Gros Morne History: “That Boating Accident”

Storm in Main Arm

Bonne Bay is no stranger to tragedies, especially from deaths at sea. Here is one example among many, based on reports in the Western Star for September 11, 1900, and February 20, 1901.

One sunny September 4 in 1900, John Cole, a merchant from Nova Scotia, and Stephen Witt (or Dewitt), a young father from Woody Point, set out in a small boat to visit a lobster factory at Gull Marsh, north of Sally’s Cove.

On their return journey, the wind sprung up and the boat was beset by heavy squalls as they entered the Bay. They made headway against the whitecaps, but within a few hundred yards of the wharf, a sudden blast of wind capsized the boat, her sails fell on the water and she sank to the bottom.  Cole’s body was recovered the next day off Wild Cove, but Witt’s was never found.

The story goes that when he was given a letter in Gull Marsh to deliver at home, Witt said “that they would never see him or the letter” and that the pipe he smoked there “would be the last smoke he would ever have.”  After the funeral for Cole, a reporter from Bonne Bay wrote that ”the crowd dispersed, and between the rain showers and black clouds overhead, there peeps a glimmer of brightness. . . It seemed as though all the earth were shedding tears for him, but also through these tears there pierced something of the light and joy belonging to regions beyond this Earth.”

Antony Berger

Antony Berger is the author of The Good and Beautiful Bay: A History of Bonne Bay (to Confederation and a Little Beyond).