Green Team Spotlight: Cemetery Conservation with the Town of Cape Broyle

A man walks across a grassy cemetery in the fog. Headstones and a white fence are in the foreground.
Dale Jarvis of Heritage NL at the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Cape Broyle. Dale led the Green Team in a cemetery restoration workshop at the start of the summer.

The Cape Broyle Green Team is working on cemetery restoration this summer in the Immaculate Conception Cemetery. We spoke to the Town of Cape Broyle about this project and what it means to the town.

Describe the Green Team project at the Immaculate Conception Cemetery. Why is this project important to the community?

The Green Team project at Immaculate Conception Cemetery is focusing on clearing brush, trees, and several decades of overgrowth. The Team will also be working towards increasing the accessibility to different sections of the cemetery, as some of the pathways that connected sections of the cemetery are overgrown. The Green Team will be participating in a mapping exercise to digitally plot headstones. Pictures of headstones and their coordinates will be uploaded to a headstone database. This will provide a visual of where family plots are located and will also allow the public to access information for genealogical research. In addition, they will paint fences around family plots if family members supply painting materials.

In 2006, the Town of Cape Broyle recognized the historic, cultural and aesthetic value of the cemetery when it was designated a municipal heritage site. It is the oldest known cemetery in the community and it is unique in that it has retained many of its fenced family plots. Many cemeteries have removed these once common features but the Town encourages people to maintain them as a defining historic element of Immaculate Conception Cemetery.

What is the most interesting part of the cemetery project?

It’s interesting to see how family plots are arranged. In some cases it’s possible to see how the family plots from different generations of a family spread out from earlier plots. What results is the grouping of surnames in different areas of the cemetery. The amount of open space is also interesting. There’s a gap of 50 years or so from the time the community was settled to the earliest recorded date of death on a headstone. It’s possible that many of the first settlers had simple wooden markers. The Green Team is identifying any possible burial places to ensure that they are marked.

What has it been like working with the Green Team? Has there been an aspect of the project they are really excited about?

We have a great Green Team. They have a lot of physical tasks, but I think they are enjoying the entire process of learning about historic cemeteries. While clearing brush they found an old headstone that seems to have been covered for a long time, as headstones of other family members were contained inside an iron fence and this one headstone was outside. Clearing the brush is a big job, but seeing what the cemetery once was as a result of their efforts is rewarding.

Cape Broyle Green Team around uncovered headstone
(left to right) Aleya Coombs, Cheyenne Ryan and Dylan Francis

What is the end goal? What will the cemetery look like when it’s fully restored?

The end goal is to have the cemetery accessible again and to make it a valued part of the community. Many of the people buried there have no relatives left in the community, the province or even in Canada. It would be great to have some of these family plots restored. We’ve had conversations with the cemetery committee about creating spaces in the cemetery where people can sit down and spend time, about creating an outdoor altar for cemetery masses, and about creating plaques that tell the story of individual families. There’s so much history connected to the people buried there. We should celebrate the things they were known for in the time between the two dates on their headstones.

Why is cemetery restoration valuable?

Cemeteries are artifacts on a community’s landscape. For some communities, they may be the only intact built heritage left. Aside from providing genealogical records, they show how a community evolved over time. The earliest burials may have very basic headstones with mostly religious references in terms of text and imagery. As time passes, the headstones become more personal, with words and images being selected because they say something about the personality of the deceased.

Do you have recommendations for resources for communities that are looking to begin restoring their own cemeteries?

It is important to consult heritage professionals before starting any project in a cemetery. Often, the best of intentions may end up damaging a cemetery’s historic fabric. Lawnmowers and grass trimmers can do a great amount of damage to old monuments. Efforts to straighten headstones using the wrong materials can also cut down on their lifespan. When removing brush, hand tools should be used rather than motorized as old monuments could lay beneath. Cemetery restoration can’t be rushed with power tools and machinery. Properly restoring a cemetery takes time.

Learn more about the Cape Broyle Green Team by following the Town of Cape Broyle on Facebook. You can also follow Conservations Corps NL on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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