The restricted entrance to the harbour of Brigus South has always limited it to small vessels, but the shelter provided from northeast winds has made it attractive as a small fishing port. As in many Newfoundland communities, the coarse gravel beach initially provided a suitable place to dry and process cod.
A 16th century Basque map lists Brigus South as "Abra de Brigas," “harbor of confusion.” As Brigus South is generally a quiet harbour (the storm surge of January 1966 excepted), the ‘confusion’ may refer to the number of fishing vessels involved in maneuvering in the restricted harbour. Settlement extended from adjacent Ferryland and Cape Broyle. In the cemetery, which is among the oldest surviving on the Southern Shore, the oldest gravestone is dated 1798.
The community was originally known as Brigus, and then was renamed (unofficially) Brigus-by-South to distinguish it from Brigus, Conception Bay. Brigus South was generally in use from the 1920s. In the 1960s the name of Brigus South was changed (at the request of the Post Office) to Hillsdale, as part of a general Post Office campaign to ‘reduce confusion.’ Local residents, who were not confused, refused to acknowledge the new name and it was officially changed back to Brigus South in 1970.
The economy of Brigus South relied almost entirely on the inshore cod fishery prior to 1966. The storm surge resulted in destruction of all but one flake and stage, belonging to Francis Power on the north side of the harbour. As the surge occurred during a time of transition from the dried, salt cod industry to fresh or frozen cod, the stages and flakes were not rebuilt. Francis Power’s stage was used in several television productions (‘Tales from Pigeon Inlet’), as a station identification screen by CBC television, and as an example of a typical Newfoundland stage in several illustrations.