Showing posts with label cemeteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cemeteries. Show all posts

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Living Heritage Podcast Ep077 Headstones, Hexfoils, and Historic Archaeology

Robyn Lacy is a 2nd year Masters student in the Archaeology Department at MUN, and completed her BA in Archaeology at the University of Calgary in 2014. Her research focuses on historic archaeology in Newfoundland and New England, exploring burial landscapes and their relationship to 17th-century settlements. This summer she will be excavating at Ferryland for four weeks in search of the early burial ground at the Colony of Avalon. She writes about her fascination with burial landscapes, tombstones, and more, on her blog "Spade and the Grave - death and burial through an archaeological lens."

In this podcast, Robyn talks about how she got interested in historical archaeology and the archaeology of burial places, burial landscapes, her work searching out Ferryland’s hidden graveyard, the folklore of hexfoils, and public archaeology.  Don't know what a hexfoil is? Tune in and find out! We'll send you on a hunt for one hidden somewhere fairly public in downtown St. John's.

Listen on the Digital Archive:

Photo: 1699 gravestone with pinwheel design on the finial. Design in the Hartshorne tradition, New London, CT. Photo by R Lacy, 2015.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

#Folklorephoto The cross in St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Cemetery, St. Lawrence

When driving through St. Lawrence a large concrete crucifix can be seen from the road, standing tall among the headstones in St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Cemetery. While we were in St. Lawrence Dale interviewed Thérèse Slaney about her life, and she talked proudly about her husband Herb, an engineer who designed the cross.

The cross in St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Cemetery
After the interview, Thérèse showed us some of Herbs beautiful technical drawings, some of the cross and others of the St. Lawrence Grotto which he also designed.

Herb Slaney's technical drawing of the cross

In the following clip you can listen to Thérèse Slaney talk about the work Herb did on the cross.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Better to die a child than live in vain" - Winterton tombstone mystery

I posted a little while ago about a mystery headstone motif from Cupids, which generated some suggestions, and an article in The Telegram. Following that, I got this image (above) and note from Grant Tucker, about a headstone in the Anglican cemetery beside the church at Winterton. Grant writes:
"It has a six line epitaph which is only partially decipherable; perhaps you or one of your contacts can help us. Here is what we have deciphered: 
At last from worldly strife ------------------- (hand?) - Iambic Hexameter
And (valiant?) (souls?) -------------------------------- - Iambic (Pentameter?)
(Where?) mercies never fade - Iambic Trimeter
But if protracted guilt --------------------- the span - Iambic Hexameter
Better to die a child than live in vain - Iambic Pentameter
And sink into the shade - Iambic Trimeter 
Jasper, my fifth great-grandfather, or perhaps the generation before him, are thought to have been among the first of Winterton's permanent settlers who came from Trinity."
 Any thoughts? Does the epitaph ring any bells with poetry fans out there?

Drop me a line at or post a comment!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Help identify this Victorian-era "open book and star" tombstone symbol

I love old cemeteries, and always enjoy poking around the older sections, reading the epitaphs and admiring the artistry of the old grave markers. I was exploring the United Church graveyard in Cupids, Newfoundland yesterday, and came across a tombstone symbol that I am unfamiliar with.

The tombstone features an open book with star motif, and dates from 1881. It marks the burial spot and final resting place of one Lorenzo Taylor, age 22. It is a paired tombstone, with two inscriptions, the partner inscription bearing the more familiar handshake motif.

Books are a common theme on gravestones from the period, and the symbolism of the book can represent many things. A book may represent a person's good deeds and accomplishments being recorded in the Book of Life, or perfect knowledge, or it may be a more literal representation of the Bible.

Often used on the gravestones of ministers or clergymen, a book is a fairly common symbol found on gravestones of very devoted religious people. In the Cupids UC Cemetery, there are numerous examples of book motifs, many of them featuring the same double page spread as the Taylor grave.

Stars, as well, have many possible meanings. A five-pointed star can represent, variously, the Star of Bethlehem, the Epiphany, the star of Jesse or Jacob, and/or heavenly wisdom. Stars can symbolize heaven, the spirit, or the spirit rising to heaven. One list of motifs states the stars can represent “piercing the darkness as an expression of their triumph against the overwhelming odds of oblivion.”

What is less clear is what a star on a book means. Was it simply a stone carver’s blending of two unrelated religious symbols, and then picked out of a pattern book by the purchaser? Or does it represent something specific?

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, and theories! You can comment below, or email me at

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fine Day for a Cemetery Clean-up!

The Make Midterm Matter cemetery crew.

On Tuesday, June 24th the HFNL teamed up with students from Memorial University’s Anthropology 1031 to help clean up the RC cemetery in Portugal Cove. This event was a partnership between the Heritage Foundation, Memorial University, the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Phillips and the Roman Catholic Church--it was the first collaboration of its kind. 

Jeremy, a heritage/folklore regular, clears brush on his last day of class.

The University’s “Make Midterm Matter” program inspired the collaboration, and the day-long session became part of the students’ curriculum. It was an interesting example of learning outside of the classroom.
The students worked hard to clear sections of brush and small trees to uncover overgrown graves. While taking breaks from this labour, they also had interesting discussions about the different things a cemetery can reveal about a community. Reading the symbols or “motifs” on the graves themselves can show a shift from religious, community symbols such as the hand of God to more personalized inscriptions such as a fishing pole or a truck. Another discussion lead by their professor Sebastien Despres touched on the issues surrounding the maintenance of graveyards and the shift of responsibility from the family when there are issues such as resettlement and population declines. What I found it particularly interesting, as an observer, was how Dr. Despres was able to connect classroom material in such a meaningful way to the students and to a tangible place in their community.

Both Dale and Lisa from the Heritage Foundation then offered their own knowledge and work experiences connected to Newfoundland cemeteries. Lisa discussed a restoration project she facilitated in Port Royal--a resettled community in Placentia Bay--and the challenges and rewards which went along with the project. Dale shared some ghost and fairy stories about graves, graveyards, and coffins and discussed how these tales relate to notions of respecting the dead. He also provided information about his research on Moravian dead houses and burial practices. 

Students hard at work in the RC cemetery.
More hard work, uncovering a hidden grave.
Visiting West Point burial site, which the town has protected from development.
It was a great day of experiential learning under a bright blue sky....and the cemetery is now in great shape, ready to accept summer visitors. Thank you to the Jeff Lawlor from the Town of PC-SP, Richard from the Parish Hall, the RC Church, Sebastien Despres, the “Make Midterm Matter” group, and all the students for helping make this project happen.

-Terra and Lisa

Friday, May 30, 2014

Portugal Cove Cemetery Clean-Up Day

Just up the road from the Roman Catholic Church in Portugal Cove, on the side of a green hill, is the RC cemetery. It's a fairly large, sprawling cemetery, with headstones (many as old as the mid 19th century) standing in clusters through the trees. This is just one of the many interesting burial spaces that PCSP has, all of which are physical reminders of the community's long settlement history (which, no doubt, is closely connected to the fishery). Because of the historic significance of these spaces, cemeteries are worthy of attention so that they can be protected to the best of our abilities. This is a huge task in Newfoundland, as the climate is hard on the stone, and there are so many cemeteries that need attention, that it can feel overwhelming to try and protect them all. But even small measures can go a long way. The Roman Catholic Cemetery has been tended to some degree over the years, and this summer, it is schedule to have an intensive clean-up by a group of volunteer students from MUN.

The RC Church in Portugal Cove, close to the RC Cemetery.

Some of the organizers checking out the site. (I'm behind the camera!)
On June 24th, 2014, 30 to 40 students with the "Make Midterm Matter" program will be showing up to do their part. Not only will they work hard to clear brush, clean up garbage, and cut away growth from headstones, but it will also be a learning opportunity for them. They will be given a few tips for how to tend to headstones without doing any damage, as well as learn about what the symbols on the headstones mean. This day-long heritage volunteer excursion is a partnership between MUN, the HFNL, the Town of Portugal Cove and St. Phillips, and the RC Church. It's the first partnership of its kind, and we hope it continues into the future. It will be a great opportunity to raise awareness about heritage issues in our communities. Hope to see you there!

A small portion of the large cemetery space that the students will be working in. Endless growth and brush for them to tackle!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Folklore, fieldwork, and forgotten cemeteries


In the 2013 August/September issue of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Update: students start the Folklore 6020 field school in Quidi Vidi; the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador launches its most recent publication, on lych-gates in Newfoundland; archaeologist Sarah Ingram gives an update on the wells and springs project; Nicole Penney reports on digitizing the Baccalieu Trail Heritage Corporation Oral History Collection; we have a report on HFNL's recent tombstone rubbing workshop; and notes on a little-known cemetery in Clarke's Beach, Conception Bay.

Contributors: Dale Jarvis, Nicole Penney, Lisa Wilson, Sarah Ingram, Claire McDougall. Photo of the Isaac Snow grave marker by Claire McDougall.

The newsletter is available online as a pdf document. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tuesday's Folklore Photo

11th MAY 1842

He was the first person buried in this cemetery on Sunday 15th
By Rev. J. Snowball
Who preached a sermon for the occasion the same evening.

"Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cameth"
St. Matthew 24

This headstone is located in the old General Protestant Cemetery in St. John's. Later this month the HFNL will be holding a headstone rubbing workshop in this very cemetery, and discussing the different ways of preserving the information (genealogical details, epitaphs etc.) on historic headstones. Details about this workshop will be released in the next few days. Please stay tuned!!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Great Finds in New Perlican

Last month, on the 22nd of June, I traveled to New Perlican to help out with a local cemetery clean-up project. This ongoing initiative, headed by the New Perlican heritage group,  aims to help preserve a historic cemetery that has been under threat from neglect and encroaching ATV trails. A great deal of research has already been done in the area, and before beginning the clean-up, it was believed that some previously unrecorded headstones may be buried throughout the site. The clean-up portion of the project, which accounts for the first phase, has been in the planning stages since last year. Next will come a post and chain fence that will provide further protection to the area.

Several community members turned up to help with the removal of the tall grass and shrubbery that had been hiding a cluster of  headstones. With so many hands busy at work, the area was cleared very quickly and the task of searching for fallen headstones could begin. Right away community members began making discoveries. In just a few short hours, around 13 headstones were unearthed, most of which were from the mid-19th century. Each were treated with care, and in time, a plan will be put into place where some will be put into the ground once again. While not all are in good enough condition to do so, it will be quite interesting to see some of these newly discovered headstones added back to this historic landscape.

Congratulations to New Perlican Heritage for your wonderful discoveries and good luck with the next phase of your preservation project. Special thanks to Eileen Matthews for inviting me to watch this project unfold, and for her unending dedication to heritage work in her community.


New Perlican Heritage, busy clearing the land.

Cemetery clean-up helpers read an epitaph on a newly discovered headstone.

A portion of one of the discovered headstones,  next to its footstone. Many burials in this cemetery had both a head and a footstone.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday's Folklore Photo

Despite its fairly small size, Bell Island has at least 12 different cemeteries. Some of these are considered new, while others are historic, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The cemetery pictured here is by far the smallest--it has a single headstone, carefully fenced off, on the side of a hill. It can be seen from the road when you are  driving onto the island from the ferry. One can't help but speculate as to why it is up there all alone. This single grave site surely has a story. Who is buried here? Why is this grave in this location? While I've heard a few stories about the person buried here, I'd be interested to hear your version. So, if you know anything about this little hillside graveyard, please email: I look forward to hearing from you, and I'll be sure to write another post sharing people's answers to this query.


This information was provided by Ed Kirby who has roots on Bell Island. This is an interesting account, and it also points towards a mystery around the actual burial site connected to this headstone (pictured above).

"It’s that of Greg Normore, who supposedly was the first permanent resident of Bell Island, settling there around 1740. The headstone was moved to its current location in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I think it had previously been somewhere else on the hill, possibly in the old Anglican graveyard on the east hand side of the Beach Hill Road, or near the tram track to the west of the road. The tram, which was located between the road and the cemetery, moved people up and down the steep hill to the Beach ferry before Beach Hill Road was built. My mother’s family – both sides of it – were from Bell Island, and there was some skepticism that the site from where the headstone was moved was actually his burial site. The adults in the family said Normore’s actual burial site was unknown, and that the headstone was erected in an arbitrary spot overlooking the bay. The current site of the headstone is near the Catholic cemetery where the ground is about half rock and half clay, fit only for grazing and burying."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How I Spent My Summer

Summer in Port Royal from Knoah on Vimeo.

How I Spent My Summer is a short video that was filmed by Noah Bender during this past summer in Port Royal.  Four of us lived together in a cabin on resettled Long Island participating in a cemetery restoration project. Our group was made up of two folklorists, an artist, and a carpenter. Together we worked hard to preserve 25 headstones... but as you will see in the video, we also had a summer of great leisure and adventure. It was a wonderful few months and all of us feel fortunate to have spent time in such a beautiful place. -Lisa

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Perlican Thinks About Cemetery Restoration

As we come up to next week's Cemetery Workshop (Dec. 4th, 1-5pm), I am going to post about a cemetery visit I recently had that really made me think about best practices for cemetery restoration work. Yesterday I traveled to New Perlican to have a visit with three members of the town's Heritage Society.  There is a cemetery in their community that has been neglected for a very long time. The residents have been keeping an eye on it, but they would like to do some conservation and restoration work in the near future. The cemetery is likely from the early-to-mid-1800s and as far as this group knows, there is no living resident who can remember a church once being up on that hill. All of the people who would have seen it in their youth have now passed away. The cemetery itself is very interesting. There are 8-10 headstones (some broken, others still standing) that clearly show where there are graves. It is thought that there are many more headstones that have fallen and been buried by layers of moss. On other parts of this large hill, there are clear examples of stone makers which suggest grave locations. These are scattered over a large area, but it is quite easy to pick them out. They look different than natural rocks-- they were buried in an intentional way with portions of the rock rising above the ground, much like headstones. Eileen, Max and Lorraine gave me a tour of this space and explained some of their restoration plans. They have some hurdles ahead, but with the dedication they have, there will surely be some successes.

Lorraine, Eileen, and Max showing me the St. Mark's Cemetery.

Buried and broken headstone in the cemetery. Date of stone unknown.

Two rocks thought to show the 'head' and 'foot' of a grave.
Some of the questions that came up included: how should headstones be fixed and protected without causing more damage? How can we tell if there is a grave if the headstone is now gone? How can we record what is still here? It is great that the New Perlican heritage group is asking such questions. They understand how important it is to document and protect what we have from the past, while we still have it. Overall, it was a fantastic visit and I hope to provide them support in the spring and summer as they embark on this restoration journey.

A final photo before signing off: here is a broken headstone that is now under the careful watch of the this New Perlican Heritage Society. This was pulled from the local garden of Percy Critch. It is thought to be a headstone from 1758 for a woman named Jane London-- a fascinating find to say the least!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Harbour Breton tombstones, and moving graves in Argentia

I've a couple cemetery-related gems today. HFNL board member Doug Wells sent me a few snaps of historic tombstones from the oldest cemetery in Harbour Breton (Church of England). I've posted them below. One of the oldest markers is the slate gravestone of Sarah Chapman (1769-1831), the final photo posted here.

Also, new on Memorial's Digital Archives Initiative is this intriguing map of the new cemetery built to house remains exhumed as part of the construction of the United States Air Force Base at Argentia during World War II.  I don't know much about that story, but it sounds intriguing! If you know more about it, send me an email at  The list of names includes some fascinating entries, including "Young Man from the Plot of Richard Healy" and "Teresa Sampson (Mistaken for another person by relatives)" and "Michael Smith - Age 80 & Another Body out of same Plot under Big Rose Bush." I'd love to know the story of Teresa!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cemetery Workshop Update and Special Student Rate

We've had a good response so far to our Cemetery Workshop, which will be held at the Johnson GEO Centre on Tuesday, December 4th, starting at 1pm. Cost to participants is $40 for the day, includes snacks and coffee/tea. A number of students have expressed interest in attending, so we've added a special $20 student rate for the workshop.

To register, contact Lisa at:
1-888-739-1892 ext 3

The day will be broken into two sessions. The first is on Art and Archaeology, the second is on Conservation and Heritage.

Presenters to date include:

Gerald Pocius - Reading Newfoundland Gravestones
This presentation will discuss the origins of Newfoundland gravestones, and the symbols and epitaphs used on them. Gravestones in Newfoundland were imported as well as made locally. They contained symbols both sacred and secular. The epitaphs used on the stones could be brief or poetic and lengthy. Examples shown will be mainly from eastern Newfoundland.

Martha Drake - Archaeology and the Portugal Cove Cemetery
Several years ago, graves were excavated from an unmarked cemetery during a proposed housing development in Portugual Cove. Martha Drake will talk about how a stop work order was put in place, and how the graves were professionally investigated and the human remains brought to MUN. The Town has created a small park where the graves were uncovered and the remains will be reburied in the newly developed park setting.

Melanie Tucker - Stonepics Database
Stonepics, a database of over 300, 000 headstone and cemetery photographs from all around Newfoundland, is owned and created by Mr. Kimsey Fowler who lives in Seattle, Washington. Melanie will speak about this fabulous database, and illustrate how it can be used for research.

Andrea O’Brien - Cemeteries and Municipal Heritage Designation
Andrea will explain the process through which towns designate cemeteries and detail services offered to towns by HFNL, including historical research, writing a Statement of Significance for the cemetery and placing the designation on the Provincial Register of Historic Places.

Lisa Wilson - The Port Royal Cemetery Restoration Project
This presentation will be photographic journey detailing the graveyard restoration project that took place in the summer of 2012 in the resettled community of Port Royal. Aside from the discussing the challenges of working in isolated conditions, Lisa will be going over some of the conservation dilemmas the team encountered, while offering ideas for best practices for those who are embarking on similar projects.

Annie McEwen - From the Field: Headstone Rubbings and Maker’s Marks
Annie's talk will be informed by her most recent field experience at the Port Royal Cemetery on Long Island, Placentia Bay. She will discuss the stories behind grave signatures or maker’s marks as well as the importance of headstone rubbings and their practical application. Rubbings can be an excellent way to record headstone information as well as capturing the beauty and uniqueness of the stone. Examples of rubbings done this summer at the Port Royal Cemetery will be shown.

(photo: St. Matthew's Cemetery, St. Lawrence)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Memories of Lych Gates in Newfoundland - gateways for the dead

This undated photograph shows an unidentified woman standing in front of the lych gate, the entranceway to the grounds of the Alexander Chapel of All Souls, located on Coster Street in Bonavista.

The elaborately beamed lych gate is a feature typical of Anglican churchyards. Traditionally, it was the sheltered point at which the coffin was set down at a funeral to await the clergyman's arrival. In some instances, a portion of the burial service was performed while the coffin rested inside the gate. A common feature in English churchyards, the concept of the lych gate was transplanted to North America. "Lych" is a form of the Anglo-Saxon word "līc" meaning body or corpse.

Once common, the only surviving Newfoundland example I know of is in Bonavista. The original lych gate was constructed circa 1899 and was financed by the Church of England Women's Association of Bonavista (1).

One S. Rees of Bonavista, in a letter dated Dec. 7, 1893 to the St. John's Evening Telegram, noted,
Dear Sir, - on Monday the 4th inst., there was no small stir here among the members of the C.E. Sewing Class, and one would naturally ask the cause. But a poster would apprise of the fact that a “sale of work,” under the auspices of the above ladies, was about about to take place; its object, to provide funds to provide a lych gate for the new cemetery. At about 6.40 p.m. the doors were open to purchasers, and when I arrived a few minutes later - considering inclemency of weather - quite A Crowd Had Gathered.
According to the author, the amount raised, $76, "was far above expectation" (2).

The Anglican Cemetery on Forest Road in St. John's also had a lych gate, which was torn down at some point in the second half of the 20th century. It is shown on aerial photographs from 1961, but was removed afterwards. According to HNFL Executive Director George Chalker, it was removed possibly to allow motorized hearses access to the cemetery.

If you have memories, or photographs, of lych gates in Newfoundland, I'd love to hear from you. You can call me at 1-888-739-1892 ext 2, or email me at

- Dale Jarvis

(1) Simms, Gavin. "Gateway to yesterday: Anglican Chapel recreates long lost entranceway." The Packet, November 20, 2008.

(2)  Rees, S. "Pleasant Social Event At Bonavista. Sale of Work by the Church of England Sewing Class - Object: a Lych Gate for the New Cemetery." Evening Telegram (St. John’s, NL) 1893-12-16

UPDATE - 17 March 2014:

You can read or download the final version of this research at Lych Gates in Newfoundland

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Art, Archaeology, History and Heritage of Graveyards

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
1pm - 5pm
Johnson Geo Centre Celestial Gallery
175 Signal Hill Road, St. John’s

Cemeteries throughout Newfoundland and Labrador are revered as special, sacred places.They occupy both emotional and physical space in our communities. Cemeteries are also expressions of our spiritual beliefs and cultural values, as well as rich repositories of genealogical and community history. This half-day workshop offered by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador looks at the history, folklore and conservation of historic graveyards in the province, and will give opportunities for participants to ask questions of the experts.

Moderator: Dale Jarvis, ICH Development Officer, Heritage Foundation of NL

Art and Archaeology Session
Gerald Pocius, MUN Folklore - Reading Newfoundland Gravestones
Martha Drake, Provincial Archaeology - Archaeology and the Portugal Cove Cemetery
Melanie Tucker, The Rooms Archive - Stone Pics Database

Conservation and Heritage Session
Andrea O’Brien, Heritage Foundation of NL - Cemeteries and Municipal Heritage Designation
Lisa Wilson, Heritage Foundation of NL - Port Royal Restoration Project
Annie McEwen, Folklorist - Headstone Rubbings and Maker’s Marks

Cost to participants:
$40.00 for the day, includes break

To register, contact Lisa at:
1-888-739-1892 ext 3

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Graveyard Mystery: photos of unusual tin grave markers from Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland.

In this month's edition of the ICH Update newsletter, Patrick Carroll wrote about a set of unusual tin gravemarkers from Bonavista Bay.  I wanted to include more detailed photos here of the markers, because they are unlike anything I've seen before in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The origins of these are a bit of a mystery, and both Patrick and I would love to know more about them. If you've come across something like this in your travels, let me know at  or leave a comment below.

You can read Pat's full article on the grave markers in pdf here.

Wooden Baskets, Tin Grave Markers, and Steam Whistles

In the March 2012 edition of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Update for Newfoundland and Labrador: we announce workshops on oral history and folklore interviewing in Corner Brook and Grand Falls-Windsor; a public lecture on Acadian and Mi'kmaw basketry; an unusual tin grave marker from Bonavista Bay; and a research project on the Corner Brook mill whistle.

Contributions by Dale Jarvis, Nicole Penney, Patrick Carroll and Janice Tulk.

Download the PDF

More photos of tin grave markers here