and the construction of the Argentia Base there was an exodus from Merasheen Island, culminating in the resettlement program of the 1960s, under which the remaining residents moved.
Sources: Maxwell BoU (1973), Howard Brown (1973), M.F. Howley (1979), J.B. Jukes (1842), Donald L. Reid (1972), Anthony Traverse (interview, Dec. 1990), Robert Wells (1960), DA (Aug. 1976), McAlpines Maritime Gazetteer (1904), McAlpines Newfoundland Directory (1894), Monitor (May 1979), Newfoundland Lifestyle (Oct. 1985), Report of the South Coast Commission 1957 (1957), Statistics, Federal-Provincial Resettlement Program (1975), Newfoundland Historical Society (Merasheen Island),