There is no definite date for the first settlement of what is now Clarenville. It is known that William Cowan owned a sawmill at Lower Shoal Harbour around 1848 and this was bought by Joseph Tilley and James Summers of Hants Harbour. They settled here. Settlers also arrived at Dark Hole ( or Dark Harbour). The families that made up this community were the Balsoms, Pearces, Vardys, and Seawards. Settlers also arrived at Brook Cove ( the Burseys ) , Broad Cove ( the Strongs, Adeys) , and Red Beach ( the Stanleys ). These five communities became part of a new community known as Clarenville in 1892 when the railway came through.
There are two versions of the origin of Clarenville’s name. It has been attributed to a memorial to the Duke of Clarence, eldest son of the then Prince of Wales ( later King Edward VII ) who died in 1892. The other version is that it was named for a son of Prime Minister Sir William Whiteway. However, Sir William had no son by that name. By 1901 Clarenville was the way everyone spelled the name and it has remained that way.
John Tilley and his family were the first settlers of Lower Shoal Harbour. They traveled from Hants Harbour in 1848 because of the abundance of timber here. “Scholar John ” many people referred to him as, because he taught himself how to read and write. As a young man he married Elizabeth Bursey of Old Perlican and they had four sons and six daughters. Being one of the earliest Justices of the Peace licensed to perform marriages in Newfoundland; John Tilley performed the marriage of his own daughter. If we were to look in church records today, we would find that Scholar John’s name would appear several times in the late 1830’s and 1840’s when there was apparently no minister or missionary available. When the Tilley’s first arrived the first thing they had to do was to build a log cottage which would be a temporary structure. They later built a saw mill so they could build a standard size home. Along with the the saw mill, the Tilleys became involved with fox farming, gardening, coopering, blacksmithing, fishing and fish canning. John Tilley and Sons were the tinning operation to tin salmon in Newfoundland (the first salmon was tinned by Tilley and Sons). Shortly after Scholar John tinned his first salmon he learned of a fishery exhibition. He sent a sample to the exhibition and received a prize in the form of a bronze medal with the inscription: ” Warranted to keep free from taint and to retain its purity and nutritious quality, in any climate for many years.” Later, Scholar John, Aaron and Moses Tilley ( sons ) with help from John’s son-in-law David Palmer, built the first church in Shoal Harbour.
Mills Siding grew to become part of Shoal Harbour and was the location of the Mills family mill and general business. Their were around 10 homes in the community.