Dead Cameras, Live wires and Mi’kmaq Cemeteries

I worked this past weekend which is unusual for me.  I had to check on the location of a cemetery in Gambo and a cemetery in Kippens.  Usually my road trips are somewhat uneventful, this one had several small surprises in store.

While I was in Gambo I had the opportunity to check on a known site that hasn’t had an archaeological visit in more than 20 years.  Doloman’s Point was first visited and tested in 1987 with a revisit in 1988.  At that time the archaeologist who found the site recorded that it had a mid to early nineteenth-century European occupation.  Since then we’ve learned that the first settlers on Doloman’s Point were a family named Pritchett who arrived in 1834 to carry out a salmon fishery in three nearby rivers.  When they arrived they noted there were clearings on the point which they attributed to previous Beothuk and Mi’kmaq settlements.  No trace of either culture were found on the site when it was tested in 1987-88.  By the late 1800s the quantity of salmon in the rivers were in decline and the Pritchetts and their employees turned their attention to sawmill operations.

Location of Doloman's Point and the Mi'kmaq cemetery in Gambo

There seems to be no trace of the houses, wharves, sheds etc. that would have been constructed by the people living on Doloman’s Point for nearly 70 years, but there is one clear remnant, their cemetery is still visible.  All except one of the headstones have fallen and are badly broken.  The earliest known burial on the point is John Madgwick who died in 1777.

Headstone of John Madgwick (Ray Goulding)
Broken Doloman's Point headstones

After taking several pictures of the cemetery I had my first surprise of my little trip.  I turned my camera off and put it in my pocket.  I walked to where the settlement of Doloman’s Point was and tried to turn on my camera and it wouldn’t work.  So I was an archaeologist in the field, standing on a site no archaeologist has been on in 20 years and I didn’t have a camera.   I left Doloman’s Point and went to a late nineteenth-century-early twentieth-century Mi’kmaq cemetery for which I needed to collect the coordinates.  I took pictures of the cemetery with my cell phone, but they were not of the best quality.  After leaving Gambo I drove to and spent the night in Corner Brook where I decided I had to get a new camera.  An unexpected surprise expense added to my short trip.

The next morning I drove to Kippens where I had planned to meet up with a local resident who was to show me the location of another, but earlier, Mi’kmaq cemetery.  I met up with my local informant in the parking lot of a convenience store.  As we were chatting about our plans we heard a very loud snap, crackle and pop with flashes of light.  I got out of my car to see where the noise and light were coming from and saw that a power line right above my car had caught fire!  My informant proceeded to call the fire department and the power company and we stand there speculating on the cause of the fire.  At which point he suggests I move my car which I did and less than 2 minutes later the wire does another loud snap, crackle and pop with flashes of light and breaks in two right across where my car was parked.  This is a little more exciting than your typical Saturday morning for downtown Kippens.  And its definitely more exciting than my typical archaeology trips!

Fire truck in Kippens extinguishing the electrical wire fire

After the fire trucks showed up to extinguish the electrical fire we drove out to find the Mi’kmaq cemetery (now there’s a statement I never  thought I would write in an archaeology report).  This cemetery is known locally to have existed but it is not known who is buried there beyond that the people were Mi’kmaq.  There was little physical trace of the burials but we were certain we were in the right location because of information provided by several informants including that the cemetery was fenced in during the 1970s and 80s.  We were able to find traces of the fence.

Parts of the fence from the Mi'kmaq cemetery next to a stake we placed in the ground

After wrapping up my work in Kippens I drove to Gander and spent the night.  The next morning I drove back to St. John’s.

The moral of my trip is always bring a spare camera on archaeological trips and don’t park under power lines in Kippens!

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