After John Cabot’s voyage in 1497, news quickly spread about the abundance of fish off the shores of Newfoundland. By the mid 1500s, this very sheltered and well-known harbour was a rendezvous site for ships from European nations. In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert stepped ashore to cut the turf of this busy harbour and formally take possession of Newfoundland in the name of Queen Elizabeth I. This was the first outpost of what was to become the vast British Empire. Occupation was largely seasonal for the next century or more. But the advantages offered by permanent settlement in this strategic port created increasing pressure for colonization and expansion.
Up to the mid 1900s
For 200 years, the primary focus of activity around St. John’s harbour was related to the fishing industry. However, in the late 1700s the permanent residents together had the commercial savvy and practical skills to meet the needs of a range of marine interests. The Port of St. John’s grew as a centre for export, import and distribution to the rest of Newfoundland and to Labrador. During both World Wars, the port, owing to its natural protection, provided such a strategic advantage that, during the Second World War, torpedo nets had to be installed across its entrance, “the Narrows”, for protection.
Mid to late 1900s
During the 1950s, port development lagged behind other infrastructure development brought on by Confederation with Canada in 1949. Transit sheds and warehouses were inadequate and congested. Finger piers were old and decrepit. With federal government support, the Port of St. John’s re-invented itself. Modern facilities completed in 1963 included a cargo terminal, a marginal wharf and an access road.
Encouraged by the success of these improvements, the private sector and the Port Authority continued to make strategic investments to ensure that the port kept pace with modern container handling methods. As well as participate in opportunities such as offshore oil exploration and development.
21st Century Port
The vision and drive that our partners and stakeholders practise daily has fostered a remarkable history of innovation, investment and solid strategic progress that continues today.
The latest chapter in the story follows the theme of hard work, ingenuity and striving for excellence. The Port of St. John’s maintains its essential role as an economic engine and a platform for strategically built partnerships. Each year, it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity and creates thousands of direct and indirect jobs.
Today, the port stands as:
Our status as a leading North American port is built on attentiveness to industry demands and on our commitment to community. The evidence of its success is the bustling service centre for general cargo, the fishery, offshore energy, cruise ships, and all those businesses and professionals whose support sustains this exciting voyage into the new century.