A Brief History of Fortune
Fortune is located on the extreme northwestern tip of the Burin Peninsula, on the south coast of Nfld. It is situated near the mouth of Fortune Bay, in a shallow valley, on a small coastal plain. The town is built along the shore of Fortune Barasway, a narrow inlet from the sea which forms a sheltered harbour, and meets the mouth of Fortune Brook. Fortune enjoys a moderate climate of cool winters and warm summers as a result of prevailing onshore winds.
The name "Fortune" is believed to have come from the Portuguese word "fortuna", which apparently means "a place of good fortune." The name also appears on a 1505 map by Pedro Reinal as 'Y. Da Fortuna.'
An exact date of settlement is difficult to pinpoint as most early records are sketchy, but French Captain Parat reported 73 men living here in 1687. However, Fortune has actually been in existence as far back as 1527, when it was recorded on both Spanish and Italian maps. Records show that Basque fishermen were coming to Fortune at least as early as 1650.
A 1693 French census lists inhabitants of Fortune as Millou, LeManquet and Chartier. The latter two names were recorded again in 1694, suggesting at the very least some permanent seasonal habitation. In 1765 Captain James Cook reported the existence of a small fishing village near the bottom of the barasway, which, in essence, constitutes a settlement.
Sources indicate that George and Ann Lake moved to Fortune from Paradise Sound, Placentia Bay, sometime around 1763. They brought with them at least two sons, George and John. It is to John's large family that many present-day residents can trace their ancestry.
There is also strong evidence to suggest that a number of other people settled at Fortune in 1863 when the Treaty of Paris forced them to leave St. Pierre. Morgan Snook Sr., his son Morgan Jr., and a family named Anderson are reported to have moved to Fortune. This is supported in part by the fact that Captain Cook hired "Morgan Snook of Fortune" as his pilot when charting the south coast in 1765.
John e. Lake (1845-1920), great-great-grandson of the first George Lake, became instrumental to the early development of the town's business community. In 1880 he operated a can manufacturing factory which supplied cans for the fishery, especially the lobster fishery. Economic reasons forced its closure two years later.
Brothers John E. and George Lake started a large general mercantile business in 1868. In 1908 this woodframe building was destroyed by fire which also claimed two nearby homes. John E. Lake's furniture factory, 1907, was reported to be the first of its kind in Newfoundland. This factory made 1000 chairs for the first motion picture theatre in the province, the old Nickel Theatre in St. John's. It also supplied many items throughout the island before closing its doors in 1917, for economic reasons. Some of the furniture still exists today, in many parts of the island.
Several other general merchandising firms had early starts in Fortune as well. C.B. Spencer & Sons got its start in 1879 as vessel owners, outfitters, and general merchants. The firm operated until descendants retired and sold out in the late 1960's or early 1970's.
George T. Dixon Ltd. started in 1897 as a shoe repair business and expanded into the bank fishery. The firm was incorporated in 1942 and became one of the largest wholesale concerns on the coast, as well as a thriving retail outlet. The large, dark green, two-story building was destroyed by fire in 1953, after which the firm went into a gradual decline.
Another old firm, Lake & Lake Ltd., is still in operation. Established in 1913 and incorporated in 1938, this general store continued to grow, though its days of involvement with the bank fishery are long since gone. Today it contains a modern "Riteway" supermarket and a "Pro Hardware" outlet in its two-story building.
Many smaller businesses operated in Fortune over the years, but most of them were short lived. Records show such occupations as blacksmith, tinsmith, draper, show maker, and sawmill foreman. Each of these operations contributed to the growth of the town.
Fishing, however, has always been the mainstay of the town's economy. Its close proximity to the best fishing grounds was why the Portuguese and others first came here and it was the reason people settled here. The normally ice-free harbour provides easy access to the fishing grounds. Dredging several times over the years has improved the harbour conditions and enhanced its capabilities. The first such work was done in 1906. The most recent efforts were in the summer of 1990 and included the removal of PCB-contaminated materials from the harbour bottom.
A concrete wharf surrounds the discharging area for the fresh fish-processing plant. There is a Fisherman's Wharf for the fishermen, and breakwaters have been built for protection from storms. Sadly, the fishery is no longer the profitable occupation it once was and one wonders what the future holds for this time-honoured industry. The Fisherman's Wharf area is a very unique attraction, nevertheless, for its quaint fishing stages. Most of them are built in the same manner as they were more than 100 years ago, using 'lungers.'
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