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Category: A Look Back in Time

Mount Carmel Cemetery

Mount Carmel Cemetery

As with all cemeteries, it is a solemn, wistful and, at times, humbling experience to read the inscriptions on the headstones at Mount Carmel cemetery in Placentia, NL. Images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Handshake symbols, Angels and many more adorn several of the headstones. Each offers a message, less to the spirits on high, than to families and friends still here on earth.

Statue of Blessed Virgin Mary at Mt. Carmel cemetery in Placentia. (Photograph: Lee Everts)

It is a journey into the community’s past as one reads the names of the people who have helped to shape the Placentia area over the decades and centuries. And whether safely tucked away in the memories of their descendants or gracing the pages of our history books, these individuals remain a vital part of the community.

In 1786, a Father Bourke built both a chapel and a Priest’s residence. At the time, he also made place for a graveyard which, as was the custom, surrounded the church. In the subsequent decades, on the same site, Father Morrison built another church in 1829, completing it in 1830. This was subsequently taken down. And then, in 1878, a Father Clancy had the foundation stone laid for a new church. Although work did not begun in earnest until 1886, by 1889, the church was largely complete. This would come to be Sacred Heart, still currently offering services in Placentia.

Sacred Heart church in Placentia, NL. (Photograph: Lee Everts)

And thus, the landscape of Placentia changed with not only the erection of the Sacred Heart Church. It also signalled the construction of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cemetery on Dixon’s Hill. As part of the construction and design of the new church, it was likely Father Clancy who had the graves along the front and side of the church moved to “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” Cemetery. There are actually 2 or 3 headstones with discernible writing that remain in the crawl space below Sacred Heart. Several others are also present; however, they are crushed and more difficult to access.

Although a good number of the headstones are decipherable in Mount Carmel cemetery, others are less so. Those that can be read are primarily from the middle to latter nineteenth century. Although, some of the headstones removed from the previous church no doubt commemorated lives led in the eighteenth century.

However, the priests would have had many of the earlier graves placed near St. Luke’s Anglican church. Prior to 1713 when the British won the War of the Spanish Succession, claiming Newfoundland as a prize, St. Luke’s was a Roman Catholic church.

Photograph at the rear of Mt. Carmel cemetery (Photograph: Lee Everts).

By the twenty first century, time had had its way and, as a result, parts of the cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Bearing this in mind, in 2011, William Barron recognised that the cemetery was in need of some attention. Thus, in that year and the beginning of 2012, Mr. Barron and others from the cemetery committee, partnered with the now defunct Placentia Area Development Association (PADA) to undertake the repairs to the cemetery. Workers filled the ground around 454 graves that had sunk. In addition, they restored 196 headstones, some being either glued or angle-ironed in an erect position.

At the time, alongside, the physical reparations, PADA was also able to document over 200 names. The remaining names will hopefully be similarly archived at a later date. However, since this time, individuals completed substantial work recording both the names and images of headstones across the island of Newfoundland. As would be expected, they included Mount Carmel in this project.

Today, like cemeteries around the world, Mount Carmel receives a frequent stream visitors. Each finds the graves of their family members or friends and soon poignant memories or ones that bring a smile form in their minds. Simply being there is often enough. Just the giving of our time shortens the potent links between the living and the dead.

It’s a Mystery — The Intended “John Hamilton” Headstone

It’s a Mystery — The Intended “John Hamilton” Headstone

Now resting quietly in the front garden of the O’Reilly House museum, an aura of mystery imbues the intended headstone of John Hamilton. But just who was John Hamilton?

Discovering the Headstone

Like every headstone, it no doubt harbours the memory of the person whose name has been inscribed on its front. The date and year he departed this life—18th January, 1826— and maybe a few poignant words about his life and past offer but a hint of who he was to his family, friends and the people who knew him. Below is the only writing that could be determined from the headstone (Source: Barry Gaulton).

Here lieth

John Hamilton

January 18th 1826 Aoc ____

________ and liberal for

_______________life but

____ mons of death he ___

interested ___ generous piety worth

________ For he made Jesus ____

heir in the persons of the suffering

of Placentia Bay without distinction

Creed or Country

May Mercy from his God be he____

act to truly Christian and _____


SMYTH Waterford

Although the headstone was intended for a John Hamilton, the identity of this person remains a mystery. Of course, there are a few hints regarding his identity. Barry Gaulton and Matthew Carter, the two archaeologists who did an archaeological survey where the headstone was initially found, offered a suggestion or two of John Hamilton’s identity.

Trying to Put It all Together

As the story goes, the stone was made in Waterford Ireland by a Smyth. This was inscribed into the corners of the headstone. I was informed that “Andrew and Thomas Smyth” once ran “Stonemason Waterside” in Waterford, Ireland and this was found in the Pigot Directory. At the time, the Pigot Directory listed information regarding all major professions, nobility, gentry, clergy, trades and occupations including taverns and public houses. Now long gone, this was likely where the headstone was made.

Apparently, the headstone was sent from Ireland to Placentia as ballast on one of the ships owned by Roger F. Sweetman, a fish merchant who was part of a long-standing firm in Placentia.

Something occurred along the way and instead of being used as the headstone for the said John Hamilton, it found a lasting place of rest as the doorstep for Blenheim House, the home of Roger F. Sweetman.

Who Was John Hamilton?

If we’re wondering who was this John Hamilton, there are a few worthy avenues to follow. For instance, there was a Captain John Hamilton of the 40th Regiment whose name appears in the Placentia area history. Of course, on its own, this path leads to its own set of questions.

This John Hamilton appears to have been the son of Otho Hamilton, the Lieutenant Governor of Placentia from 1744 to 1764 (the latter date is uncertain) and brother to another Otho Hamilton who was also of the 40th Regiment and sister Grizel Hamilton.

Although the year of death that appears on the headstone would not correspond with this particular individual, there is reference to yet another John Hamilton in the military. He may be the person who is remembered on the headstone.

His name was discovered in a letter from a “Lieutenant John Hamilton.” Who was this John Hamilton? We learn that Captain John Hamilton was actually married three times. His first wife, Martha Shirreff Hamilton, died before bearing children. However, his second and third wives, Mary Handfield and Ann Moore, did give birth to children. With Mary Handfield, he had three children, their names being Otho, William and Thomas (see page 16 of Lt.-Col. Otho Hamilton of Olivestob). With Ann Moore, his third wife, he apparently had a John. And it’s a John Hamilton’s letter I discovered at The Rooms in St. John’s. He signs his name as John Hamilton Junior and also refers to his Uncle Richard Dawson. This was in fact the husband of Captain John Hamilton’s sister, Grizel.

Lieutenant John Hamilton

Moreover, he refers to “succeeding to the Lieutenancy vacant by Lieut Hudson’s removal.” For what it’s worth, in Lt.-Col. Otho Hamilton of Olivestob), there is reference to another John Hamilton, “who received his Ensign’s commission in the 40th, on the 28th of June, 1755, and his Lieutenancy, the 28th of February, 1 761, and who also disappears from the army list as an officer of the 40th in 1766. Whether he was a son of the John Hamilton, naval officer, or who he was we cannot now tell.”

Taking this into account together with the letter I discovered, this lieutenant does appear to be the son of Captain John Hamilton. Unfortunately, the dates do not match with the Wikipedia article. It stated that John was only born in 1779 which would be twenty years prior to the letter I found at The Rooms. The letter was clearly written when he was already an adult. However, there’s no reference given by the Wikipedia article to allow verification of the information. Is it therefore correct?

As well, his year of lieutenancy stated in the Olivestob document (1761) does not correspond to the letter (1759). Although, in the letter, he does note how they “have heard nothing of it neither have we heard who is our present Lieut. Col. Nor nothing regarding our Regiment.” So, it is entirely possibly it took a couple of years to finalise.

Any Other John Hamiltons?

Needless to say, there are a lot of unanswered questions, particularly, whether this John Hamilton could even be the intended owner of the headstone. While exploring these John Hamiltons from Scotland, at the same time, there are Hamiltons right here in Newfoundland.

Many of these Hamiltons settled on islands such as Isle Valen and Oderin in Placentia Bay. Plus, it is known that many from around the region found work with the Sweetmans, thus allowing the family to have the means to purchase a headstone from Ireland. Undoubtedly, there are no shortage of avenues to investigate.

While the memories that bring life to John Hamilton are still faint, in time and with additional research, they will become more audible and the words carved on the stone, will equally grow in meaning.

The Beothuk — A People Remembered

The Beothuk — A People Remembered

Portrait of Demasduit (Mary March) 1819 watercolour on ivory USE/REPRODUCTION: Copyright: Expired Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1977-14-1

Hundred’s of years ago, their boats quietly landed on the beach, the water gently lapping onshore. They would’ve then solemnly disembarked and located the site that had been chosen for the burial. These were the Beothuk.

It is believed members of the Beothuk tribe arrived on Hangman’s Island, one of the islands of the Ragged Islands in western Placentia Bay. There, they carefully buried a member of their tribe who’s body had been meticulously prepared. It had been covered with a shield made from strips of birch bark. These had been painstakingly sewn together.

No one knows why members of the Beothuk had chosen these islands as a burial ground. It had certainly not been the first time they had visited the region. A host of artefacts—end-scrapers, blades, flakes, and bifaces—had been located archaeologically in various places such as Long Island, Merasheen Island, and at Tack’s Beach.

The area where these artefacts had been found was likely being used for both the manufacture of the tools of hunting and hunting itself. Closing our eyes, one can imagine the men and women sitting around a campsite, chatting every now and then, but busily working the pieces of rock into the tools they required. While these artefacts were regarded as belonging to earlier First Nations, those from Tack’s Beach, in particular, were attributed to the Beothuk.

As far as we know, these artefacts have not been dated. Nonetheless, it is safe to say the beothuk were no doubt accustomed to spending some of their time around the islands of Placentia Bay. In and around 1610 when John Guy landed and established a colony in Cupids, they actually met and traded with the Beothuk. In all likelihood, the Beothuk would’ve also spent time fishing for salmon in the Come-By-Chance River.

On the mainland of the Avalon, archaeological work has identified their presence in Ferryland. Up until that time, most believed the Beothuk did not spend much time on the Avalon. So, it was a promising find. Because having found evidence of their presence in Ferryland, it is highly likely, before the arrival of Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Beothuk may have also followed paths through the southwest Avalon.

When the European fishery was predominantly migratory, once the Europeans left, the Beothuk could take advantage of the metal tools that had been left behind. However, with the coming of the seventeenth century, things were changing and more and more Europeans were actually settling in Newfoundland. By the mid-18th century European presence restricted the Beothuk largely to the Exploits Valley and adjacent coast in central Newfoundland.

Tragically, the Beothuk were trapped in a world that had transformed. They turned down any opportunity to trade with the Europeans and they even refused to adopt guns as a part of their culture. With the settlement of Europeans, a diminishing amount of land was available for the Beothuk to pursue their livelihoods as they once did. The places where they once hunted, established their camps, or buried their people were no longer accessible. The islands of Placentia Bay, not the Avalon where they may once have traverse, was no longer available for the Beothuk. Plus, adding to their difficulties was the old enemy—disease. Like many before them, the Beothuk were reduced by measles, smallpox, and tuberculosis.

In April 1823, a group of trappers captured a Beothuk woman by the name of Shanawdithit (the niece of Mary March) with her mother and sister, both of whom shortly died from tuberculosis. Shanawdithit survived and lived at Exploits Island. There, she worked as a servant in the household of the magistrate and merchant John Peyton Jr.

She spent a portion of her time translating English words into her own language, a variant of the Algonkian family of languages. Shanawdithit also dedicated some of her time to drawing pictures that could relay an element of the Beothuk way of life—Beothuk tools, food, their homes and mythological figures.

It was inevitable however. On the 6th June, 1829, Shanawdithit died of tuberculosis. There are no doubt some surviving element of the Beothuk who likely exist to this day. However, as a distinct cultural entity, they are no more.


The Placentia Area — A Changing Mosaic

Placentia Cottage Hospital

Placentia Cottage Hospital

When walking eastward along Orcan Drive, one will encounter a large open area just after Mt. Pleasant Street. Seems quiet and placid. But up until 1996, this was the site of the Placentia Cottage Hospital.

During the Early Days

Originally built in 1935 in Argentia, the cottage hospital could not remain as the site had been slated as the new location for the. Consequently, the cottage hospital was moved to Placentia (sometimes referred to a Townside).

The cottage hospital system was a development of the Commission of Government, a body that was in office from 1934-1949. The cottage hospital system had been used in places such as Scotland which had a similar geography to the island of Newfoundland. Hence, the cottage hospital system, as well as the Cottage Hospital Medical Care Plan (MCP), started in 1935.

It was as this time when a cottage hospital was built in Argentia, most likely due to its accessibility by rail and water. However, things changed with the onset of war. And after high ranking officials from the United States and Britain discussed the issue throughout 1940, the decision had been made. The Argentia peninsula would indeed be given to the United States for a military base. But these plans overlooked one thing. For hundreds of years, there’d been communities of people living on the land intended for the base.

What was merely a series of signatures for the land to be ceded to the United States from Britain and Newfoundland, was far more grave for those living in Argentia. It left deep scars and heartbreaking memories were seared into the minds of many from Argentia, memories that would readily traverse the generations. Certainly, institutions such as the Argentia Cottage Hospital would need to be moved. But everything had to go, both living and dead. By the time construction began on the U.S. Naval Station, Argentia, there was no indication anything had been there previously.

Up and Running

Plans had gotten underway and by August of 1941, construction on the Placentia Cottage Hospital began. It would prove to be a boon for many, as there would be higher paying jobs associated with the construction. After working full speed ahead, the Placentia Cottage Hospital opened its doors officially on the 27th November, 1942. Dr. Paton was the first physician and he was assisted by Sister Reddy who dealt with managing all other operational elements of the hospital. Several other individuals fulfilled other positions including nurse’s aide, laundry, cook, laundry, and janitorial issues.

By 1949, Placentia Cottage Hospital was joined by thirteen of the eighteen hospitals that were built. These included hospitals in Old Perlican, Markland, Burgeo, Harbour Breton, Come By Chance, Stephenville Crossing, Bonavista, Norris Point, Grand Bank, Placentia, Brookfield, Gander and Botwood. Except for northern parts serviced by the International Grenfell Association, cottage hospitals were constructed throughout Newfoundland (since 1965, no cottage hospitals were built).

Making Improvements

From 1946, Dr. Collingwood practised at the Placentia Cottage Hospital. A few years afterwards, one of the biggest improvements was the use of the Lady Anderson as a hospital ship. It would mean that the people living on the islands would not have to travel to Placentia for health care.

Things were steadily improving. In 1953, after requesting additional healthcare professionals, Dr. Collingwood was joined by Dr. Iain Hugh Murray Smart and Dr. Nicholas Daly. Several years later, on 1st July, 1960, Dr. Collingwood retired. He was succeeded by Dr. John Munro Ross. Not long afterwards, on the 20 September, 1961, a new eight-bed maternity ward officially opened, something Dr. Collingwood had been requesting for years. Another much-needed addition was a small nursery that had space for six cribs or so-called “isolettes.”

End of an Era

Over time, the approach to health was changing and the cottage hospitals became part of a more extensive health system comprised of Hospital Boards and Regional Boards. On 1st April, 1989, the Placentia and Area Health Care Board took over the operation of the Placentia Hospital from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. And then on the 22nd June, 1996, the cottage hospital building was officially closed and its role in the healthcare for the communities was replaced by the Placentia Health Care Complex.

Although the Placentia Cottage Hospital remained a part of the landscape for two more years, at this time, it was taken down thus ending an era. However, the Placentia Cottage Hospital has undoubtedly left a wealth of memories in its wake.

St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre

St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre

Photograph of St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre at present. (Source: Lee Everts)

Everything old is new again. Those words perfectly reflect the situation for St. Luke’s Cultural Heritage Centre. Now almost a year old, the Centre has already demonstrated a needed role for hosting events in the Placentia area. Although not long ago, as many would recall, prior to being a cultural heritage centre, St. Luke’s functioned as a church. And since its inception centuries ago, this church has had a multifarious history, rich in details and complexity.

History of St. Luke’s

The most recent incarnation of St. Luke’s was a church built in 1905. However, it replaces a church built in the 18th century. And still deeper into the realm of history, this church was itself built on the site of the oldest Catholic church in Newfoundland. This original church was built in 1689 by the Récollets (Recollects) friars. However, there is an old map dated from 1662 that actually depicts a church built on the site where St. Luke’s is located. Yet, the church is potentially at least a century older.

This is an image of Domingo de Luca’s Last Will and Testament (Source: Placentia Area Historical Society)

Domingo de Luca was a member of a fishing expedition hailing from the Basque country. At the time, the Basques were in Placentia. It was no doubt part of a regular trip they would have been taking annually to Placentia where they would come to fish in the sixteenth century. Misfortune has fallen on Domingo de Luca during the year 1563. He had grown ill and eventually, he was to lose his life. However, before dying, he made out a Will and most notably, he requested that his body be laid to rest in Placentia.

“I ask that if the will of God Our Lord were served to take me by this illness from the present life, that my body be buried in this port of Plazençia in the place where those who die here are usually buried.”

His Will is now the oldest known original civil document written in Canada. Clearly, this must have been a place where his fellow countrymen had been laid to rest. It also implies there was indeed a location, at the time, where the Basque were laying to rest their people. It is no doubt the same location where Basque headstones were later located in the cemetery surrounding St. Luke’s. It was a Roman Catholic church at the time.

In 1903, Rt. Rev. Michael Francis Howley published a paper covering the work he had done in Placentia at St. Luke’s Anglican church. His efforts were in part intended to raise awareness to the fragile nature of the stones and how, if left, they would soon be lost. He focussed on several headstones, the oldest of which dated to 1676. However, one would assume this to be the identical location where, just over a century earlier, Domingo was laid to rest. Those Basque headstones are now on display at O’Reilly House Museum.

Noteworthy Citizens

An image of Richard Welsh’s grave marker (Source: Lee Everts)

St. Luke’s cemetery has also been home to other noteworthy citizens of Placentia. One of the headstones belong to Richard Welsh, a well-known figure who hailed from New Ross, Ireland. In 1753, Welsh began what was to become a highly successful merchant firm in Placentia. The headstones also tell of people such as Sir Joseph Blackburn or Elizabeth and William Hobson whose memories are also affirmed in the cemetery.

Image of St. Luke’s Anglican church built in the eighteenth century.

Not long afterwards, the English royalty of the 18th century also left its mark when Prince William Henry (later King William IV of England) came to Placentia as a Magistrate. In 1786, he presented the church with a silver Communion Service and a Coat of Arms. While the Service is now at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, the Coat of Arms is still to be found hanging in St. Luke’s Anglican church.

Next Evolution of St. Luke’s

Given its wealth of history, St. Luke’s Anglican Church was designated as a Registered Heritage Structure in 2011. However, the actual parishioners for the church had been dwindling and in October of 2020, it was closed and deconsecrated. It was then sold to the Placentia Area Historical Society (PAHS) for one dollar.

In recent years, during the summer months, the PAHS has been offering tours of the Centre. In the past year, several events were offered, including workshops for seniors by the Placentia Area Development Association and it served as a workspace for Colleen Tamblyn, as archaeologist working on ceramics from Fort Louis/New Fort. She also did two presentations at St. Luke’s entitled “Archaeological Ups and Downs” as well as “Ceramic, Colour and Community.” The Centre was also used for a book launch by local author Lee Everts, an international harpist who did a performance, individuals attending art classes and lectures, and an Escape Room Game in which the players solved puzzles to complete it.

Over the centuries, St. Luke’s has continued to evolve. Yet, from its origins some time in the sixteenth century as a place of worship for Basque fisherman thousands of miles from home to now, as a centre for cultural heritage, it is much the same. St. Luke’s remains at the heart of the community, a place where people come to express themselves, share and find some sort of peace.


Barkham, Michael M. 2014 “The Oldest Original Civil Document Written in Canada: The Last Will of Basque Sailor Domingo de Luça, Placentia (Newfoundland), 1563” University of Cambridge

The Power of Kindness

The Power of Kindness

Photograph of Lanier Phillipps on a visit to the site site of the Truxtun disaster at Chambers Cove, near St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, May 31, 2008 (Photo by Carmelita and Wayde Rowsell).

Kindness possesses a strength like no other. It will always remain a brilliant light able to penetrate even the darkest and stormiest nights. One such night was looming for the people of St. Lawrence on the 18th February, 1942. And it wouldn’t only be the whipping wind and snow the people would have to face. Together, their strength and fortitude would certainly be tested. And in the end, their unified spirit would bestow a gift of unrivalled distinction.

The night of the 18th was of no great note really. The wind was roaring and a blizzard was digging into the small community. They knew the drill. Just get to bed and wait it out. They’d certainly experienced much the same in the past.

However, elsewhere, just off shore, the blizzard was about to turn the tide for a few hundred sailors aboard the Pollux and Truxton. Things began when at 4:10 am the U.S.S. Truxton ran aground near St. Lawrence. Part of the war effort, it had been a support ship for the Pollux, a ship carrying a vital cargo of explosives, radio equipment, aircraft engines, and other materials for the war effort. It also ran aground and sheer horror ensued.

What happened next was an exercise of great spirit that delved deep into the human reserves of compassion and humanity. After the first survivors of the disaster made it to St. Lawrence, word got out and soon everyone went into high gear. The people of St. Lawrence wasted no time in getting to the rugged cliffs where the bitter and unrelenting storm wreaked havoc on the sailors desperate to make it to shore.

The people from St. Lawrence risked their own lives hauling men out of the water and afterwards, they ferried them to the make-shift First Aid stations quickly established at the Iron Springs mine. Here, they were warmed and their immediate needs addressed. Soon they were moved on to the various homes within St. Lawrence where they were further nursed in order for them to better recuperate.

For Lanier Phillips, the good deeds of the people from St. Lawrence brought to bear the true power of kindness and compassion. Born in Lithonia, Georgia, Mr. Phillips was a man whose dark skin had always marked him as essentially an unwanted degenerate to those of a lighter skin colour. Originally, he had thought he was off the coast of Iceland where he knew those of “his kind” were not permitted ashore.

But when he found himself in need of help, the people of St. Lawrence granted him an assistance yoked not to hatred and viciousness. Instead, it was one linked to a genuine sincerity and kindness, something reflective of the true and pure bond that exists between humans. He was perplexed.

Mr Phillips had been born in the Deep South into a cutting world sharply divided according to the colour of your skin. Mr. Phillips had known no other world—until he arrived on that fateful night in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Labrador where the rules of the game were quite different.

For the people of St. Lawrence, deeply embedded in their own lives, guided by fishing and mining, these harsh divisions did not exist. Most likely, many had never even seen anyone of a different skin colour! And so, the weighted yoke of prejudice did not exist. Thus, the only rule of interaction for those of St. Lawrence was simple, instinctive, yet beautiful. Upon setting eyes on Lanier Phillips, the colour of his skin didn’t matter. Instead, they saw a man in need of help. Naturally, they tended to his needs, nursing him, as well as countless other sailors fleeing the sinking ships back to health.

To Mr. Phillips, it was astonishing. No one had ever treated him this way before—like a fellow human. Their behaviour, as well as those of Lawn, a neighbouring community who also assisted, did not fit in the world he had come to know as the norm.

Because their actions and demeanour were so starkly opposed to anything he had once known, the kindness they showed was that much more poignant and meaningful. Prior to meeting the people in Newfoundland, Mr. Phillips had only ever encountered sentiments of disdain, hatred, disregard, and unkindness. Instead, when shipwrecked off the coast the Burin peninsula, he faced the warmth of compassion, sincerity, and genuine goodwill. And these sentiments have a way of travelling.

His experience with the people of St. Lawrence and Lawn would go on to have a life-changing effect on Lanier Phillips. Their kindness told him that what he had experienced for most of his life was not only not the norm. There was another way. As he had once told CBC, “They changed my way of thinking and it erased all of the hatred within me.”

The sentiment the people of St. Lawrence engendered also played a big part in his future role in the civil rights movement of the United States. He explained how due to his experiences during the tragedy of the Pollux and Truxton, he felt driven to join the efforts of Martin Luther King. It was simply “because of the change they did for me in St. Lawrence.” Such is the power of kindness.

Moreover, it made Mr. Phillips realise he was more than simply a “mess attendant,” the role those of his skin colour were customarily given in the army. He rejected these restrictions and instead, he went on to become a sonar technician, something that was a first for someone of his skin colour. He would pave the way for others. In later years, he would give speeches across the United States regarding his range of experiences throughout his life.

Here, actions of kindness had the strength to change one man’s life. It was nothing the people of St. Lawrence and Lawn intended to do. But like a simple smile, the fortitude their actions possessed was enough to change the world.

Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC)

Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC)

Steeped in history and graced with a panoramic view of Placentia Bay, Castle Hill stands alone. Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC) was designated in 1968 for its role in the defence and strategic interests of France and England from 1692 to 1811. But it’s role in the lives of the people of the Placentia area ensure it will be remembered as much, much more.

Occupying about 24 hectares of land, Castle Hill NHSC consists of several forts and fortifications. These defences occupy a strategic position on a hill that overlooks Placentia (the original French capital of Newfoundland from 1662-1713 known as Plaisance) and the “Placentia Road” or the marine approach from Placentia Bay leading to the narrow entrance to the harbour.

Although the origin of the name “Castle Hill” is uncertain, many older forts were referred to as castles. Over time, the name Castle Hill has become etched into the memories and stories that animate the area.

While the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) raged, Castle Hill did feature in a prominent role. Newfoundland did not play a direct role in this war, it was the location to which Governor Thomas Graves sought refuge in 1762 when St. John’s was attacked. What was Fort Royal was then re-named Castle Graves (later, the hill came to be known as Castle Hill).

While the garrison at Castle Hill was officially moved in 1811 by the British, it remained a part of the history of the region. As early as 1910, J.A. O’Reilly wrote in “A King Edward Peace Memorial Park” (see Memorial Digital Archives Initiative Newfoundland Quarterly, Volume 10, No. 3, pages 26 and 28) that Castle Hill should be used as the site for a peace memorial. Such a call is that much more poignant given the date—four years before the world was catapulted into World War I.

Photographs from the latter part of the 19th century (see Newfoundland Illustrated, 1894 – page 87), before it had been re-built by Parks Canada, are also indicative of its place in the stories and memories of those who have travelled and walked alongside Castle Hill. People whose families have lived in this area for many years, fondly recall how they scrambled and hiked along the trails around Castle Hill. These were the same trails created by and trudged centuries ago by soldiers lugging hundreds of pounds of cannon up to Fort Royale.

Today, the trails that surround Castle Hill are used daily by the people of the region. Whether they are seeking the rigours of exercise or perhaps a poignant moment in the embrace of nature, people eagerly walk or run on the trails of Castle Hill. As such, the significance and value of Castle Hill has easily spanned the breadth of time.

Castle Hill NHSC is a place where visitors can experience and touch the history that has enlivened Placentia. Breathtaking many would utter, gasping in awe when they first see the unrivalled and beautiful view of the surrounding communities, forests, hills and Placentia Bay itself. Unquestionably, Castle Hill is fixture in the sense of place that is intertwined in the deep history that distinguishes the Placentia area.

Wakeham Sawmill

Wakeham Sawmill

Wakeham Sawmill was designated as a Registered Heritage Structure because of its historic, aesthetic and cultural values. Originally constructed as a fishing stage in the outport of Petite Forte by John Wakeham in 1912, the building was partially dismantled and transported onboard a schooner across Placentia Bay in 1942. It was reassembled at its current location in Placentia, where it housed a carpentry business operated by brothers Cyril and Leonard Wakeham.

The aesthetic value of Wakeham Sawmill lies in its appearance as a vernacular, painted, wooden fisheries building exhibiting features of that form, as well as features reflecting its adaptive reuse as a carpentry business with an on-site sawmill. Modifications towards the building’s second function included the addition of four windows on the upper south side; inserting a trap door in the floor for disposing of sawdust; replacing two second storey windows with a double door; and erecting steps to the new door. (The steps were removed in the 1980s.) The interior of the building retains its sawmill infrastructure (benches, machinery, hardware), as well as unfinished surfaces including exposed beams, rafters, timber walls and wood floors.

The “shored up” post and beam fishing stage foundation was maintained, and was well suited to the building’s use as a sawmill. At the time that Wakeham Sawmill was erected in Placentia, Orcan River flowed under the building such that logs could float from neighbouring Southeast to the sawmill. The boundaries of Orcan River have since been altered to protect low-lying Placentia, so Wakeham Sawmill now stands on dry land.

Part of the cultural value of Wakeham Sawmill lies in its status as a traditional fishing stage adaptively reused. Wakeham Sawmill also played a significant role in the local economy at its current location, as a site for processing a natural resource for commercial purpose, producing wood products for the local market. Wood was cut downstairs, while the second floor was used for making doors, windows, furniture, caskets, boats and other wood products. Wood from the mill was also used in the renovation and construction of other buildings in the area, both commercial and domestic, and by local boatbuilders.

Wakeham Sawmill also has notable community level status as a familiar landmark, and as a reminder of the former course of Orcan River. Furthermore, Wakeham Sawmill is the only building of its type remaining in Placentia proper.

Source: Historic Places

Uncovering Hints of Turbulent Times — Fort Louis/New Fort in Placentia, NL

Uncovering Hints of Turbulent Times — Fort Louis/New Fort in Placentia, NL

Archaeologists have diligently sought to unearth the objects of Fort Louis/New Fort in an effort to tell the stories that time has quietly hidden. Fort Louis is the name of the fort dating from the period when the French controlled Placentia (1662-1713) or Plaisance as it was then named. New Fort is the term used by the British at the time when they had possession of all of Newfoundland (1713-1907). The year 1907 marks the year when Newfoundland became a Dominion.

Located in Jerseyside, on the north side of the Gut, (the narrow entrance that connects the waters of Placentia Bay and Placentia Harbour), Fort Louis/New Fort was the site of sporadic archaeological excavations from 1972 to 2012. Today, archaeologists continue to analyse many of the artefacts, engaged in unravelling their many mysteries.

During this period, by way of excavation, archaeologists and archaeological technicians have uncovered 41,650 artefacts. To enhance interpretation by the public, the workers have covered portions of the structures with rocks that show the locations of different parts of the forts.

Image of rocks depicting the shape and size of a storehouse from New Fort (Photograph: Lee Everts).

By doing so, archaeologists are seeking to shed additional light on the history of this part of the Placentia area. Beginning in 1691, Fort Louis became the second fort constructed by the French. Withstanding attacks by the English in 1692, it had to be re-built. The French were no longer taking any chances and fortified Fort Louis with 39 pieces of artillery. And owing to the violent and tempestuous history that gripped Placentia at the time, the fortification of Fort Royal (Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada) began in 1693. This reflected yet a further attempt by the French to maintain control over the area.

Despite these efforts, Plaisance was surrendered to the British with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. At this point, Fort Louis was briefly used by the English. However, by the 1720s, Fort Frederick located in close proximity to Fort Louis or New Fort, as it was referred to by the British, was largely abandoned. Although in the 1740s, the English revisited the fortification, building upon the earlier Fort Louis. The English used the buildings and features of the pre-existing fort until the latter part of the 18th century when the New Fort also fell into disrepair. At this time, Britain had already begun to favour St. John’s as a focus for their military defence and overall administration of Newfoundland.

More than a century later, archaeologists, armed with eighteenth-century plans of New Fort along with their know-how began to dig into the fortification on Jerseyside. One of the noteworthy discoveries was a storehouse and store-keeper’s house.

Aerial view of Storehouse during excavation (Provincial Archaeology Office 2006 Archaeology Review).

The archaeologists also revealed a section of the New Fort ramparts which, when first built, stood an impressive 11 feet high and 45 feet wide. When the workers dug a test trench on the interior of the western rampart, they soon learned that some of the masonry façade actually remained intact where it continued to hold back the mortared masonry.

Image of rampart (Provincial Archaeology Office 2006 Archaeology Review).

Beneath the rampart, the archaeologists also found a row of bark rings. Initially theorised to be part of another structure, upon further investigation, the archaeologist believed that it most likely was a part of the interior side of the southwest bastion of Fort Louis. This finding was of particular note as, if it was indeed a portion of Fort Louis, it would provide the first solid evidence of the French fort.

These provide only a hint of what lies below the surface. Far more remains yet to be discovered about these forts. And today, the sites remain a focus for ongoing archaeological analysis, ones that continue to prove that Fort Louis/New Fort was an important element of the history of the Placentia area.

Basque Headstones

Basque Headstones

Now located at the O’Reilly House Museum and Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada, the Basque headstones enduringly signify how the Basque have been finely interwoven into the history of the Placentia area. Originally found in the cemetery surrounding St. Luke’s Anglican Church, they harbour a unique and distinct aspect of Placentia area history.

By the 1500s, the Basque were expertly navigating the waters of Placentia Bay. And on their travels, they invariably encountered a beach encircled by a covey of hills — a vista that bore a striking resemblance to a place they may have called home in the Basque Country. And so, it is possible that it was the Basque who initially graced Placentia with a name, one after their own Plentzia.

Without question, having ventured to this new place, the Basque also would have erected a church on the beach. There is sufficient indication that the voyages of the Basque to Newfoundland and Labrador may have included Priests. In one instance, news of the death of a Basque also notes how he was given Sacraments, something that would only have occurred had a Priest been in attendance (see The Spanish Province of Terranova).

As time progressed, by 1655, the French crown elected to locate a garrison in the place that, to the French, came to be known as Plaisance. Perhaps the name of the place visited by the Basque migrated in the minds of the French to a name that held more meaning for them. In 1662, after several false starts, the third Governor of Plaisance, Sieur de Perron was the first to take up residence in the new colony. However, it was an ill-fated appointment as Du Perron was killed in a mutiny a few months following his arrival.

The Basque continued to be a part of Plaisance, fishing and, at times, assisting in the defence of the colony. Although the headstones do not stem from the earliest period when the Basque initially encountered Placentia, they offer some indication of their presence. For instance, one of the earliest headstones dates to 1676 and when it was translated in the early 1900s, the memorial reads,

“Here lies dead (or having died)

(on) The first of May 1676

John De Sale Ce——ana

The son (or heir) of (the House)

of the Sweetest Odour”

Another headstone bears the name “Iones Sara,” a form of the name “John.” On the back of the stone is the Christian monogram of I.H.S. alongside the depiction of a cross, both further indications of the religion of the Basque buried in Placentia.

Somewhat later, during the Nine Years War/War of the League of Augsburg from 1689-1697, the Basque were central in some of the French attacks on the English. In one of these attacks, on the 10 September, 1694, a Basque ship captain was mortally wounded in Ferryland.

Ultimately, the French forces had to retreat and after sailing back to Plaisance, bruised and battered, the ship captain was given his final send-off. He was buried in the cemetery that would have been near their church. The name of the Basque captain was Svigaraicipi and centuries later, it is one of the headstones that Bishop M. Howley found and examined in the late 1800s.

The Basque headstones offer a hint of the people and events who helped to shape the unique history of the Placentia area. They provide proof, words inscribed in stone, that the Basque were deeply involved in the life and events in the latter 1600s and no doubt, earlier.