The Town of Come By Chance, located in Placentia Bay is rich in history that dates back as far as 1706 with the original name of Comby Chance. Although the community has experienced its share of hardships, it has grown into a strong, successful town. Below you will find the history of Come By Chance, as told in the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. Volume 1, Joseph R. Smallwood
History of Come By Chance
An incorporated community located on the east side of a deep in draft ending at the mouth of he Come By Chance River near the head of Placentia Bay. Come By Chance was first named Passage Harbour in 1612 by John Guy, who write in his journal that he had discovered it “by a way cut into the woods, which being prosequited, yet was found to lead directly to a harborough in Placentia Bay that is now called ‘Passage Harbour’ “ (quoted in J.W.D. Powell: 1935)
According to E.R. Seary (1971) Come By Chance was first recorded as Comby Chance in a dispatch dated 13 September 1706 from Major Lloyd, an officer prominent in Newfoundland for activity against the French between 1703 and 1708. In this dispatch he related the incident of a clash between the English and the French: “About 9 days since, I with 30 soldiers pursued a party of French 21, who had plundered several inhabitants of Trinity Bay and carried ye same to a place called Comby Chance in Placentia Bay, where I overtook them…” (quoted in E.R. Scery: 1971).
Edward Wix (1836), while visiting “Come-By-Chance River” in 1835, mentioned that “on the banks of this Come-By-Chance River, ruins of buildings, iron bolts and nails, are found; relics of former structures and cannonballs are also frequently picked up, as through there had been formerly some engagement, if not a fort, in this neighborhood.”
Journal (1836), “After walking about a mild down Come By Chance River, we came to some winter tilts… The people are very laborious in this part of Placentia Bay, and live very hard: from the time at which they begin to catch fish, which is generally in April, until near Christmas, they scarcely sleep a whole night together in bed, except Sunday night. From their poverty too, they are constrained to part with their fish to the supplying merchant in a ‘green’ state, by which was informed, and they are considerable losers, as three ‘quintales’ on an average are thus taken from one.”
According to local tradition, a Thomas Adams from Devon, England settled in Come By Chance in 1822 (E.R. Seary: 1976). The first census of Come By Chance was taken in 1836 when it was included with two other communities, Arnold’s Cove and Bourdeaux. The combined popular was fifty-three. There were twelve inhabitants among two families in 1845, when it was first reported in the Census Returns as an independent community, probably the same size as it was in 1835 when Wix visited it and “assembled seventeen for full service” (Edward Wix: 1836). He writes in his book, Six Months of a Newfoundland Missionary’s
The isolation and hardship of living at Come By Chance in the Nineteenth Century were not uncommon among Newfoundland communities of the period, but the conditions were still often lamented. As one resident of Come By Chance, identified only as R.W., informed Wix: “Ah! Sir; if any of us be sick or sore, there is no one near to visit us, or to care for our souls”. Oral tradition reports a Wiseman family as the first settlers and until the 1880’s the community numbered about thirty people, who depended almost solely on the small-boat inshore cod fishery.
Despite its excellent harbour, Come By Chance was far from major fishing markets in Placentia Bay. Although the lobster, the Labrador fishery, some sawmilling and the establishment of a Marconi Telegraph Station in the early 1900s’s brought new settlers to the community, difficulties in the fishery caused people to leave the community in the early 1920’s for Sunnyside, Arnold’s Cove, Haystack, Spencer’s Cove, Toronto and Boston (C.G. Allen: 1970) By 1921 the population dropped to forty-four from seventy-two in 1911, the church and school (both built 1904) were sold, and only three families remained around the telegram site.
In 1936 the total labour forces of Come By Chance was three – Casabianca, Archibald and James Gilbert – all fishermen (Newfoundland Directory 1936: 1936). It was Come By Chance’s central location which gave it a new lease on life in the late 1930’s when it was chosen to be the site of a cottage hospital serving over forty communities in the Trinity-Placentia area. In 1941, J.R. Smallwood (1941) described Come By Chance as “popular partridge shooting grounds” and the location of a cottage hospital. With the building of the hospital, employment in the construction industry and the service sector (in restaurants, boarding houses, and several general stores that were built) became available and logging in central Newfoundland, a telegraph and rail-line construction and maintenance became sources of employment.
Family names then were Coffen, Loder and Best. By 1956 the population had increased to 159 and it stood at nearly 200 by 1961 as families moved from the numerous islands in Placentia Bay to communities such as Come By Chance, Arnold’s Cove and Long Harbour. By 1963 the one-room school was again operating in the community.
In 1959 Premier Joseph R. Smallwood made the first of a series of announcements between 1959 and 1969 concerning industrial development at Come By Chance (ET: Nov. 27, 1959), beginning with a proposed third paper mill to be built in the community. After repeated negotiations with different interests, and setbacks, including massive forest fires in Newfoundland from 1961 to 1963, Smallwood announced in 1966 that two mills – a pulp mill and an anhydrous ammonia plant – would be completed in 1968 (ET: Apr. 27, 1966). In August 1967, after negotiations with representatives of Shaheen Natural Resources (the owners of Newfoundland Pulp and Paper Company, who had been involved in the pulp mill negotiations but whose holdings were in the petroleum industry), it was announced that a 100,000-barrel-a-day oil refinery coasting 120 million dollars would be built at Come By Chance.
As with the building of the cottage hospital and the proposed mill, Come By Chance had the advantages of a central location close to rail-lines, the highway and major shipping lanes. Its greatest advantage as the site of an oil refinery lay in its deep water port.
The harbour is large, approximately 6.5 km (4 miles) and 2.5 km (1.5 miles) wide. Although the head of the harbour is very shallow (5.5 meters; 3 fathoms), it was, on the whole, very deep (73 meters; 40 fathoms) and ice-free. After the 1967 announcement, land sales were frozen in the Come By Chance area for the
proposed industrial complex, and by 1969 two 605,000-barrel crude-oil tanks had been built, as has 8,370 m2 (90,000 ft2) of office space and 27,900 m2 (300,000 ft2) of warehouse space. A Canadian National Railway spur track was laid, an access road put through from the Trans-Canada Highway, and a temporary cargo wharf had also been built. Later harbour development included that building south of Long Point of an L-shaped deep water oil terminal, which extended about 914 meters (3,000 ft) from the shore by means of a causeway, providing one berth for tankers up to 320,000 tons and a second berth for 65,000-ton vessels. A number of other small wharves were built and improvements made to the lights and signals. Come By Chance Harbour was created a Public Harbour, administered by the Canadian Ministry of Transport. Employment in Come By Chance at this time was about 100 percent, although numerous wild-cat strikes from 1969 to 1974 disrupted work.
The oil refinery produced its first barrel on December 27, 1973. However, due to a series of malfunctions, it operated at 70 percent or less than its capacity and went into receivership in 1976 after the supply of feedstock was cut off. The refinery was “mothballed” and sold to a crown corporation of the Government of Canada, PetroCan, in July of 1980 following several years of court battles to determine ownership and liability. Many of the refinery’s 400 workers had been from Come By Chance or commuted from communities on the Avalon Peninsula. After this mothballing, employment was a problem in Come By Chance as only a fraction of the number of former workers were retained to
maintain the refinery. The complex stayed mothballed until 1986 when the owners, Petro Canada, found a new buyer. The sale could not have come at a better time because Petro Canada had come previously come to dismantling the entire project. The reactivation of the refinery was done entirely by private money and by 1987, the refinery was back in operation with a staff of about 400 workers.
Overlooking the head of Placentia Bay, the Come By Chance of today is enjoying relative success. The old Walyn Cottage Hospital was torn down in 1986 in favor of a newer facility at Clarenville, but many of the services its people require can be found locally. It has a small store, a post office, Municipal Building, Community Health Office, Volunteer Fire Department, a Community Center (operated by the Lion’s Club), a ball field and a playground.
The refinery, now operated by North Atlantic Refining Ltd. is still operating and producing gasoline and propane products which are sold throughout the province.
C. Allen (1970), J.W.D. Powell (1935), E.R. Seary (1971;1976), Edward Wix (1836), Census (1836-1976), Newfoundland Directory 1936 (1936), Newfoundland Historical Society (Come By Chance), Sailing Directions Newfoundland (1980), MAP H. JEMP
Bibliography: Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. Volume 1, Joseph R. Smallwood
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