Part of what the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) does is aid the Minister in protecting, preserving, developing, studying, interpreting, and promoting an appreciation of the historic resources of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. One of the ways we do this is by reviewing land-use referrals for activities such as Environmental Assessments, Mineral Exploration, Roads, Water and Sewer Plans, and other land-use referrals. We do this for Crown Land, Municipal and private land. We also work closely with Indigenous groups and their governments, and Parks Canada regarding land-use in their areas of jurisdiction in the Province. Over the last ten years, we have processed on average 2600 land-use referrals per year. If you want to see the exact numbers, a table of processed land-use referrals is included at the front of the PAO submission in the PAO Review since 2015. Copies of the PAO Review can be seen here.
Essentially, we look at each land-use referral and assess the archaeological potential of the land proposed to be used by the applicant. We take into account such things as, if the land is already disturbed; if there are known sites on the land, or in the area; or if the area has already been assessed by an archaeologist. This requires a lot of knowledge about past land-use. Cumulatively the four members of the PAO have been doing archaeology and reviewing land-use referrals for more than 100 years. However, as much experience as we have we still rely on information from the public to help us make decisions on land-use and the protection of Historic Resources. From our perspective, the more we know about the land being applied for the better we can deal with referrals. Using this methodology, we’ve gotten pretty good at predicting where there is archaeological potential.
When we have known sites or we know the area has been adequately surveyed our job is much easier. One of the things that’s hard to predict is the location of cemeteries, particularly small family plots such as those I detailed in a 2016 post about Conception Bay South Burials. For those, we have to rely on members of the public to inform us. When we know about abandoned cemeteries, we can add them to our database of known sites. That way when we receive referrals we can work with the applicant to avoid those areas. These cemeteries will remain in our database so that the PAO will be better informed about them and be able to protect them from development.
Here are a few examples of cemeteries reported to the PAO. A member of the public contacted us in the spring about cemeteries located within the town of Lower Island Cove. We visited the area last week and documented several 18th and 19th-century burials and numerous small-unmarked natural headstones. It is these unmarked stones that we are particularly concerned about as they are easily missed or buried.
In 2006 we were advised by a land surveyor of a small cemetery in Margaree on the southwest coast. When we visited the site we found several old headstones and part of a collapsed fence. There are at least two burials with recognizable headstones – Susanna Osmond who died Oct. 26 1858 and James Bagg who died Oct. 18, 1915. There were no other depressions or headstones noted but according to an older resident of the town, there were several individuals buried in the area including an uncle of his without a formal headstone.
Very often these cemeteries are associated with former or abandoned communities such as those we saw a few years ago in the Little Heart’s Ease area that were associated with the former small communities of Batts Cove and Claypitts.
So are you aware of an abandoned cemetery that you think the PAO should know about? If you want to report a cemetery we will need either coordinates of the cemetery or an accurate map such as a Google Earth image pinpointing its location. If you can provide photos, an approximate number of burials, and perhaps the earliest burial date or any other information about the cemetery that would be useful as well. Abandoned cemeteries (no church/community involved/maintaining it, etc.) can be reported to the PAO by email or you can send the PAO a Facebook message. We will record it in a database of sites and protect it from development. To be clear, we do not maintain cemeteries, erect fences, etc, but we can protect them.