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GARNIER, CONSTANT, merchant and saloon-keeper; b. 1816 in Avranches, France; m. first Marie Christe, and they had at least six sons and four daughters; m. secondly Mary Letitia —, daughter of a Mrs Boutillier of Sydney, N.S.; great-grandfather of the 20th-century labour leader Donald MacDonald*; d. 6 Oct. 1894 in Halifax.

Constant Garnier arrived in Newfoundland about 1850. According to local tradition, he was a bookkeeper for the French fishing operation at Red Island off the Port au Port peninsula. Some time after 1850 he removed to Sandy Point on St George’s Bay, where he established a business supplying the fishery and became a major figure in the community’s affairs. Indeed, Garnier’s career parallels the fortunes of Sandy Point. At the time of his arrival it was becoming the chief emporium for the French and British fisheries on what was called the French Shore. By his death it was already in the decline that would accelerate with the building of the railway in 1898 and the ultimate settlement of British and French claims in Britain’s favour in 1904 (the last residents left in the late 1940s).

The community of Sandy Point was atypical in Newfoundland in both its origin and its development. It was first established by Jerseymen at the end of the 18th century, and its population was of more varied composition than any other community on the island. There were settlers from Nova Scotia (Micmac, Acadian, Scots, and Irish), Quebec (French- and English-speaking), continental France, and Saint-Pierre, not to mention those of Basque, Irish, and Newfoundland origin and at least one, Antonio Nardini, from Italy. The community functioned on a quadrilingual basis – English, French, Scots Gaelic, and Micmac – and schooling was given in French and English. Along with the rest of the western shore of Newfoundland, Sandy Point was without any civil authority until the appointment of a resident magistrate in 1877. However, Anglican, Catholic, and Methodist clergy began to serve the area in the 1850s.

Constant Garnier was actively involved in Sandy Point’s affairs, in 1853 acting as co-signer with the Reverend Alexis Bélanger* in obtaining funding for the construction of the Catholic church. He translated the remains of Father Bélanger to Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Que., after the priest’s death at Sandy Point in 1868 and was the only one of four laymen involved in the somewhat unusual funeral who signed the burial register in his own hand. When the magistrate for St George’s Bay was appointed in 1877 and a customs officer a year later, there was a good deal of resistance to these changes, especially to the collection of customs duties, but it would appear that Garnier welcomed the establishment of civil governance. He became a naturalized British subject in 1881 and at the same time claimed he was the only merchant at Sandy Point to pay the recently imposed duties. Nevertheless, Garnier complained, he was not granted a licence to sell liquor.

In the same year that he became a naturalized citizen, Garnier suffered a severe economic loss: his establishment at Sandy Point was destroyed by fire, a loss estimated at $3,000. The report of the fire in the St John’s Evening Telegram called Garnier “the most prominent supplying merchant” in St George’s Bay. Tradition has it that he owned five vessels, each captained by one of his sons. As in other areas of Newfoundland, the mainstay of the St George’s Bay economy was the fishery; however, unlike the practice in the rest of the island, supplying merchants such as Garnier took each year’s proceeds to Halifax rather than to St John’s or to the European markets. There Garnier acquired goods ranging from a needle to an anchor. They were transported to his stores at Sandy Point and traded for fish, furs, and labour at the entrepôt there or by trading schooner to other, remoter settlements. An important item of his trade was the traditional dark rum that was sold around the clock at the height of the fishing season from his saloon at Sandy Point. He is said to have supplied the bay with stoves, which replaced the earlier open chimneys, and, shrewd businessman that he was, he began to import coal from Cape Breton.

Garnier’s trade brought him considerable wealth; his house, which was destroyed in the 1881 fire, is said to have had a staircase made of material brought out from France with a carpet held in place by silver dollars at each of the step ends. His money, and that of the mercantile establishment at Sandy Point, was invested in Halifax. So little did the rest of Newfoundland share in the economy of this region that when the banks in St John’s crashed in December 1894, two months after Garnier’s death, Michael Francis Howley*, the Catholic vicar apostolic of St George’s, declared that the district would “suffer no more from the crash than it did from the financial crisis in Australia.” It is significant that Garnier had died in Halifax at his son’s residence. He left his personal fortune of more than $10,000 invested in that city.

Cyril Byrne

[Traditional lore concerning Constant Garnier’s career in St George’s Bay, Nfld., was collected by the author from Isidore Halbot, a former resident of Sandy Point, St George’s Bay; Father Roderick White, a native of St George’s and currently chancellor of the Diocese of St George’s (Corner Brook, Nfld.); and John Barter, a descendant of Garnier living in Moncton, N.B.  c.b.]

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.4596. PANL, GN 2/22/A, 1883 no.20. M. F. Howley, “Reminiscences,” Terra Nova Advocate (St John’s), February 1882, esp. 9 Feb. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 2 Sept. 1881, 17 Jan. 1895. Halifax Daily Echo, 8 Oct. 1894. Terra Nova Advocate, 3 Oct. 1881. Michael Brosnan, Pioneer history of StGeorges diocese, Newfoundland ([Corner Brook, 1948]). J. J. Mannion, “Settlers and traders in western Newfoundland,” The peopling of Newfoundland: essays in historical geography, ed. J. J. Mannion ([St John’s], 1977), 234–75.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Cyril Byrne, “GARNIER, CONSTANT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/garnier_constant_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/garnier_constant_12E.html
Author of Article: Cyril Byrne
Title of Article: GARNIER, CONSTANT
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: July 28, 2014