Hello again readers, we are back today with another ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’! But first, an update:The last few weeks have been hectic; I’ve finished my PhD coursework already somehow, and after a little break, I have begun to work through readings in preparation for my comprehensive exams (also known as comps) this fall, which will involve writing two papers and then orally defending them. I’ve also been preparing for fieldwork and writing some reports for Black Cat which is very exciting, alongside preparing for my research fieldwork this summer as well. All of this involves extra hoops in these ‘uNpReCiDeNtEd TiMeS’ (anyone else sick of hearing that yet?), but projects are nearly set up and I am really looking forward to crawling out from behind my desk sometime soon!
With that, let’s get into today’s cemetery: the Juggler’s Cove Burial Site, Bay Roberts, NL!
My husband, Ian, and I have been hiking a lot lately as the weather has been getting warmer out here. We’re looking forward to hiking the Gros Morne Mountain Trail later this summer, and are hoping that once vaxxing happens everywhere we can finally go on our honeymoon next year, which will involve hiking. Basically, it’d time for training! Last weekend we decided to hike the Shoreline Heritage Walk in Bay Roberts, an 8km loop with amazing ocean views and interpretive signs along the way. You pass through French’s Cove and Juggler’s Cove, communities which have seen European settler occupation since at least the 17th century, and possible the 16th century as seasonal fishers. The Bay Roberts website states, “French raids by Pierre LeMoyne d’Iberville in 1697 and Jacques Testard de Montigny in 1705 destroyed the communities; however, the English settlers quickly rebuilt.”
With the long history of settlers in the area, it was no wonder we could see the old foundations and flattened areas of land where houses used to stand, the stones removed from the ground while clearing farm fields, and the depressions and walls of root cellars dug into the hill or straight down into the ground. Some of these root cellars have been restored today as part of the trail, and are definitely worth taking a peek at!
As we rounded a turn in the trail, a bright white picket fenced enclosure appeared on the land ahead. A cemetery! This beautiful location in Juggler’s Cove would have been pretty close to where people lived, and is well maintained today with a lovely fence, maintained grass, and even a picnic table nearby for hikers to enjoy the area. The sign describing the location of historic burial sites in Newfoundland as being on a flat plot of land isn’t exactly what I’ve found in my research, however. When I examined a sample of historic burial sites in NL, I found that 94.7% of them were on elevated land (Lacy 2020:101), which typically wasn’t that flat at all. The folks in Juggler’s Cove managed to find a very nice, fairly level area, which is all the better!
The majority of the gravestones at this site are fieldstones, or gravestones made from a rough piece of locally sourced stone. These can be shaped to ‘gravestone’ shapes, or simply taken from one place and put at the head of the grave to mark the location. The majority of the time, these stones are not inscribed, and this site was no exception. We checked the visible surfaces of the fieldstones but did not see any that appeared to be inscribed.
The photos above show a view of the burial site, dotted with slumped fieldstones. Even though many are sinking or leaning, they are in excellent shape. On the top left is a fieldstone which has had the top shaped to a semi-circle arch, resembling the top of a classic carved gravestone, made from a local slate or shale. The broken stone in the middle appears to be sandstone or possible limestone, and is broken into many pieces. If there was an inscription, it is either on the underside (which we did not check, don’t disturb historic burial sites, folks), or weathered away. The large photo on the right is the only surviving headstone at the site with an inscription…which we could barely make out. It commemorates William Earle, who died in 1776. His sandstone marker, while weather-worn, is in remarkable shape!
This site dates to the 18th century, and possible earlier, though without inscriptions or a full excavation of the site, we will likely never know exactly how old it is. Newfoundland has been home to European settlers for over 400 years and there are countless 17th-century burial sites out there, but to date none have been identified in the province with certainty. The gravestones at Ferryland are the only we have which definitively date to the 17th-century, and yet they were found out of context, so we still don’t know the location of the graves they came from…and believe me, I tried!
Juggler’s Cove and its beautiful burial site on the windswept point represent a very early settler occupation in the area, and are part of the history and development of the area. If you visit the site, please be respectful of the individuals buried there, and try to picture the landscape as it would have looked to them, 200, 300, maybe even 400 years ago.
Lacy, Robyn S. 2020. Burial and Death in Colonial North America: Exploring Interment Practices and Landscapes in 17th-Century British Settlements. Emerald Publishing Ltd.: UK.
Sayer R. and Bennett I. 1771. A Chart of the south-east part of Newfoundland, containing the bays of Placentia, St. Mary’s, Trepassey and Conception. Available online: https://collections.mun.ca/digital/collection/maps/id/108/rec/1