Lawn is located on the southern tip of the Burin Peninsula. Lawn is spread around a small harbour in a relatively lush valley. According to one local tradition it was this lushness that inspired Captain James Cook to name the place Lawn Harbour. But it has also been speculated that a Frenchman named the community after a doe caribou that he spotted there.
Lawn is a community whose survival over the past two hundred years has depended entirely on the fishery. The abundance of fish in the waters surrounding Lawn (formerly known as Laun) attracted seasonal fisherman from France, Portugal, Spain and England. These fisherman came over in large fishing ships and returned to their homelands in the fall. This type of migratory fishery continued to exist on the Burin Peninsula well into the eighteen hundreds. However, in 1763 an important event occurred which had a tremendous impact on the development of permanent settlements on the Burin Peninsula. This is when the history of Lawn begins.
Prior to 1763 the English and French were constantly at war with each other. These wars took a toll on both nations as they fought for control of various colonial possessions. Newfoundland with its abundant supply of fish became a colony which both nations fought over. They both agreed to divide the island into two zones in which they were permitted to conduct a summer fishery. The Burin Peninsula was part of the "French Shore" in which the French had exclusive fishing rights. In the 1760's the British gained the upper hand in their war with France and finally in 1763 the French were defeated.
In 1763 the French signed the Treaty of Utrecht which forced them to abandon all territorial claims on the island of Newfoundland. The only possessions they were permitted to keep were the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. The Banishment of the French made permanent settlement much more attractive in Burin Peninsula communities such as Lawn.
The first settlers to establish permanent residence in Lawn were the Connors (O Connor) family who came from County Cork, Ireland. Michael and his brother Peter Connors were fish merchants who decided to stay in Lawn after the summer fishery. Many of these workers began to spend their winters in Lawn and eventually married women from nearby communities. The Connors, Murphy, Strang, Pike and Tarrant descendants planted family roots which have survived to this very day.
The survival of Lawn in the late seventeen hundreds and early eighteen hundreds were influenced by two important factors. The most important factor was the supply of cod. The second factor was the availability of a market for the cod. In the late 1700's the Sir Robert Newman Company which was one of the most powerful fishing establishments in Newfoundland, set up a business in St. Lawrence. This gave some sense of stability to the area and provided easy access to a market for fisherman from Lawn. The Sir Robert Newman Company also helped bring young men over from England and Ireland to work in the fishery. This along with the prosperous fishery made Lawn a very viable fishing settlement.
The fishery has been the mainstay of the economy of Lawn over the last two hundred years. In fact it has been the only reason this community has been able to grow and prosper. Every aspect of life within the community has been affected directly or indirectly by the fishery. Although fish stocks have declined of late, poor catches were usually the exception not the rule in the evolution of the fishery in Lawn.
There were two reasons why Lawn was a good fishing station. (1.) It had one of the most sheltered harbours in Placentia Bay, with water deep enough to provide safe anchorage. (2.) It had not only a dependable supply of cod but also an abundance of other species such as capelin, herring, squid and salmon. These two factors made Lawn a popular location during the migratory fishery and an excellent location for a permanent fishing community
From the early 1800's up to 1875 most of the fish was caught by hand lines, trawls and nets and most of the fisherman used dories and small skiffs which were powered by sail or oars. However, 1875 saw two very significant changes in the fishery at Lawn. Possibly the most important technological transition was the introduction of the cod trap. Another important event in the history of Lawn which happened in that same year was the building of a salt fish plant by the sir Robert Newman Company. This was very important because now the fisherman could sell their fish "off the knife" (gutted).
Throughout the rest of the 1800's and up to 1929 the fishery in Lawn flourished. During this period schooners came from all over Fortune and Placentia Bay and as far away as Port aux Basques in order to get a piece of the action. However, in 1929 any promise of further prosperity in the future was quickly washed away like the fishing stages and boats in the tidal wave. The tidal wave hit Lawn quite hard destroying boats, stages, flakes, and gear but more importantly destroying the fishery in Lawn until the 1940's.
The 1940's and 50's saw the return of abundant fish stocks to Lawn and further changes in the role of fish. For most of the 1940's fish was cured by the fisherman and bartered to merchant ships that came to Lawn for supplies. In the late 1940's a market opened up for salt bulk fish (green fish) and most of the fish was then either sold to merchants who came in ships or loaded in trucks and sold to large plants in Fortune or Grand Bank.
In the 1960's the fishery at lawn was once more back into peak production as the fish were plentiful and it was quite easy to find sale for the fish. In 1961 a fish filleting plant was built which employed 32 men and boys at peak season. The prosperity of the 60's was also recognized by the government who resettled residents from the nearby communities of Roundabout, Lanse au Barque and Webbers into Lawn in the late 1960's.The abounding fishery of the 60's spilled over into the early 1970's but shortly thereafter the fishery declined. Now, the fishery in Lawn has changed dramatically. It is making a history all its own with the cutbacks in quotas, productions and so on.
Lawn has had more than its share of ups and downs and has survived to tell the tale. Hopefully, we will survive for the next three hundred years and will flourish as a vibrant part of the Newfoundland we love.