"Port Union: Observation and Description"
J.H. Scammell
(Originally published in The Evening Advocate, December 22, 1917)
No doubt many readers of this Xmas Number of the Advocate already know something of the development which has been going on at Catalina the past year in connection with the construction of the vast mercantile premises which are to be the headquarters for the business of the Union Trading Co. and its affiliated concerns. Those who have had the pleasure of a personal visit have taken away with them an idea to which no word or description of mine could add. There are others who have gathered some information from the Advocate notes, and still others who have only heard, not seen or read. To such as these, my observations may be of interest.

The place we now know as Port Union is the South West Arm of Catalina Harbour. It is a large commodious basin with deep water and easily accessible from the bay outside. In former days, when Catalina had a large banking fleet of its own, Port Union was the winter anchorage of a large number of these vessels, this section of the harbour being considered safer than the North East End. One banking captain at Catalina told me that he has often seen as high as fifty sail of craft at anchor in the South West Arm in a winter. The water being deep, permits of vessels being moored well inshore.

In selecting Catalina as headquarters, Mr. Coaker was influenced largely by its location. It is a port centrally situated, as far as the East Coast is concerned.

Vessels leaving points North in the morning are usually in the vicinity of Catalina by evening, and the same applies to vessels leaving St. John's and Conception Bay points, bound North. In the Autumn, therefore, it provides a halfway halt and shelter, in the case of stormy weather and adverse winds. It is nothing unusual in the autumn to see any where from fifty to one hundred vessels at anchor in Catalina sometimes for a week, and fortnight on a stretch. Again, in selecting Catalina, he took into consideration that it is an open port all the year round, which could not be said of any other port north with any degree of certainty. The harbour rarely freezes over and is quickly freed of running ice with a suitable change of wind. This question of a winter port is a very important one where a foreign trade is contemplated. Catalina was moreover an admirable spot for shipbuilding, owing to its close proximity to the timber woods of Trinity and Bonavista Bays, and it had the redeeming feature of having sufficient waterpower to drive machinery, thus facilitating and speeding construction as well as conferring the inestimable boon of electric lighting in the towns of Catalina, Bonavista, and Elliston.

Construction was begun in May 1916. Mr. B.J. Miller, a Newfoundlander, being the foreman; and in May of this year Mr. Coaker was able to make his first pronouncement as to the progress that had been made. The premises are just about completed. They consist of three buildings, a fish store, a shop, and a salt store. In front of the buildings is a breastwork 400 feet in length, and from this breastwork four piers, each 150 feet long, extend in parallel style. The docks between the piers permit of two vessels lying aside each other. The eastern end of the water front will accommodate large vessels and steamers of considerable draught.

The fish store has a frontage of 135 feet and a rearage of 100 feet. The floor is concrete and the foundations are embedded in solid rock. The ground flat will be used as a provision department and the other two flats for storing and packing fish.

The shop is a four storey building, having a frontage of 60 feet and extends 100 feet to the rear. The front of the lower storey facing the water is of glass, as is also the front of the second flat entering from the street. The ground floor and foundations are of concrete. The lower flat will be used as a retail grocery store and hardware department. With the exception of the space taken by the general and private offices, the whole of this building will be devoted to dry goods. It will contain seven departments. The offices occupy the front half of the top flat. They are nicely finished with panneling and hard pine moulding. The general manager's office has a fine floor of white tiling. From the windows of his office there is a magnificent view of the town and surrounding country and ocean, while at the same time you have directly beneath your eye the shipbuilding and electric plants. This shop has a central winding stairs, connecting all departments, and an elevator to all in moving goods. In the space by the side of the elevator shaft on each flat there are toiler fixtures.

The salt store is now under construction and will be a three-storey building, having a frontage of 50 feet, and a rearage of 120 feet. The top stores will be used as a cooperage.

The shipbuilding plant is situated on the other side of the cove to the south and directly opposite the mercantile premises. It consists of a mill 80 feet by 50 feet, a workshop 40 feet by 23 feet, a machine shop and forge 50 feet by 45 feet, and a dockyard with space allowing for construction of three vessels at the same time. The upper flat of the workshop is designing and drawing room for the master builder. The mill contains machinery for sawing and planing, and this machinery will be operated by power supplied by the electric plant. The cove near the plant has been bridged by a trestle and the water space inside utilized as a boon for timber. This plant has made great strides the past summer. When the writer visited there in May, Capt. Jones, the builder, was just starting his mill, and on Monday of this week we had the pleasure of overlooking the fine new schooner Fisherman, now in St. John's, being fitted to load fish for Spain. It is really wonderful progress and Capt. Jones is deserving of the highest congratulations on what he has accomplished in so short a time.

The Electric Plant is situated in the extreme bottom of the Arm, where the river flows out. Two dams have diverted the water of this stream into an artificially constructed waterway. The waterway runs into a huge reservoir cut in solid rock, and from there through the flume to the power house, a distance of 360 feet, with a total drop of 70 feet.

The flume is constructed of woodpine staves tightened by iron in the country. It is six feet in diameter, and judged by experts to be perfectly reliable. The power house is a concrete construction, 60 feet by 21 feet. This plant will generate sufficient power to run the shipbuilding machinery, and light Port Union, Catalina, Bonavista and Elliston. The superintendent of the Electric Plant, Mr. A.B. Smith, E.E., has had valuable experience with the Reid Nfld. Co. and the Anglo Newfoundland Development Co.

The spur railway line to Port Union is just about finished. It passes inside the buildings and comes out a little beyond the shipbuilding plant. The Govt. proposes building a large terminus for the steamers running weekly between Lewisporte and Catalina in the North, Bay de Verde and Catalina in the South.

Two rows of fine double houses have been erected and many families from the outports are already comfortably settled. These houses, will next year be supplied with water and sewerage. The bungalow erected for the General Manager, is the best of its kind in the country, and adds to the picturesque appearance of the settlement. A hotel has been erected for the staff and others who wish to avail themselves of board and lodging. A Custom house and postal and telegraph offices will be under construction in the near future. It is also the intention of Mr. Coaker to see that a new school is erected, as he is anxious that the children shall have first-class educational advantages.

I trust I have not exhausted the patience of my readers. There is so much to say about this hive of industry. The Shipbuilding and Electric companies cannot fail to be successful enterprises. The people of Catalina and Bonavista are deeply grateful for the boon of the electric light and are extending it their universal patronage. The great need of tonnage in our local and foreign trade assures a good demand for vessels. With regards to the Trading and Export companies, there is no reason to suppose that they cannot succeed as well in the future as in the past. A revolution is in sight in our methods of fishery prosecution, curing and marketing. At Catalina the Export Co. has premises and a port which afford every facility for the collection, storage and export of fresh fish, salt bulk and dried, as well as other fishery produce.

The fishermen have stood loyally behind Mr. Coaker in this great undertaking and all other things, being equal there is no reason to doubt the patronage in future. He has worked indefatigably for the successful realization of this big idea and with the hearty support and loyal co-operation of the North there need be no doubt for the future. It is to be hoped that the fishermen will stand by the President in this inauguration of a commercial era so beneficial to the country at large.

In conclusion I take this opportunity of extending to Mr. Coaker, the Directors and Shareholders of the Union Companies a happy Xmas and a prosperous New Year.

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