Newfoundland: An Introduction
Newfoundland and Labrador, one of the four "Atlantic" provinces of Canada, consists of island and coastal mainland portions. The province has a land mass of over 400,000 sq. km, occupied by slightly more than a half million people. Aboriginal residence by Maritime Archaic and Paleo-Inuit cultures has been dated back over 4000 years. The Beothuk who are now thought to be related to contemporary Innu in Labrador were largely eradicated in warfare with Mi'kmaq who moved from the Maritimes, and Europeans. Contemporary Aboriginal people in the province are the Innu, the Mi'kmaq, the Inuit, and the Métis.
Vikings visited the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland about 1000 years ago, establishing a community at l'Anse aux Meadows. While for centuries the rich fishing grounds of the Grand Banks attracted a transient population of fishermen from France, Spain, Portugal, and England, the island was claimed for England by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583. French interests competed, particularly in the 17th century, and while the English were granted sovereignty in 1713, the French retained fishing rights on the west coast. Lumbering was a growth industry in the 19th century. Newfoundland had representative government and later self-government, thus constituting a nation, from 1832 to 1934, when the bankrupt national government took the extraordinary step of reverting to colonial status. In 1949, in a close vote, Newfoundlanders decided to join Canada, becoming the tenth province. The economy has necessarily diversified with the collapse of the cod fishery in the late 20th century.
In 1950 and 1951, MacEdward Leach visited and collected from two culturally and geographically distinct regions of the island: the West Coast and the Avalon Peninsula. In 1950, Leach visited both these regions. During his visit to the West Coast, he collected from Cape Ray, Channel-Port aux Basques, Curling, St. George's and the francophone community of Port au Port. During his 1950 visit to the Avalon Peninsula, he visited the communities of Calvert, Cape Broyle, and Tors Cove that are part of what is now called "The Irish Loop," south of the capital city of St. John's. He also collected in Flatrock and Pouch Cove, two communities north of St. John's, which had a larger proportion of English descendants.
In 1951, MacEdward Leach returned to continue his fieldwork on “The Irish Loop” and visited the communities of Fermeuse, Renews, Portugal Cove South, Biscay Bay, Trepassey, St. Shotts, St. Vincent’s, St. Mary’s, Mall Bay, and St. Catherine’s.
Leach conducted his fieldwork during the early stages of a major provincial government resettlement initiative that resulted in the move and subsequent renaming of hundreds of rural communities. As community demographics shifted, many of the old songs were lost. Hence, his collection has additional value due to the coincidence of the timing. Leach would travel to Labrador to conduct fieldwork ten years later.