Baine, Johnston & Co. was one of Newfoundland's largest mercantile firms in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It engaged in the supply of the inshore and Labrador cod fisheries and was also involved in the fish trade, the offshore seal fishery and the general export-import trade. Branches of the company were established at Battle Harbour (Labrador); Harbour Buffett and Presque (Placentia Bay); Port de Grave and Cupids, (Conception Bay); and Bonavista.
The name Baine, Johnston & Co. emerged in the 1830s and the firm was the successor of a series of companies founded by Scottish entrepreneurs in St. John's in the early nineteenth century. Two of the principal founders were Walter Baine and William Johnston. Baine was originally associated with the Greenock (Scotland) firm Long, Baine & Co. (principals Thomas Lang, Walter Baine Jr., Thomas Patton, John Hamilton, and Archibald Baine) which was involved in the Newfoundland trade at St. John's by 1806. In 1808 Thomas Patten, the managing agent, joined Walter Baine Jr. to form an affiliated company Patten, Baine & Co.
In 1810 William Johnston was appointed as St. John's agent for the Walter Baine & Co. (successor of Patten, Baine & Co.). In 1816 Johnston purchased the St. John's Water Street premises formerly occupied by Hart, Robinson & Co. and in 1818 acquired "Horton's Plantation" between Baird's Cove and Ayre's Cove (where Baine, Johnston & Co. maintained its headquarters until 1963). The firm "occupied" premises in "Cubits" (likely Cupids) in 1818 and purchased Snow's Plantation at Port de Grave from William Andrews, presumably the site of company operations there.
Following the death of Johnston (1837), Walter Grieve became the managing agent of Baine, Johnston & Co. in St. John's and his brother James (a partner) managed affairs in Greenock. When Walter Baine Jr. died in 1851, the Grieves became the principal partners. Walter Grieve, however, left in 1851 to form Walter Grieve & Co., and formed a partnership with Alexander Bremner in Grieve & Bremner at Trinity in 1861.
In 1871 Baine, Johnston & Co. purchased the Slade premises in Battle Harbour, Labrador but retained Slade's former accountant and manager, William Collingwood as their chief agent. When Walter Baine Grieve died in 1921 this effectively marked the end of both the Grieve and the Scottish connections with Baine, Johnston & Co.
In addition to its role in the cod fishery, Baine Johnston & Co. participated in the Newfoundland sealing industry, outfitting vessels for the annual hunt and processing seal oil, pelts and other products; in 1896 the firm purchased a seal processing plant at Harbour Grace, which became the headquarters for its operations. Through its principals, the firm registered nearly three hundred vessels in Newfoundland (1832-1920), making it one of the largest vessel owners in Newfoundland and Labrador; these vessels included the SS Bloodhound, one of the first steamers utilized in the sealing industry. The firm's vessels were also used in the coasting and foreign trades; the company also became the Newfoundland agent for the Cunard Line.
The firm was reincorporated in 1921 with Thomas W. Collingwood, William's son as managing director. By 1939 he had become the major shareholder. Baine, Johnston & Co. had withdrawn from the fishery by 1955. The company has developed and maintains a commercial interest in real estate, insurance, wholesaling and retailing.