Oderin Island, located in Placentia Bay some 30 kilometres from Marystown, has a rich and colourful history dating back more than 300 years.
The island was originally settled by the French and named Audierne, after a town in France. Due to the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the French were forced to leave. The English then established an important trade and fishing center on the island.
Apparently shipbuilding became a very important industry on the island, despite the fact there was no local source of wood available. Wood was cut on the mainland of the Burin Peninsula at places like Rushoon, Baie d’leau and Baine Harbour and shipped to Oderin.
By 1802 the population had reached 235 people, comprised mostly of English settlers.
Things changed in 1830 when the English (Poole) merchant Spurriers, which operated there, went bankrupt. The population dropped down to 133; then the Furlong Brothers, Irish merchants from New Brunswick, arrived and took over Spurriers’ business.
Over the ensuing decades up to the middle of the 19th century, an influx of Irish Roman Catholics moved in. Many original English settlers moved to their wintering areas on the Burin Peninsula where they established year-round communities.
As a result, the island’s population was mostly Irish.
In 1853 the first Roman Catholic Church was built at Spoon Cove on the island. Records show in 1865, Richard McGrath of Little Placentia, who had served as a member of the legislature for Placentia and St. Mary’s, was appointed justice of the peace and relocated to Oderin.
A post office and courthouse were established there, and the port became a point of entry of goods into the province. Two of McGrath’s sons went on to represent the district in the House of Assembly.
In 1875 Father Michael Morris of St. John’s arrived and built a new church and school. It is interesting to note that his brother, Edward Morris, taught at the school on the island. He eventually went into politics and became prime minister of Newfoundland from 1909-1918.
In 1898 Oderin had a population of 395, but its importance as a commercial centre started to decline. By 1956 the population had fallen to 223.
The community was abandoned in 1966 under Joey Smallwood’s controversial resettlement program. Most residents relocated to Baine Harbour, Rushoon and Marystown.
On May 18, 1970, the provincial government’s moving barge arrived at Little Bay. Onboard was the Sacred Heart Church from Oderin.
The 25-year-old structure, which measured 77 feet long and 40 feet wide, had a seating capacity for 300 parishioners, and was moved to Little Bay to serve the Roman Catholic families of that community and nearby Beau Bois.
Materials used in the altar of the church came from the previous church at Oderin and were estimated to be 100 years old. No doubt the previous church referred to was built by Father Michael Morris in 1875.
Soon after its arrival, the church was transported to its new permanent site near the Little Bay Bridge and the solemn blessing and first mass was celebrated there on Aug. 15, 1970.
For some years after, the building continued to be used as a church, but its role changed in 1998. The building is now the Little Bay Heritage Centre and is used for a variety of community events.
The Little Bay Heritage Centre Incorporated Committee, chaired by Laura Farrell, has carried out a lot of work on the structure in recent years. Extensions have been added to both ends of the building, and renovations have been carried out both inside and outside to turn the former “Oderin” Roman Catholic Church into an attractive community centre.
Allan Stoodley is a long-time resident of Grand Bank. He can be reached at email@example.com and he welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.