Bay Bulls, NL, incorporated as a town in 1986, population 1283 (2011c), 1078 (2006c). The Town of Bay Bulls is located on the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula, south of the capital city, St. John's. One of the oldest settlements in North America, it has the earliest-known English place name in Newfoundland and Labrador. The name may have come from the once locally common dovekie - bull or ice bird (see Auk) - or alternately be a corruption of the French "Baie de Bois" or "Wooded Bay." Regardless, the place name was in common use by 1592.
First used by the French, the town's ample deep harbour afforded an excellent staging area for early transatlantic convoys. By 1635 a site of wintering for English fishermen, it was fortified by Governor David Kirke in 1638 and attacked by Dutch Admiral De Ruyter in 1665. The semi-permanent fishing settlement was attacked and burned by the French at least 5 times from 1696-1796 during Anglo-French rivalry over Newfoundland's fishery. Some of the oldest maritime wrecks in North America lie at the bottom of its harbour. The area around H.M.S. Sapphire, which was scuttled to avoid capture 11 September 1696, was declared Newfoundland's first provincial underwater marine historic site in 1975.
A year-round fishing community of mainly Irish immigrants was established by 1800. Resident merchants established thriving fish firms during the 1800s, and Bay Bulls became a local business centre and shipping port. During World War II Canada leased the area for a naval repair base. (Newfoundland was not a part of Confederation at that time.)
Prior to the moratorium imposed on the Atlantic coast fishery in 1992, Bay Bulls functioned as a fishing port and fish-processing centre. While Bay Bulls still functions as a fishing port, today it is also a full-service offshore oil supply base, which includes international shipping and port facilities. The economy of modern Bay Bulls is a blend of fishing, fish processing, manufacturing, retail trade, agriculture and tourism.
The harbour is home to both a cod farm and 4 islands that make up a major seabird ecological reserve (see Bird Sanctuaries and Reserves). Tour boats travel regularly among these islands. Onshore, the extensive maritime history is being rediscovered and documented. Bay Bulls is also located along the 540 km long East Coast Trail, a hiking trail linking historic communities on the east coast of Newfoundland.