By Alexandra Brothers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
September 15, 2023 Edition
As Conception Bay South celebrates its 50th anniversary of incorporation this year, some may recall that a few of the communities that make up the town have not yet hit that milestone. While Topsail, Chamberlains, Manuels, Long Pond, Kelligrews, and Upper Gullies incorporated to form the town in 1973, the remaining three communities that are now part of the municipality were not so quick to join up. Foxtrap, Lawrence Pond, and Seal Cove incorporated over a decade later, in 1986.
Whereas many people were excited about the benefits that amalgamation would bring, many residents of Foxtrap and Seal Cove in particular had a very different outlook on incorporation. Lifelong resident of Foxtrap, Reginald (Reg) Taylor, remembers the debate well.
Born in 1954 into a family of 11, Taylor grew up in the rural tradition that was common to most Foxtrap residents at the time. Like many families in Foxtrap, the Taylors were involved with agriculture, particularly as peddlers of food products. To this day, Reg has kept up with this line of work, with his daughters now running Taylor’s Fish, Fruit and Vegetable Market, a veritable CBS institution.
It was, in part, this rural lifestyle that initially made Foxtrap residents resistant to the idea of incorporating, explained Taylor. When talks of incorporation first arose, the Foxtrap area was “old-school,” said Taylor, consisting mostly of farmland. While some people in the neighbouring communities were willing to sell off their uninhabited land to make way for more subdivisions and other developments, many in Foxtrap did not share this goal.
“We were farmers,” said Taylor. “We weren’t interested in selling the land because we were using it to live.”
Historically, many families in Foxtrap made a living supplying vegetables, meat and fish to St. John’s, and locally, explained Taylor. The people of Foxtrap “were kind of independent that way,” said Taylor and with this self-sufficiency came a natural reluctance to allow someone else to govern them.
Taylor said most people in Foxtrap could not see the benefit of incorporation.
“We didn’t know why anyone was looking to be a town,” he said. “All we heard was the bad things.”
Among the worst of the widely discussed drawbacks was the spectre of new taxes that municipal government would bring.
“All we understood was there was going to be taxation,” said Taylor.
Nobody wanted to have to pay taxes on land that had been in their family for generations especially without receiving anything significant in return, he said. People were especially against the idea of having to “take orders” from people outside their community. “We weren’t going to have a bunch of strangers telling us what to do and then asking us to pay for land that we owned,” he said.
On top of this, the people of Foxtrap did not want to see their community become more densely populated.
“We used to go to town in St. John’s and all we’d see were all these houses piled on top of one another and we didn’t want that — we didn’t want to be a town,” said Taylor.
Not surprisingly, many residents of Foxtrap pushed back against the movement.
“We fought against it,” said Taylor comparing the fight to the even more famous historic Battle of Foxtrap in the late 1800s when livyers fought against the construction of a railway through their area for fear it would disrupt their way of life. “We still had that independent way about us,” said Taylor.
Foxtrap residents showed their dissent by circulating petitions against incorporation. It wasn’t just people in Foxtrap who felt this way, Taylor pointed out — many residents of Seal Cove shared the same views. Together, these communities’ opposition to incorporation initially impeded the six communities that wanted to amalgamate from incorporating in 1970.
Foxtrap was briefly incorporated into CBS in 1977, however, some residents argued this was only because an insufficient number of people from the community voted.
“What people protesting didn’t realize was the power of their vote,” said Taylor. “Only a small portion of the community voted.”
The community subsequently raised a petition collecting 800 signatures against the decision and Foxtrap was un-incorporated, once again splintering from one half of CBS from the other half, at least geographically.
Foxtrap’s final protest against incorporation was especially heated, recalled Taylor. This last push saw residents occupying “the Track” where they forced the train to slow down. Some protestors used controversial symbols to communicate their resistance including hanging an effigy of the mayor of CBS and waving communist flags. Police removed the effigy after receiving complaints and the flags sparked a few angry discussions as well. The communist flags were meant to symbolize the lack of freedom people in Foxtrap felt they would suffer under incorporation, said Taylor. However, this was misconstrued by the media, he said, since reporters zeroed in on the use of the symbol, glossing over the reasons behind the protest. He likened the misinterpretation to the use of wartime propaganda.
In spite of the passion behind such displays, the adamance against incorporation was not equally shared among the different generations in Foxtrap, said Taylor. Some young people didn’t really know what they were backing when it came to fighting amalgamation. As a young person in Foxtrap during the protests, “you were following the old people and they were saying they didn’t want it, so you went along with it,” he said.
Eventually, as the younger generation began to speak for the community, the necessity of incorporation became more accepted amongst Foxtrap residents.
While road conditions under provincial jurisdiction were better than they are now, according to Taylor, the same cannot be said for other services in the community. Water and sewer systems were practically non-existent at the time. Since there were no regulations regarding property development, people built their houses “willy-nilly,” said Taylor, putting them wherever they wanted, often with inadequate water and sewage systems.
“Instead of putting in proper water and sewer (systems), some people were putting in barrels,” said Taylor.
Septic systems were constructed by individual property owners, many of whom relied on wells on their properties for water. Before the communities of CBS incorporated, said Taylor, “it was nothing to walk anywhere from Topsail up to Seal Cove and see sewage running out.”
Developing new properties under such conditions was challenging. Without modern water and sewer systems, more land was required to build a house on, explained Taylor.
Another improvement that incorporation brought was garbage collection. Before amalgamation, every household was responsible for its own waste and while some people had proper garbage bins, others did not, which meant rodents were rampant in some areas.
As people became more knowledgeable about the benefits of being in an incorporated town, the community’s resistance to amalgamation lessened. “It took awhile for people to come around,” and adapt to the changes, said Taylor, but they eventually warmed to the idea. “We do realize now what a great thing it was for the town to come into being,” he said.
Since Foxtrap incorporated in 1986, the management of the land has been much better, said Taylor. And thanks to improved services, the value and potential for development of the land also increased. Another major benefit, said Taylor, is the Town’s “top-of-the-line” fire department, which is managed through the town’s council.
Nevertheless, there are still some drawbacks to Foxtrap’s incorporation — at least in the minds of some of its longstanding residents. “There’s lots of stories of all these people who couldn’t afford town taxes that had to sell their land,” said Taylor.
Although farmers were partially exempted from land taxes as they were contributing to the province’s economic wellbeing, those who were not using their land for agriculture often had to part with it. As many people initially feared, taxation essentially forced a significant portion of the community to sell off property that had been in their families for generations. Often, these people were forced to sell their land at low prices as their inability to pay taxes on it left them with no other options. These properties sometimes ended up being resold at a much higher price, said Taylor.
Though he sees the ultimate benefit of CBS’s incorporation, Taylor warned against further amalgamation in the province.
“Watch what you wish for,” he said. “(The communities in CBS) wished for a council and we got a council. Mount Pearl, Paradise and Conception Bay South are on the verge of becoming part of St. John’s because you can’t stop it.”