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Down Memory Lane - A businessman extraordinaire


John E. Lake of Fortune, who lived more than one hundred years ago, can be described as an entrepreneur, a visionary and a risk-taker.  Without a doubt he was one of this country’s most successful businessmen of the day.

The fishery was always the lifeblood of this area and our people were some of the first to venture farther out to sea in the late-1860s to seek the cod on the offshore banks. Thus the schooner bank salt fishery developed and it wasn’t long before our government of the day began paying bounties to have vessels built in order to get more people involved.

During a 10-year span, from 1874-1884, a total of 32 vessels were built in Fortune, including six by Lake from 1875-1877. However, it wasn’t only his involvement in shipbuilding or the fishery that made him successful. Lake operated a lobster canning business for several years and also started a boot and shoe factory. For a brief period, he was elected as a member of the Newfoundland House of Assembly for Burin district.

Possibly Lake’s most-adventurous business venture was the building and operating of a furniture factory in his hometown. His furniture-making business is believed to be the first of its kind for Newfoundland. One order it filled was to make a thousand chairs for the old Nickel Theatre at St. John’s, the first motion picture theatre in the province.

Lake is also credited with being the founder of Milltown in Bay d’Espoir. It was in the 1890s and he was looking for a supply of suitable timber to be used in his furniture factory.

At the time, the English firm of Newman and Company had a fish collecting and trading station at Gaultois in Hermitage Bay. The head of Bay d’Espoir is about 30 miles from Gaultois and employees of Newman and Company regularly went into the area to cut bark and rind, which the fish exporting company used in the hold of their vessels to lay salt bulk fish on.

In conjunction with the furniture factory and hearing about the supply of good timber in Bay d’Espoir, Lake decided to go and look the area over.  He purchased 80 square miles of virgin timberland and – at the exact spot where Milltown now stands – spent the first winter with a small party woodcutting.

After the winter’s cutting he set up a sawmill. The operation progressed and people moved into Milltown from Hermitage Bay. He then engaged a teacher, a Charlie King of Fortune, to come into the bay and start a school. Prior to Lake’s arrival, there were about 35 families already living in St. Alban’s, providing for themselves and cutting rind, fence posts, rails and firewood for Gaultois.

The first sawmill operation proved to be such a success that the enterprising gentleman then started another sawmill at the Indian settlement of Conne River and further expanded by setting up a third mill at Little River.

Lake died in 1921 at the age of 75. The sawmill operations were carried on until the early 1940s when Bowater’s bought Lake’s Milltown business. Bowater’s took down the original sawmill and operated a pulpwood cutting business there for several years, employing nearly all the woodsmen in the area. They built a woods road that later was upgraded and became part of the original highroad connecting to central Newfoundland.

Meanwhile, the pulpwood was shipped by barges and tugs to Corner Brook.

Eventually, the operation did not prove feasible and Bowater’s closed down its Bay d’Espoir pulpwood venture.

 

Allan Stoodley resides in Grand Bank.

He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com and welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.

The fishery was always the lifeblood of this area and our people were some of the first to venture farther out to sea in the late-1860s to seek the cod on the offshore banks. Thus the schooner bank salt fishery developed and it wasn’t long before our government of the day began paying bounties to have vessels built in order to get more people involved.

During a 10-year span, from 1874-1884, a total of 32 vessels were built in Fortune, including six by Lake from 1875-1877. However, it wasn’t only his involvement in shipbuilding or the fishery that made him successful. Lake operated a lobster canning business for several years and also started a boot and shoe factory. For a brief period, he was elected as a member of the Newfoundland House of Assembly for Burin district.

Possibly Lake’s most-adventurous business venture was the building and operating of a furniture factory in his hometown. His furniture-making business is believed to be the first of its kind for Newfoundland. One order it filled was to make a thousand chairs for the old Nickel Theatre at St. John’s, the first motion picture theatre in the province.

Lake is also credited with being the founder of Milltown in Bay d’Espoir. It was in the 1890s and he was looking for a supply of suitable timber to be used in his furniture factory.

At the time, the English firm of Newman and Company had a fish collecting and trading station at Gaultois in Hermitage Bay. The head of Bay d’Espoir is about 30 miles from Gaultois and employees of Newman and Company regularly went into the area to cut bark and rind, which the fish exporting company used in the hold of their vessels to lay salt bulk fish on.

In conjunction with the furniture factory and hearing about the supply of good timber in Bay d’Espoir, Lake decided to go and look the area over.  He purchased 80 square miles of virgin timberland and – at the exact spot where Milltown now stands – spent the first winter with a small party woodcutting.

After the winter’s cutting he set up a sawmill. The operation progressed and people moved into Milltown from Hermitage Bay. He then engaged a teacher, a Charlie King of Fortune, to come into the bay and start a school. Prior to Lake’s arrival, there were about 35 families already living in St. Alban’s, providing for themselves and cutting rind, fence posts, rails and firewood for Gaultois.

The first sawmill operation proved to be such a success that the enterprising gentleman then started another sawmill at the Indian settlement of Conne River and further expanded by setting up a third mill at Little River.

Lake died in 1921 at the age of 75. The sawmill operations were carried on until the early 1940s when Bowater’s bought Lake’s Milltown business. Bowater’s took down the original sawmill and operated a pulpwood cutting business there for several years, employing nearly all the woodsmen in the area. They built a woods road that later was upgraded and became part of the original highroad connecting to central Newfoundland.

Meanwhile, the pulpwood was shipped by barges and tugs to Corner Brook.

Eventually, the operation did not prove feasible and Bowater’s closed down its Bay d’Espoir pulpwood venture.

 

Allan Stoodley resides in Grand Bank.

He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com and welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.

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