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Western Bay cemetery plot dates back to 1600s

These eight wooden crosses mark a small cemetery located near the Western Bay Lighthouse Trail and Tacker’s Cove in the community of Western Bay, about 27 kilometres from Carbonear. Some of the graves date back to the 1600s.
These eight wooden crosses mark a small cemetery located near the Western Bay Lighthouse Trail and Tacker’s Cove in the community of Western Bay, about 27 kilometres from Carbonear. Some of the graves date back to the 1600s. - Sam McNeish
WESTERN BAY, N.L. —

There are eight wooden crosses that sit on a small plot in Western Bay.

If you are headed to the Western Bay Lighthouse Trail or Tacker’s Cove, you can’t miss them.

Edward Chafe may be the foremost expert on cemeteries — period — across the Avalon Peninsula, having worked on 160 cemetery projects over his lifetime, including this one.

“I came across this headstone, it was badly eroded, back in 1987,’’ Chafe said.

“I gathered tracing paper, charcoal (pencils) and started to work to see what the stone read,’’ he added.

This single plot is thought to be the final resting place of Christine Varswell, who died circa 1650, although no records have been found to fully confirm her identity.
This single plot is thought to be the final resting place of Christine Varswell, who died circa 1650, although no records have been found to fully confirm her identity.

Chafe said it took a great deal of time to get a proper impression off the stone as he had to go slowly, letter by letter to see who the person was.

The tracing showed the headstone was erected by David — it looked like the last name was Cranswell — for his wife Catherine. Because the stone was broken, there was no way to get an exact date from it. Chafe checked records throughout the area but neither of those names could be found in any records. 

Chafe, a retired school teacher who holds a masters’ degree in Newfoundland history, said he checked a host of church records in the area including those from the Methodist Church burial records and there was nobody by that name appearing in the plantation book.

While little, if anything, is known about who is buried in the plot, the Western Bay Lighthouse Trail committee erected the white crosses to mark the eight sites confirmed so far. It's possible the cemetery could hold as many as 30 graves.

“There are lots of little cemeteries in this area. They all have gravestones such as the one I found that are in various states of decay,’’ Chafe said.

“I do know that at the time of when I think this cemetery was erected, there was nobody in Newfoundland doing headstones. They had to be imported from England or Ireland and they were expensive,” he added.

Chafe, who wrote a book titled “History of Corpus Christi Parish – Northern Bay,” chronicled a host of small graveyards through the area.

It took eight-years to do the book. This included a host of research, reading newspapers from across the region dating back to the early 1900s, court records, church records and going door-to-door in a number of communities gathering information and photos to use in the book.

“Cemeteries are a passion for me,’’ Chafe said.

“I even worked on the Belvedere Cemetery project. That was a tough one as it took five years to complete, to get everything mapped down there.”

Chafe said there are a number of old cemeteries in the community, all with a rich history of local names, many that are still prevalent in the town although others have died off over the years.

It is a good history lesson for residents and tourists to visit these places, he said.


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