The Brigus Tunnel
Brigus, Conception Bay
The Brigus Tunnel is a surprising reminder of the impact that the Labrador fishery and seal hunt had on the community of Brigus. The historic town is littered with reminders of what life was like hundreds of years ago and is known for its large number of heritage buildings and picturesque gardens. But the most notable historic site in the town is a large tunnel cut through solid bedrock near the harbour front. To many people’s surprise the tunnel is an artifact of the Labrador fishery in which many of the town’s inhabitants once participated.
The tunnel was built for the famous Captain Abram Bartlett. Bartlett frequently made trips to Labrador to partake in the summer fishery but due to an overcrowded harbour would often have trouble finding a dock to unload his catch. After purchasing a larger ship, his previous berth at Riverhead was no longer usable. The only remaining suitable deep water berth nearby was in Brigus Harbour. Brigus' sheltered and deep water harbour was ideal for holding large ships but finding a place to dock a ship was often difficult due to surrounding cliffs. A tunnel through the ridge would give Bartlett access to his ship and allow for easy offloading of the catch.
Bartlett immediately purchased a section of land near the ridge and hired the help of Cornish miner John Hoskins. Hoskins began construction of the tunnel around 1860. John Hoskins was a professional who had previously been employed at the Tilt Cove Copper Mines on the Baie Verte Peninsula [Virtual Museum]. The roughly 80 foot long tunnel was constructed by hand drilling holes into the rock in which gunpowder would be placed. In order to keep the drill bits sharp a special forge was constructed near the tunnel site. The tunnel is reported to have taken around four months of continuous work to complete. The tunnel measured eight and a half feet high and about eight feet wide allowing wheel barrows, wagons and even horse and carriages to access the wharf on the other side. The tunnel was used until around 1910.
Today the tunnel is accessible by anyone who wishes to venture through. The tunnel is located near the waterfront behind St. Georges Heritage Church near the Bartlett Memorial.
I cannot count the number of times I have had someone come up to me telling a story about a pirate tunnel that leads to buried treasure. The tunnel was supposedly built (or founded) by the notorious Peter Easton. Each time I have heard this story the possibility has been intriguing until realizing that this mysterious pirate tunnel is in fact the Brigus Tunnel and has no affiliations with pirates.
Unless there is a nearby cave or tunnel that I am unaware of, I am sorry to say that the myth of the pirate tunnel and treasure is just another fictional tale.
Sources & Further Exploring
Ball, J.M. (1978). Ten Historic Towns. Newfoundland Historic Trust.
Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism website under heading History in Brigus and Cupids. Found at www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/trip-ideas/travel-stories/history-in-brigus-cupids.
Smallwood, J. R., & Pitt, R. D. W. (1981). Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John's, N.L.: Newfoundland Book Publishers. (Articles: “Brigus” & “Abram Bartlett”. Available online through the Centre for Newfoundland Studies collections database)