Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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: Terry Fox Memorial, St. John’s

This blog post was written by Calum Brydon, 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 Calum!

In a small park behind the Port Authority Building in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, stands a bronze statue of a man dipping a prosthetic foot into the Atlantic Ocean. Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope not far from that location on April 12, 1980 (“Terry Fox Commemorated,” 2012). He set out to run across Canada, on one leg, asking for each Canadian to donate one dollar to cancer research, so that he could raise 24 million dollars for people who had been put in similar situations as he had been three years earlier. As most know, Fox’s marathon ended on September 1, 1980, outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, after his cancer had spread to his lungs. He had already traversed parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario, running an average of 42 kilometres a day and having already raised millions of dollars. Fox surpassed his fundraising goal of 24 million dollars on February 1, 1981, but he died several months later, in June 1981 (“Terry Fox,” 2020). Over the next 40 years since the Marathon of Hope began, over 800 million dollars have been raised for cancer research in Terry Fox’s name (“Facts about Terry,” 2020).

Fox is commemorated worldwide through annual Terry Fox runs, and several schools, roads, and parks bear his name across Canada (“Honours,” 2020). Several statues of Fox can also be found across the country. One of these statues is in Thunder Bay, where Fox’s run came to its unexpected end, while sister statues in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and Victoria, British Columbia, mark the start and planned end points of the Marathon of Hope (“List of Monuments,” 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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