The History of Grates Cove, Newfoundland
Local oral history says that Grates Cove was settled in 1790 by 4 families from Lower Island Cove, the Coopers, Martins, Snelgroves and Bullocks. How this story became "history" is unknown, but there is evidence to suggest that it was actually much, much earlier.
The families mentioned above, except the Bullocks, are still represented in Grates Cove today, their descendants of over 200 years still living in the village. Landmarks like "Martin's Island", a rock shoal near the entrance to the cove, attest to the prominence of this particular family.
An early census of Newfoundland & Labrador (30 communities from Cape Race to Bonavista) was taken in 1675 by John Berry. While residents are listed in nearby Old Perlican (Burt, Swaine, Welchman, Corban, Taylor and more) and Bay-de-Verde (Taverner, Smith, Ffalin, Hill, Jeffreys, Bayly, Gardiner), Grates Cove is not mentioned.
However, there is evidence that there at least were seasonal visitors to Grates Cove, probably because of the prolific fishing grounds around nearby Baccalieu Island. Around this time as well, the French were raiding the Avalon communities and capturing or chasing out the residents. It is possible that some retreated to Grates Cove for a time.
This early evidence is none other than our famous Cabot Rock. Not only is it alleged to have markings memorializing the landing of John Cabot in 1497, it also bears initials and dates on other sides and the top as well. These markings were recorded by W.A. Munn of Harbour Grace in July 1905. In a diagram he drew of the rock, Mr. Munn recorded the following initials with dates (this is not an accurate representation of the placement, font, size, or all of the initials):
The earliest date recorded by Munn is 1669, even before the Berry census. Interestingly, none of the initials match the residents of Old Perlican or Bay de Verde, the likeliest visitors.
As there were people obviously visiting Grates Cove so early on, it is hard to imagine that the village itself wasn't settled until over 100 years later. The first written record of the inhabitants is the 1800-1801 Winter Fishing Rooms Census, when there were about a dozen households.
The village name itself, Grates Cove, is also of very early origin. Again, local oral history cannot always be believed, as a popular story gets passed around over the years, and through the retelling somehow becomes accepted as "fact". The local story is that long ago, two men of Bay de Verde were out walking one day and came across the cove. One of them said "Isn't this a GREAT COVE", and the name was born. Simple explanation, yes, but true? Not likely.
There is in fact proof that Grates Cove came by its name by the early 1600's, as it was mentioned in John Guy's journal dated 1612 as "the Grates".
"Grates" also appears on early maps, such as the map by Thornton in 1689.
But what does "Grates" mean? It has been suggested by some researchers that it is from the French fishing term "de grat".
However, this writer believes that it comes from the Portuguese or Italian word "gratos", which means thankful, or welcome. Note that the earliest explorers to the area were Italian (Cabot) and Portuguese (Corte Reals), and so were the map makers. As explained on the Baccalieu Island page, Baccalieu appears on the very first maps and thereafter, as "Baccalaurus", "Baccalaos" and other derivations, all from the Italian and Portuguese. Bay de Verde, while at first glance appears French, is actually Portuguese for "green bay ".
If one believes the legend that John Cabot made landfall at Grates Cove, it is plausible that they might use the word "Gratos" to name the place, being thankful having reached land at last. As the English are the ones who ultimately settled the area, it is easy to see that "Gratos" could be anglicized into "Grates". While it IS a "Great Cove", this seems a much more likely explanation!
The 1800's and 1900's
The cove is said to have been settled in 1790, and two years later John Hoskins, Jr., (born 1748) son of the well-known Methodist minister came to live there. He became the teacher and established a school in 1801. His headstone dated 1820 can be seen in the old Methodist cemetery today.
In 1809, the first church was built on land donated by Thomas Cooper. There is a Thomas Cooper, layreader, who was witness to many marriages and funerals over the years, and it is likely this same man.
By 1836 Grates Cove had a population of 439 and by 1857, 577. The highest number of residents came in 1921, when 772 people were recorded. By 1966, the population had fallen to 372, and today, there are approximately 200 residents in the summer, and somewhat less in the winter.
The first road wasn't established until 1872, between Grates Cove, Bay de Verde and Old Perlican. The Railroad didn't reach The Grates until 1913. Until then, most long distance travel was by boat. In 1964, the first road was rebuilt.
For such a small community, it is a testament to the religious beginnings of the early residents that there are 3 churches, and 6 cemeteries in the village!
Grates Cove Today
Grates Cove has always been a fishing village, and remains so today. There are still a number of boats fishing crab, squid, capelin, cod and other groundfish. The fish is processed in nearby Old Perlican or Bay de Verde, and many of the women and younger people in Grates Cove work at the fish plant.
Many tourists have come our way, and have loved the place so much that they have bought property of their own and put down roots. It has been reported by the CBC that Grates Cove has the highest per capita in all of Newfoundland of "Mainlanders" buying up houses to live. What do they know that you don't know? Well, come see for yourself!
The village is steeped in history, and you need only walk the many trails throughout the area and view the old rock walls built by our ancestors, to imagine what the place was like two hundred years ago.
There are beautiful views everywhere you go, the rocky cliffs, grassy fields, and blue ocean with its whirling seabirds, majestic icebergs (in season) and feeding whales a sight to behold. Come walk the trails of our ancestors, and breathe the fresh salt air. Grab a book, a blanket and a bottle of wine, and sit on our cliff tops and enjoy watching the birds and whales below. Nothing is more relaxing in the world.
Yes, it does rain sometimes in Newfoundland(!), so what better way to spend a few hours than to browse through our gift shop for our local, high quality, hand-crafted souvenirs, and sit and have a nice hearty bowl of seafood chowder and "a sweetie". And if you want to stay a while, check out our Cottage For Rent.
We hope you come to visit our Historic Village of Grates Cove, Newfoundland, and get a flavour of life in a real fishing outport.