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Located in Battle Harbour and Bonavista are structures that would have formed part of the mercantile complex that would have existed in most communities where the mercantile class established their trade. Similar premises would have also existed in other communities such as at Trinity and Twillingate. The extent of these properties illustrates the wide variety of facilities that were needed for a successful commercial operation in the fishing industry. Typically, the fish merchant complexes were, like old world estates or colonial plantations, basically self sufficient units. They included a large dwelling house of the merchant, or his agent, accommodations for employees, warehouses, storehouses, workshops, barns, gardens and docks. The principal buildings of a salt fish mercantile establishment included the salt store, a “dry provisions” store for items such as flour, bread and tea, and a “wet provisions” store, sometimes simply called the “pork store,” for salt pork, salt beef, butter, and molasses. There were also a variety of stores for fish, (cod, salmon, and herring), oil and seal skins. Other structures included a Shop/Office building, flakes for drying cod, and facilities for processing.

The main aesthetic qualities of such establishments included a sense of strength and security, the unity and completeness of the building assemblage, and the functional utility and efficiency of the structures, both individually and as a unit. The merchant structures were, along with the church, among the best built buildings in a settlement.

The General Store was usually centrally located within the mercantile complex and not only sold “shop” goods, but also housed the manager’s and bookkeeping offices. It was the focal point of all business transactions.

The Cookhouse was also a feature of the earliest seasonal fishing stations in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was a communal building used to house and feed fishing crews or servants. Cookhouses were common on merchant premises as long as the firms relied upon external labour however once people started to permanently settle and they erected their own dwelling houses the need for a cookhouse dwindled.

In general, mercantile settlements developed in the more spacious and better situated harbours and, in the process of evolution, often became regional centres. These were the sites where well-capitalized and aggressive fishing firms established trading premises, built warehouses and stores, stored supplies and fishing equipment, undertook processing of both marine and terrestrial products, carried out ship repair, and engaged in an exchange trade under the truck or credit system with nearby inhabitants and fishing crews.

Such businesses were established by the merchant houses of Poole and Bristol at various locations around Newfoundland and were among the first, in the 1760s and 1770s, to open sub-establishments in coastal Labrador. Mercantile centres such as those established in Trinity, Carbonear, Fogo, and Twillingate in Newfoundland earlier on, and others such as Forteau, Cape Charles, Battle Harbour and Venison Island in Labrador later, had, in their respective regions, a number of basic functions. Firstly, they were major ports for overseas ships consigned with food supplies, clothing, fishing gear, and other manufactures, especially vast quantities of salt for use in the fishery. Secondly, they were sites from which staples (cod, salmon, furs and oils) harvested and processed within the respective regions were dispatched to foreign markets. Thirdly, the mercantile centres functioned as focal points and conduits in a migration system both inward from labour source areas to places of employment, and outward from the resource and settlement hinterland to the original homeland areas or elsewhere. Fourthly, the merchant establishments provided the financial and exchange mechanisms linking primary producers (planters, fishing crews) with external and long-distant sources of supply (including labour) and markets for their produce. Fifthly, the mercantile centre was also usually involved in a variety of fishery and shipping support activities such as ship building and repair, coopering, blacksmithing, and gear making and repair, all of which provided employment for artisans and tradesmen.

Please see the diagram of what the Slade plantation looked like in Trinity based on the 1833 map that was completed by Rev. William Bullock. No known paintings or photographs exist of the property. Please also refer to other sections of this virtual exhibit to get an idea of what the Slade premises looked like in other communities where they operated.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada Agenda Paper on Battle Harbour, Labrador by Dr. Chesley W. Sanger, 1996.