A Website and a Monthly Newsletter about the Outer Bay of Islands, Newfoundland

The Anglican Church in the Bay of Islands

 Church buildings present and past

The present St James Anglican Church is located at the centre of the community next to the School and across the road from Sheppard's Clover Farm Store; also quite close to the Town Hall and the War Memorial.  It replaced the first St James Church built in 1898 at the lower end of the Cemetery about a kilometre to the east.  The old church had been severely damaged in a windstorm in the early 1960s and was judged unsafe and dismantled;  fortunately several items of historical interest were saved and are displayed in the present building.  The site of the first church is marked by a concrete cairn.

St James Anglican Church today

The First St James Anglican Church 1898-1960

The above picture, provided by Frances Childs, dates from about 1960, after some storm damage had been done to the church - note the lack of a spire on the tower.  Who are the people gathered outside the door?         

Below is a water colour painting, artist unknown. There is also a scale model of the old church.  Both are displayed in the present church.(See below, photo Interior of St James Church, in which the model is visible on the wall to left of the East Window.

The Anglican Parish of the Bay of Islands

When the Anglican Church first became active in the Bay of Islands there were no parishes and the Bay of Islands Mission was formed  It consisted of the entire Bay of Islands and Bonne Bay to the north, a huge area served by just one clergyman.  The firsr priest was Rev Ulric Zuingli Rule who established his base at Curling (then known as Birchy Cove) which was the largest community in the Bay.  At the time there were no roads and the priest made his rounds either on foot or by boat.  Gradually, as population increased and services improved, the Mission was divided into several parishes and St James Church, along with St Ambrose Church at John's Beach, became part of a parish of three congregations based at St Mary's, Curling.  Other parishes also came into existence to include the North Shore of the Bay, Bonne Bay. and the developing Corner Brook area.

Due to often difficult travel conditions, most smaller settlements were quite isolated and for many years had no resident clergy.  The result was that when a minister did make regular visits to a community, everyone joined whatever church that minister represented.  Lark Harbour thus became almost entirely Anglican.  Because most people remained in the community where they were born and usually married someone from there, or very nearby, this situation did not change much until about 1950 when those who had served in WW2 returned home.  From that time onwards the religious demographic of small communities began to change, but the traditional religious loyalties remained among the faithful.    

In 1982 the present Anglican Parish of the Bay of Islands was created, comprised of two churches (St James and St Ambrose) and all the communities from Lark Harbour to Halfway Point.  The first priest of the new parish was Rev Kenneth Turnbull.  There is also a Roman Catholic parish based at Our Lady Star of the Sea (Stella Maris) Church in Benoit's Cove.

Rev James John Curling

Rev J J Curling, an Englishman after whom the town of Curling was named, was the third priest to serve in the Bay of Islands Mission.  He was an officer in the Royal Engineers of the British Army serving in Bermuda in the early 1870s when he met the Bishop of Bermuda who at that time was also Bishop of Newfoundland.  The outcome of this meeting was that Mr Curling resigned his army commission and returned to England to train as a priest.  He then came back to Newfoundland where he worked for fifteen years, from 1873 to 1888.

Mr Curling was a man of great energy and charisma, and he quickly endeared himself to his parishioners.  One incident which no doubt contributed to that regard of Mr Curling's parishioners is related  by his one-time commanding officer and lifelong friend,  Colonel R H Jelf.  The colonel tells the following story in his biography The Life of J J Curling, Soldier and Priest:

The charter of the schooner Velocity, which had taken him to his Mission, was to expire on the date of the vessel’s ultimate return to St John’s.  Early in January, 1874, Curling having no further need of the vessel, ordered the Captain to take her back.  He duly started, and sailed away down the harbour, twelve miles or so long.  Some days afterwards Curling heard that the vessel bad not got out to sea, so he took a small fishing boat and sailed down after her.  Arrived at the mouth of the harbour, he found the Captain had anchored, declaring he could get no further as the ice was already closing round his vessel.  Of course this would mean being frozen in for some 3 or 4 months on full pay, virtually at the expense of the Mission.  “Oh! nonsense,” said Curling, “I’ll sail her out for you, if you are afraid,” and sail her out he did, in the teeth of the fast closing ice, taking her out into the open sea and bringing her some 100 miles on the way to St John’s to Channel ... Thence he walked back some 50 miles over the snow, to Bay of Islands, his first tramp in snow-shoes!  I think this plucky act, showing on one hand his able seamanship, and on the other a determination not to be “done”, raised him immensely in the estimation of the fisherfolk, who promptly decided that “Parson Curling” was one of the right sort.

Aware that his work was made so much more difficult by the travel conditions he had to overcome before he could get anywhere, Mr Curling used his own resources to obtain a yacht which, as a very competent yachtsman, he then used to visit his parishioners around the Bay.  At the same time he offered to Rev Thomas Sears, the RC missionary, the chance to travel with him.  Rev Sears reported to officials of his church the following comment: 

This gentleman, owing to his personal wealth, has provided tbe mission with a splendid yacht, a most useful appurtenance in a region like this one.  This gentleman had the urbanity to offer me a passage in his yacht anytime we should be going in the same direction.  I have availed myself of the offer.

(Quoted by Brosnan in Pioneer History of St George’s Diocese, Newfoundland, and addressed by Sears to the Council of the Propagation of the Faith in France.)

Interior view of the present St James Church, Lark Harbour


The Church Ship "Laverock"

The Laverock was a vessel owned and used by the church around the Bay.  It was finally wrecked with no loss of life when it ran aground off Governor's Island near Lark Harbour.  The model shown here at right was made by Mr Henry Sheppard (1878 - 1951) who salvaged material from the wreck.   The hull and spars of the model are made from wood and the sails from copper hull sheathing, all of it salvaged from the actual ship.

The model was passed down through several generations of Mr Sheppard's sons. It is now on loan from Patricia Sheppard of Lefroy, Ontario and may be seen on display in St James Church.


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