Friday 5 July 2024

A Digression Both Winding and Overblown on the Origins of Windgap Road, Flatrock

A Digression Both Winding and Overblown on the Origins of Windgap Road, Flatrock

By Dale Gilbert Jarvis published 5 July 2024

The toponym “Windgap” occurs in several places in in Atlantic Canada. There is a Windgap Brook in Kings, New Brunswick, and a Windgap Tarn in Torngat, Labrador.  There are also references to a Wind Gap or Windy Gap near Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove. 

The name may originally have meant a path that winds through a hilly or rocky spot. An article in the Newfoundland Quarterly from 1935 describes such a entranceway to the community of Perry’s Cove, Conception Bay:

Through a “windgap” the road leads down the side of the valley, past pretty little lakes and scattered houses, and trees all green or russet and gold, until the river is crossed as the road to Perry's Cove turns off to the right.

This sense of the word is conveyed in a report by the Newfoundland Hiking Club, who made a trek from Rennie’s Bridge to Pouch Cove and back (in an admirable 9 hours and 5 minutes) in 1932:

After stopping here [Pouch Cove] to buy refreshments we carried on to Flatrock and had tea at the top of the Windgap which we made by 5:10. 

The group made the same hike again in 1936, with one participant writing:

This afternoon’s long trek brought us through Pouch Cove and Flatrock, and up through the Windgap, the origin of which name set us speculating. While climbing that tortuous ascent awinding its way up towards its gap in the hills we decided upon its meaning; but on meeting the gale that charged down on us as we entered the gap, we wondered whether it meant “Winding Gap” or “Windy Gap.”

A 1982 article in Decks Awash notes, “‘Wind’ is still pronounced in the old way, to rhyme with ‘find.’” Folklorist Lara Maynard, who grew up in the area, told me the name is pronounced “Wind as in wind up. But the d is hardly pronounced. So ‘Winegap.’” 

There are print references to both “Wind Gap” and” Windgap” for Flatrock (or “Flat Rock”) in the 1830s, and there are also early references to a “Windgap Route” in the location of the current roadway.  By 1833, work had begun on opening up a pathway along this route. The Journal of the Legislative Council of the Island of Newfoundland for 1833 notes the following for Flat Rock Road:

The Road between Flat Rock and Torbay has been opened, but no part of it has yet been made; it is, consequently, in a very rough and imperfect state. On approaching Flat Rock from the Torbay side it will be impracticable to follow the old line. At the top of the hill which overlooks Flat Rock, it will be necessary to keep further from the shore, and to sweep the high ground which, immediately to the South and West of this Settlement, joins the Pouch Cove Road to the North and West of the Cove. To trace out and level this part of that line only, the sum of £200 will be required, and until this shall have been done, the whole line of Road beyond Flat Rock to Pouch Cove will be comparatively unavailable for Horse and Cart work.

In 1841, a petition to the House of Assembly was made by Michael Wade (who had settled in the area around 1838), James Burke, and other inhabitants of Flatrock, “praying the house to grant such sum as may be necessary for  making a road from Flat Rock to Torbay.”  The path at that point was described as “partially opened” and it was noted that the line “which has been marked and opened passes through private property. The Journal of the Assembly went on to state:

At Flat Rock it is difficult to bring the road convenient to any of the Rooms of the Inhabitants, except by the line of road which has been made by Mr. Michael Wade. His would be the most level line to Flat Rock ; but it would much increase the distance for those persons resident on the North side of Flat Rock, in Pouch Cove, &c. Mr. Wade has made a tolerably good road here at his own expense.

Several calls for tenders were made in the 1840s, funds were allocated, and work progressed. In 1846, another petition to the Assembly was made by William Bulger and others of Flatrock, “praying for a grant to repair and complete the roads from Windgap to Gallows Cove pond, and from Flat Rock to Windgap in said settlement.” That year, £30 were disbursed for construction along the Windgap section of the road.

Trouble, however, was brewing. 

The Wade family had been involved in the early construction of the road, but were apparently unhappy about the allocation of funds.  In 1851, they had their case presented to the House:

Mr. Parsons, with consent of His Excellency the Governor, presented a Petition from Michael Wade of Flat Rock, and the same was received and read, setting forth,—That in 1845 he opened a road from his farm to Wind Gap, about two hundred and seventy-seven perches, a considerable portion of which had, since that time, been used as the public road. That it had been surveyed by the Road Surveyors, and the cost thereof estimated ; and praying that he may be indemnified for his outlay, in accordance with that estimate.

The petition was put to a vote, and was declined.  The decision did not sit well with the Wades. In protest, they built across the portion of the road that traversed their property, blocking access. 

In 1852, things had escalated to the point where another petition was presented to the government of the day.  Traffic along the route was described as “proportionably great,” due to the numerous settlers living along the line, so interruptions were a serious matter. The road, “in every point of view is the most important bye-road within the district,” stated the Journal of the House of Assembly. Notice was brought to the House by Mr. Parsons, who,

…presented a Petition from Thomas Dee and others, of Flat  Rock, Torbay, and Pouch Cove, setting forth,— That a part of the main line of road extending from Windgap to Waterman House, near the beach at Flat Rock, has been claimed by a resident there as his private property, and the public prevented using the same as a public road ; and praying that such proceedings maybe adopted as will enable them to have the benefit of this road.

Local oral tradition presents a more colourful version of the dispute.  As Decks Awash reported in 1982, 

After they had completed their road, the Wade brothers built a house across it with a gate. The first winter, they freely let local people pass, in order not to arouse any hostility in the town, while they waited for some authority figure to happen by. One summer day, the Anglican priest from Torbay came along on a sick call to Pouch Cove. They had their victim, and the boys refused to let him pass. After loud protest, the priest turned back, vowing to have James Wade arrested by the British authorities on the man-of-war anchored in Torbay harbour. When Wade appeared before the captain of the man-of-war, he claimed that he owned the road because he had built it, and would only open it as a public thoroughfare if he were paid back the money he had spent on it. The captain thought this a reasonable point, and after receiving Wade's promise that the house and gate would be removed if payment were received, he reimbursed the settler, adding that the King of England certainly did not expect his people to work for nothing.

The official website for the Town of Flatrock tells another version of the history, stating, 

After a period of time a Michael Wade obtained permission to build a road but when he wasn’t paid for it he built a house across the road and refused to allow anyone to pass. When the government finally paid him, he removed the house. Great difficulties were met in building the new road which is called Wind Gap today.

Michael Wade continued to make petitions for funding for various projects till the 1870s. 

The road was eventually completed, though it seems the 19th-century Wade family had acquired a taste for property-related drama. The Evening Telegram newspaper reported the following in 1888:

A DISPUTE between two brothers named Wade, belonging to Flat Rock, about their respective rights in certain property, was a subject of investigation before Judge Conroy this morning, and he settled the quarrel by sending one of the two to prison for two months. But does this settle it? Some say it tends to make bad worse. Both are sons of one of the most respectable pioneers of the suburban villages—the late Michael Wade, of Flat Rock. 


“About Us - The History of Flatrock.” 

A DISPUTE.” Evening Telegram, 1888-12-12 P4

Flatrock.” Decks Awash, vol. 11, no. 01 (February 1982) Page 8-9

“Flatrock.” Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume 2 [Extract: letter F] Page 210

Flat Rock Road.”  Journal of the Legislative Council of the Island of Newfoundland 1833. Page 95

Down the Trail.” Daily News, 1936-11-07. Page 14

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1841 (6th session) (With Appendix). Page 79, 185

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1846 (4th Session) Page 15, 136

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1851 Page 64, 299

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1852 (4th Session) Page 61, 234

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1865 (5th Session) Page XXX

Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland 1866 (1st Session) Page XXXIV

Maynard, Lara. Personal Communication. 5 July 2024. 

Newfld. Hiking Club.” Daily News, 1932-06-08. Page 6

Tenders.” Patriot, 1844-05-15 Page 3

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