This Week in History


Trekking Through the Interior

For the week of Monday September 8, 2008

On September 10, 1822, William Cormack named Mount Clarence; on the same journey he named Mount Sylvester, after his Mi’kmaw guide Sylvester Joe. Mount Sylvester is a formation of rock drumlin located in southern Newfoundland, just below Middle Ridge, approximately eighty kilometres from their departure point. Cormack was the first European to explore the interior of Newfoundland, but he could not have achieved this feat without Sylvester Joe’s knowledge and guidance.

Mount Sylvester, a "tolt" near Springdale
© Reproduced with the permission of Natural Resources Canada 2008, courtesy of the Geological Survey of Canada
Although there had been an English presence in Newfoundland for over three centuries, the settlers continued to stay near the coast and therefore not much was known of the interior. Cormack’s goals were to explore the yet-to-be-discovered interior and its resources, opening it up for colonization and making contact with the surviving Beothuks in the area.

Cormack enlisted the help of a hunter by the name of Sylvester Joe to guide him on his journey. Prior to their main voyage, they embarked on a trial expedition from St. John’s to Placentia Bay and back through Trinity and Conception Bays. After successfully completing the trial expedition the duo set off on their two-month long journey at the end of August. The trip was to be a direct route through the centre of Newfoundland from Trinity Bay in the east to St. George’s Bay in the west.

1919 Geological Map of Newfoundland and 1822 Expedition Route
© Map courtesy of the Map Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland. Adapted by Liza Piper, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site
Although Cormack did not make contact with any Beothuks nor did he open the interior for colonization, he did realize his goal of exploring the geography and resources of Newfoundland’s interior. He detailed his trip in Narrative of a Journey Across the Island of Newfoundland in 1822.  In it he described the many plants he found, as well as the mineralogy and geology of the interior.

Little is known of Sylvester Joe. A Mi’kmaw from the Bay D’Espoir region on the south coast of Newfoundland, it is believed that at the time of the expedition he was in his mid 20s. He had a good knowledge of the Gander River, Conne River and Salmon River systems, and the overland routes from Bay d’Espoir to Gander Bay.  It is thought that his hunting grounds were in the centre of the island. Nothing is known of the rest of Sylvestor Joe’s life once he and Cormack reached the end of their journey and parted ways in early November 1822.

For his role in the exploration and mapping of Newfoundland, Sylvester Joe has been designated a National Historic Person.

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