Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Archaeology of Death: The Renews Grotto

This blog post was written by Jasper Pritchard, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Jasper!

By all accounts, the town of Renews is a serene landscape. Like many spots on the Southern Shore, the quiet but powerful presence of the sea envelops this small community like a blanket, and reminders of Newfoundland history are wrapped up with the clotheslines and sheds that make up daily life. Just one hour from the city of St.John’s, it’s a must visit when I make a day trip up the shore. I remember vividly when my friend Kathleen and I came upon it in 2015. In exchange for using her photos for this assignment I must refer to her as “my amazing, wonderful friend Kathleen”. Kathleen had taken me out to Calvert to meet her grandparents and we made a few stops before and after. We were nearing Renews and looking for a spot to turn around when we spotted an orange sign that read “RENEWS GROTTO” with an arrow pointing to the left. I didn’t even know what a grotto was at that point but decided I should find out.

We spent some time puttering around trying to find it. No one seemed to be around. There was a white shed with “COME IN BYE” written in red paint across the door, another with an abandoned coke vending machine sitting outside it that looked at least 30 years old. Long dead remains of a moose, and a dog gnawing at the pelt somehow did not detract from the picturesque quality of the town, if anything it added something.

Figure 1: A very scary shed, courtesy of Kathleen Walsh
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Archaeology of Death: The Amelia Earhart Statue in Harbour Grace, NL

This blog post was written by Hannah Cooper, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Hannah!

Photo of the Earhart Statue, Harbour Grace (image from Wikipedia)

Most of us have already heard of the famous aviatress.  Still, it was her untimely disappearance that mystified generations on end.  For this reason, it has sometimes been hard to remember that Earhart was first and foremost human, even with her massive and overarching legacy.  And so, statues like these remind us of the very human-side to such people as Earhart, before she disappeared into the history books.

History

I suppose that it should not be unreasonable to work under the assumption that most of us would know at least the skeletal remains of Amelia Earhart’s story.  I still did want to include some history about her, though, so that we can have just a bit more context on the woman forged from bronze that we see in Harbour Grace today.

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Archaeology of Death: The Ocean Ranger Memorial Garden

This blog post was written by Megan MacKinnon, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Megan!

The sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig was a tragedy that felt close to home for Newfoundlanders for many reasons. The rig, a workplace for many Newfoundlanders, sank just off the shores of St. John’s.  The majority of crewmates who passed in the accident resided in Newfoundland, leaving the Island to grieve for their loss. The sinking of the rig beginning discussions of workplace safety offshore struck a chord with many Newfoundlanders finding trade jobs in remote, and often dangerous situations. In many ways, it is safe to say all of Newfoundland felt the loss that dark day in February.

Figure 1: Map of Newfoundland with Ocean Ranger location point (Collier, 2010)

The Ocean Ranger was the world’s largest semisubmersible oilrig, about 315km off the coast of St. John’s Newfoundland within the Hibernia oil field (Collier, 2010).

 “The Ocean Ranger was a self-propelled, semi-submersible offshore drilling rig, designed and built by ODECO (Offshore Drilling and Exploration Company) for use in offshore oil exploration. At 121 metres long, 80 metres wide, and 103 metres tall, it was the largest rig of its kind when it was launched in 1976.” (Collier, 2010) On February 15th of 1982 tragedy struck when a winter storm passed over the area forecasted winds of 90 Knots and waves up to 37 feet, sinking the rig (Collier, 2010). The Federal-Provincial Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Marine Disaster found the cause of the rig’s sinking to be that seawater entered its ballast control room through a broken porthole and caused an electrical malfunction in the ballast panel controlling the rig’s stability (Pitt, 2006). This accident took the lives of all 84 crewmembers, 56 of which were Newfoundlanders (Pitt, 2006). The tragedy was felt across the entire province and resulted in inquiries about workplace safety for the workers of the rig. The Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Marine Disaster determined that much of the hazards could be attributed to flaws of the workplace itself, “the shattered portlight and chain lockers that were not water tight, for instance. The crew did not fully understand what to do in the case of an emergency involving the Ranger’s ballast control system. The lifesaving equipment was judged inadequate, and the crew lacked training in its use (Collier, 2010).” These combined factors contributed to the great loss of life in Newfoundland that day and began an important discussion of workplace safety for those who work away within our province.

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Archaeology of Death: ‘Betty’s Statue’: A Grandfather’s Remembrance

This blog post was written by Alison Batstone, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Alison!

The Peter Pan Statue (Branes, 2020)

Above is a photo taken of the Peter Pan Statue located in Bowring Park, St. John’s NL. The statue is centered in the picture, a bronze sculpture of children, animals and plants swirling around a rock perch as Peter stands atop playing flute; most characters, including Peter, are wearing small shifts as clothing. The statue sits on a stone walkway, and is framed by a duck pond and leafy trees. It is autumn, and green, orange and yellow leaves cover the grass and stones behind the monument. (Branes, 2020).

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Archaeology of Death: The Controversial Statue of Gaspar Corte-Real

This blog post was written by Emma Nugent, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Emma!

Image of the statue of Gaspare Corte-Real, the statue is outdoors and his arms are crossed (image from VOCM).

Across from the Newfoundland Confederation building, there is a statue of Portuguese explorer and slave trader, Gaspar Corte-Real (commonly mistaken for John Cabot). It has become one of the many targets in the recent push to remove monuments of slave traders and colonialists internationally. The push to remove this statue is not only because of Corte-Real’s history as a slaver, but also because of the very shady political baggage it carries.

The history of Corte-Real is a short one. He is presumed to have lived between 1450 and 1501. He was a Portuguese explorer who possibly came to Newfoundland, or maybe Labrador, or maybe Greenland in 1501. After reaching Newfoundland (or Labrador, or Greenland) he kidnapped 57 Indigenous people, took them back to Europe to be sold as slaves, then returned to Atlantic waters where he went missing in 1501 (McLeod 2017). One of his brothers searched for him, only to go missing himself in 1502. There was a third brother, but he was denied permission to search for the first two (Marsh 2008). Overall, his impact on discovering the Americas was a very small one, as well as his impact on establishing a Portuguese presence in Newfoundland. What he did was what many European explorers were doing at the time, kidnapping Indigenous people and going missing. His history isn’t even very conclusive, and he clearly isn’t well remembered (considering he is mistaken for many other prominent colonialists). All of this begs the question: Why does this guy have a monument, especially in such a prominent location?

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