The History of The Town of South River

Heather Bartlett ~ August 2000


South River is a quiet little town that is situated approximately fifty minutes west of St. John’s on the Conception Bay Highway. It is located at the head of Bay de Grave, between Clarke’s Beach and Cupids. South River was incorporated in 1966 and presently has a population of about 750 people. South River is the first community off Roache’s Line, the connector road to the Trans Canada Highway. It is part of the Baccalieu Trail, a scenic drive around the Conception Bay, Trinity Bay areas. Politically, South River is in the Provincial District of Harbour Main – Whitbourne and in the Federal District of Bonavista-Trinity-Conception.

The river from which the community takes its name flows through a broad valley into a large harbour pond south of Clarke’s Beach, known as Southern Gut. (The word Gut means fresh water that flows into and out of salt water). South River consists of areas known as The Gut, Salmon Cove, northeast of the the river, and Springfield which is inland, along the river valley. It is bordered on the north by the community of Clarke’s Beach, on the south by the community of Cupids, and on the west by the community of Makinsons. On the eastern area of the town is Bay de Grave, a picturesque bay that opens to the much larger Conception Bay.


South River has been known since the time of John Guy’s colony in Cupids (approximately 1612). On the Southern River the settlers from Guy’s colony erected mills, houses and farm buildings. Also, a considerable quantity of land was cleared and surrounded by stone walls. The mouth of the river is believed to have been the site of a mill established by John Guy, while the colonists may also have attempted to establish a farm some distance up the river. Early in this century the remains of these buildings were found together with oak beams and millstones sunk in oaken beds. The enclosures that resembled gardens were also traced out, and plants of various kinds that were not indigenous to the island were growing around the area. Among the ruins that were found were different European coins, some of Dutch gold and others of copper. These remains of Guy’s buildings is proved by the fact that in 1621 Guy’s saw mill and grist mill were partially destroyed by the West Country fishermen, and the damage is estimated at 40 francs.

By the mid 1700’s Port-de-Grave fishermen had gardens and winter houses in the area. These fishermen became well acquainted with Southern Gut and the river as a winter route into the interior for woods work. A lot of these fishermen came to Southern Gut on fishing grants. Where Red Circle now stands, for example, there was a pond called Kettle Pond because the fishermen from Port-de-Grave would come and boil their kettles there in the winter. Settlement soon followed after the fishermen had found some use for the land. Land towards the “bottom” of Southern Gut (including Springfield and much of what was in 1994 considered to be Makinsons) was probably cleared by winter logging and later settled as farmland.

The earliest family names of Southern Gut and Salmon Cove were Andrews, Bussey, Morgan, Mugford and Richards. Their names have earlier associations with Bareneed, Port-de-Grave and Ship Cove. The family name Andrews is a surname of England and Ireland that comes from the son of Andrew of Scotland. It is from the baptismal name of Greek origin meaning “manly.” Bussey is a surname of England. A Thomas Bussey liven in Salmon Cove in 1806. Morgan is a surname of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. It is a baptismal name in Wales from the Old Celtic name Morcent. Morgan contains the element of sea and bright. Mugford is another surname of England from the English place names Muckford or Mogworthy. Robert Mugford of Salmon Cove (Brigus and Cupids district) lived here in 1854. Richards is a surname of England, Wales and Guernsey (Channel Islands). Richards of Jersey is from the Old German personal name Ric(h), the Central French, Richard, and the ANglo-Norman, Reiard. This last name contains the elements of powerful and brave. William Richards was a man who lived on a grant of land in Southern Gut, Salmon Cove in 1847.

Many family names of Springfield, including Byrne, Hearn, Mabin and Walsh are Irish in origin. The last name Byrne is a surname of England and Ireland. Byrne is now one of the most numerous names in Ireland. Hearn is a variant of the surname of England. Hearne in Ireland, from the English place names Herne, Hirn, Hearn Farm, or from old English Hyrne which means dweller in the nook or corner of land or in a bend. Walsh is also a surname of England, Scotland and Ireland from the old English Waelisc and middle English Walsche that means foreigner.


There were 232 people living at Southern Gut by 1836. Salmon Cove and Southern Gut had a combined population of 529 in 1857 and twenty-seven (27) of these were born in Ireland. By 1901 South River and environs had a population of approximately 700 people, with most fishermen being involved in the Labrador fishery, particularly the Domino Run – Spotted Islands area. However, with the decline of the Labrador fishery, the population of South River declined in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Upon incorporation in 1966 there were only 421 people living in the community.

The main road of South River ran from the top of Old Cart Road from behind Taylor’s Road down as far as Caplin Cove. The road then branched out into Cupids from Caplin Cove. One of the branch roads from the main road was next to Batten’s on Salmon Cove Road. On the main road there were not a lot of houses or businesses because the main road was like a horse’s path and not much of what we call a main road now.

It is assumed that Salmon Cove was the first part of South River that was settled be the fishermen. Salmon Cove was not only the first settled but it was also the main part of town. The road contained many houses, the Anglican school & church , and in later years the Town Hall. People who wanted to build houses around 1855 had to apply for a grant to receive land from the crown in order to build a house/business and there were a total of 13 grants approved. In 1855 from Love Lane to the back of Old Cart Road was property known as Glebe Land (land that was owned by the church and that didn’t have to be bought from the crown). The Newfoundland and British North America School Society owned this land. This is the land where the Anglican school and church were built.

Before South River became a town, what is now Springfield was known as South River and what is now the main road of South River was known as Springfield. In the early 1900’s South River (Springfield today) was the next to be settled because of the good farming land cleared out by winter logging and the Roman Catholic School was located there.

Only recently, over the last 4- (40) to fifty (50) years, have the side roads of South River been built up such as Old Cart Road, Taylor’s Road, Neville’s Road, and Hill View Place. By these side roads being built up in only the last 40 to 50 years proves that South River has grown as a community.


The 1st Plantation for Guy was on Salmon Cove all the way down to Taylor’s Road. It is believed that Guy’s saw mill was used to make boats and build houses. Over 150 years most fishermen went to Labrador to fish and seal in the spring. In fall a lot of the fishermen or sealers would migrate to Montreal, Ontario, or Boston until next season. The fishermen logged in the fall and winter, sealed in the spring, and fished in the summer.

In the early days wharfs were the center of the community. The main wharf in South River was Batten’s wharf, which was located on Salmon Cove Road. This wharf was the main wharf for the surrounding communities of Clarke’s Beach and North River as well. Steamer ships would come into the harbour and dock. These ships came from the West Indies and all over England. Batten’s store that was located on the wharf sold basically everything like salt fish, fishing gear, and accessories. The ships that came supplied us with sugar, tea, rum and tartons (wool).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s in the Motion farmers of the name Moore all had large boats which they loaded up with caplin and when it was high tide they would sail right up to the Broads of South River. The caplin was loaded on the boats for manure. These Moore’s farms would farm cows for milk, cheese and butter. They also grew strawberries and harvested seaweed. The seaweed was harvested and dried out to sell to the Pulps Furniture in St. John’s, which used it for stuffing in furniture.

In the late 1950’s the Salmon Cove Poultry Farm started. The old Anglican school was used for the storage of the eggs and the Guild Hall was used for the raising of the hens. These eggs were sold all over Newfoundland. Also on Love Lane, which is connected to Salmon Cove, there was a general store owned by Howard Richards.

The main road of South River had many operators of stores and entertainment centers.

  • Fillier’s Snack Bar was owned by Shirley and Arnold Fillier and was located across the street from Butler’s Road. This snack bar opened up around 1961 and closed in the early 1970’s.
  • The Hussey family owned and operated a General Store that once stood on the corner of the Main Highway and Springfield Road. This building once contained the first Post Office, the first telephone, and operated Morse Code. Presently Max Brown occupies this land.
  • There was a Movie Theatre that cost $0.50 to get in and that was owned by William Mugford.
  • Up the road from that was Harris Canning’s General Store.
  • Across the road was William LeDrew’s General Store that was torn down only in the last 2 years.
  • Reid’s Garage and Max Andrew’s were located on the main road. Reid’s Garage was where Red Circle is now.
  • Across the road is Byron Hierlihy’s house, which was the house and General Store of Harry Shepherd. A tanker truck demolished the store. The little building that now lies next to Mr. Hierlihy’s was at one time the Post Office that was owned and operated by Harry Shepherd. His store opened in 1948 and closed in 1987 because he retired. Shepherd’s Store would get goods by wholesale and by Mr. Shepherd himself going into St. John’s and picking up whatever he wanted for the store that the wholesaler didn’t provide. He also provided free delivery to his customers.
  • On the main road there was a water mill owned by Mr. Wilson but operated by Horwood’s.

The McLean’s property in Springfield was once the old forge and gas bar. On this site were also a hotel and the only place to buy ice cream. Mrs. Lorraine Moore had a little craft store, which sold needles and thread etc. in Springfield.

Farming and the fishery continued to be major local sources of employment, but as roads were improved many South River residents commuted to work in larger centers as far away as Carbonear and St. John’s. A growth in local services has also contributed to the number of commuters who have settled at South River from the 1980’s. Even in the early years goods were transported to and from South River by truck and rail and cars.

The following information was compiled by Heather Bartlett, a former resident of South River as part of a school project. Completed in August of 2000, research for the paper included interviews with local residents and collection of written records from the Town Hall.
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