Life before the incorporation of CBS
By Alexandra Brothers / August 25, 2023
The Town of Conception Bay South is busy celebrating the 50th anniversary since its incorporation in 1973. The incorporation eventually brought together the nine communities —Topsail, Chamberlains, Manuels, Long Pond, Foxtrap, Kelligrews, Upper Gullies, Lawrence Pond, and Seal Cove — which make up present-day Conception Bay South.
Life before incorporation “was certainly a different time,” said Peter Gladstone ‘Glad’ Duff, a lifelong resident of Topsail. Duff was one of CBS’s earliest councillors, serving on the second CBS council, from around 1977 to 1981 when Kelvin Fowler was mayor.
“There were fewer people. It was a smaller place,” said Duff of life in small communities like Topsail, pre-amalgamation.
“Everybody was in their own little world,” said Richard Murphy, another longtime resident of the CBS area. Murphy moved from St. John’s to Topsail in 1957 and spent his childhood there. He has since spent his adult life in Kelligrews and Upper Gullies and served on CBS council for eight years before retiring in 2022.
Before incorporation, communities were heavily farming and fishing-based, said Murphy.
“Back when I was a youngster,” said Duff, “just about everybody had a horse or a cow or something… everybody had a garden of some kind or other.”
That was true of the whole shore. The communities that eventually came to form CBS had long been a source of vegetables and meat for markets in St. John’s. And many families kept small gardens just to feed themselves. It was that rural nature of the area that became a big issue for many when the subject of amalgamation was broached, particularly for residents of Foxtrap and Seal Cove. Foxtrap, in fact, boycotted amalgamation for a number of years, before eventually becoming part of the new town of Conception Bay South.
Things began to change in the early 1960s, explained Duff. As more people moved to these communities, the need to form a united municipality became apparent.
“What sparked the whole amalgamation thing is people wanted services, they wanted garbage collection and snow clearing and the things that come with (a municipality),” said Duff, who was a lifelong educator and vice principal at Holy Spirit School in addition to maintaining a farm of his own.
Before the Town of CBS incorporated, Dudd said, services like snow clearing had to be handled by the Provincial government — which meant severe delays for those who “lived off the beaten path.” As for waste disposal, residents were largely left to tackle this issue independently. People relied on a few private garbage collectors to transport their waste to the local landfills that existed at the time.
“Before that, you disposed of (trash) yourself whatever way you could,” said Duff.
“Its pretty evident now that having each little community as a separate organization or an entity really doesn’t work,” said Murphy. “As the town grew, of course, all these services had to grow as well, including water and sewer.”
Without amalgamation, he added, “you’d have eight or nine communities competing with each other that are only a gunshot from each other.”
Both men well remember the controversy that the idea of amalgamating caused.
“Not everybody was in favour of it, in the beginning at least,” said Duff. “Most people feared the idea of having to pay taxes,” he said, especially those who owned large properties.
“When the decision to incorporate all the communities was made… it was clear that Foxtrap and Seal Cove didn’t want anything to do with it,” said Murphy.
“Most of those people were extremely independent and did their own thing,” said Duff of the families who lived in those two communities. They were predominantly farmers and fishermen, he said, “and they didn’t want to be bothered with someone telling them what they had to do and how they had to do it.”
Eventually, however, they changed their minds. “It took quite a while actually, they were the last ones to come in,” said Duff of the two communities.
Murphy thinks that they changed their tune after seeing the success that amalgamation brought the other seven communities in CBS. As a result, a few years after the other communities incorporated, Foxtrap and Seal Cove “jumped on board” too, said Murphy.
Although incorporation seems like the most logical choice for these small communities, there are some who miss the way things were before the communities amalgamated.
Duff spoke wistfully of the comfort that went along with living in the kind of close-knit community that Topsail was before incorporation. “You sort of knew everybody, that was the big thing. You knew all of your neighbours. Most of them had lived there all their lives,” he said. “Topsail was a community of perhaps a dozen families…If I had time to think about it, I could probably tell you every family that lived from Manuels Ridge to the top of Topsail Hill at that particular time. Now I don’t know the people who live next door to me.”
The family names that were so long associated with the community have all but “disappeared from Topsail,” he added.
“Socially, that’s the biggest change,” said Duff. “You could basically walk into anybody’s house, you didn’t need to knock. It was a much simpler time. Some of us are still really stubborn and we’d still like to go back to our old ways, but that doesn’t happen.”
The changes were bound to come about eventually, Duff allowed. “Considering the amount of growth (in the community), it would have happened anyway,” he said.
“Depending on who you talk to, you’ll find some people that didn’t want anything to do with the Town of CBS and still don’t, but the majority of people do,” said Murphy.
What the communities may have lost in terms of intimacy has been made up in the form of community growth and development.
“It’s a big town now and everybody is benefitting. So, it just made perfect sense to do what they did,” said Murphy. “Conception Bay South has seen steady improvement for many, many years, and it still continues to improve.”