Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: St. Saviour’s Anglican Cemetery, Penticton, British Columbia.

Hello there, death and burial aficionados! I come to you today with a new series that I’m starting on Spade & the Grave called ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’ (cemeteries because it works for the 3 C’s, not because I totally agree with the term for all sites). Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of publications that talk about burial sites around the world tend to gloss over Canadian sites, and I’d love to bring a few of the amazing burial grounds across the country into a bit of the spotlight! So if you have any interesting suggestions, I’d love to hear them! I’m going to try to make this either a weekly or bi-weekly feature on the blog, amidst other posts as I think of them.

Burial grounds, graveyards, cemeteries…whatever the terminology is for the site, every one holds a unique history and place within the landscape. While large, famous sites like Mount Auburn Cemetery or the Granary in Boston see visitors every day due to their publicity (and amazing monuments), there are hundreds of smaller burial grounds across North America and the world, that have just as rich of a back story, but might not be quite so obvious to the burial ground visitor on the go. Sites like these were meant to be visited, cared for, and enjoyed. They were created for the living just as much as the dead, and visiting historical burial grounds isn’t morbid. So without further adieu, lets virtually visit some unique burial grounds, from across Canada!

For my first post in the series, I wanted to feature a graveyard from one of my childhood homes, and the place that I lived in for the longest:
Penticton, British Columbia.

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Penticton, BC, viewed from Munson Mountain (photo by author 2018)

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Burial by the Sea: Historical Burial Ground excavation in Newfoundland

From 2016 – 2017, I was involved in a project to excavate a settler burial ground in Foxtrap, Newfoundland. The excavation was run by Dr. Vaughan Grimes and Maria Lear of the Archaeology Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and is under an active archaeological permit through the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador throughout post-excavation analysis. A handful of graduate students, including myself, made up the rest of the field crew.

Based on local knowledge and the PAO investigation of the site in 2006, we were already aware that there was likely a burial ground at this location, based on the several erect and laying markers and fragments of gravestone with inscribed text. While no single record appears to exist for who was buried at this site, and it only had one gravestone with inscriptions on it, the identities of most of the individuals interred there will likely remain a mystery (and that one gravestone was broken and out of situ so we have no idea whose grave it belongs to). Plans are already afoot to re-inter the remains nearby once they have been cleaned and studied.

I am honoured to have been part of the team exhuming this site, as it was the first full historical settler burial ground to be excavated in the province, and so much about early populations could (and will) be learned from those who were buried there.
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Burial Ground Conservation Tips

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Complex monument in North Wales
(photo by author, 2012)

Hello readers, many of you are being directed here via the Heritage NL gravestone conservation tips and/or by Dale Jarvis! I originally wrote this post in 2017, and have since moved back to Newfoundland and have started my PhD in Archaeology (fall 2020). I have been working in heritage for nearly a decade, and specialise in burial ground archaeology and gravestone conservation. Last summer (2019) I had the pleasure of working full time as a gravestone conservator at Woodland Cemetery in the City of London, Ontario, and have since worked with Brick Street Cemetery in London, and on some other conservation projects as a heritage consultant in the Maritimes. I have given talks on gravestone preservation best practices to a number of organisations over the last year or two, and would have happy to answer any questions you many have about a site in your area. Please contact me through my website, or at blackcatpreservation (at) gmail.com. As an archaeologist with experience and graduate degrees in Newfoundland and Labrador, I am able to be a permit holder for archaeological projects such as burial ground projects.

The purpose of this post if to inform volunteers and communities groups who are invested in the care of their local historic burial sites of the current best practices in gravestone and burial site conservation. We all know that burial sites are a vital historic resource for learning about our communities, as well as the resting places of our families and friends, and they deserve to be cared for and conserved as best we can. As an archaeologist and burial ground specialist, I hope to help you do that, and it is my goal to make the conservation techniques for ‘Do No Harm’ care as widely available as possible.

Note: I am speaking only of the conservation and archaeology of settler burial grounds, as a settler in Canada. Work with Indigenous communities in their burial spaces is another topic entirely and should never be undertaken without the express wishes and blessing of an Indigenous community.

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New Perlican: Blank Gravestones & Mapping

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Myself, mapping away on our plan of St. Mark’s! Photo by Ian Petty

Yesterday I headed back to New Perlican with Ian Petty (2nd year MA student in Archaeology at MUN) to meet up with Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson from Memorial University of Newfoundland in order to continue with the surveying of the St. Mark’s historic burial ground. The weather was not ideal and I was hard-pressed to remember if we’d used a plastic drafting film or normal paper to draw the map on in the first place, so with rain in the forecast our fingers were crossed!

I wanted to go get as much of the burial ground mapped as possible before the rain set in…and before I had to start my new job! There will be more details on that major life change later though, this post is still about the burial ground in New Perlican.
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Community Mortuary Archaeology & Folklore – New Perlican, Newfoundland

This Saturday I was invited to speak at and participate in a community heritage & folklore event in the town of New Perlican, Newfoundland. New Perlican is located on the eastern coast of the Avalon Peninsula, and has dated back to the 17th-century through records such as the 1675 Berry Census and archaeological evidence of a ‘plantation’ in the area. It is suspected that several of John Guy’s settlers from the 1610 Cupid’s Plantation may have settled in New Perlican in the early 17th century, but there has yet to be any physical evidence of that move identified.

The event I was involved with was a collaboration between the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Heritage New Perlican, and involved something really that I’m pretty passionate about…burial grounds! Students and community volunteers would join us for the day to learn about the history burial places in this historic town, hear about the town’s history from members of the Heritage group, meet the cemetery cleaning ‘Goats of New Perlican’, and help the community clean up one of their most historic burial spaces. I was there as an additional help supervising the students, to answer questions on burials and gravestones (and have some awesome conversations about headstone preservation with local folks!), and to give a talk about my research as a historic mortuary archaeologist. Also, to map a bunch of gravestones!
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Tales from the Trenches: Fieldwork Week 2, 2017 (or, why does this keep happening?)

Halfway through through the fieldwork season, and I already cannot believe the amount of earth we’ve moved in pursuit of the burial ground! It’s amazing, thank you to the week 1 & 2 crews for all the hard work you put in, I couldn’t have gotten this far without all of you (and your digging hands)!

It was an amazing week over all, so lets dive right in to what we got up to at Ferryland last week:

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17th-century building rubble from the brewhouse dismantling. We found lots of early-mid-17th-century objects between the fallen stones, as well as rich organic soil, charcoal, burned bones, and other organic material. Photo by author, 2017.

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One Common Skull – A case study at Old Burying Point, Salem, MA.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting some of the historic burial grounds in Salem, Massachusetts during my recently holiday to the area. I was particularly excited to visit Salem because it was not only an important site in the history of colonial New England, but it was a part of the survey I did of settlements for my MA research so getting to see it in person was a real treat! I decided to use the opportunity as a case study to investigate a particularly popular gravestone design.
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