Wednesday 24 May 2017

The grave of Private William C. Norman, continued!

The blog post I wrote about Private William C. Norman's memorial stone in the Clarke's Beach UC Cemetery got picked up by the local paper:
"Just read your article in the Telegram and Pte Norman was my great uncle , my grandmother's eldest brother. I visited his grave in Bajus last May and was intrigued by the inscription on his headstone there. 'Sleep on dear heart not forever will you dwell in Flanders Fields.' I didn't see anything like that on other war graves He is the only war grave in the Bajus church yard. Very well kept in the tiny village of Bajus de Nord. Attached are pictures of his grave. If you enlarge the first one you can see the inscription."
I asked Lorraine's permission to share the photos of the gravesite, and here they are, below. Thanks, Lorraine!

Thursday 11 May 2017

The Mystery of Pte. William C. Norman’s memorial, Clarke's Beach

In the United Church Cemetery in Clarke’s Beach, there is an intriguing memorial to a First World War soldier, Private William C. Norman. It is a double inscription stone, with the left side etched in memory of his father, the right side bearing the inscription:

Pte. William C. Norman
Beloved son of
Robert J. & Emma J. Norman
Killed in the Great War
Greater love hath no man that this that a man lay down his life for his friends.

The Biblical quotation from John 15:13 (King James Version) is fairly standard for a military memorial, but what what caught my eye was the decorative motif at the top of the marker.

The open book and downward pointing finger motif is common enough, as is the inscription on the left open page: “Asleep in Jesus.” What is unusual is a rather rougher-carved version of the Newfoundland Regiment caribou insignia. Many of the Newfoundland Regiment markers you will see in NL graveyards, or in war cemeteries in Europe, follow a fairly standard style. The carving on Norman’s marker is different, and I was curious to find out why.

William Charles Norman of Clarke’s Beach did not show up in any of my first searches of the Regimental Records. An internet search revealed the reason why: William C. Norman had never been in the Newfoundland Regiment.

Instead, Norman, a carpenter, had been living in Toronto at the time of his enlistment.  He was 5' 6 1/2" tall with a fair complextion and blue eyes. According to his attestation papers, he had served in the Queen’s Own Rifles for 20 months previously, and was assigned to the 83rd Battalion (Queen's Own Rifles of Canada) as part of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, regimental number 669305.

He signed up January 25, 1916 and was sent overseas in May. He served in the trenches for only three weeks, when he was killed on January 6, 1917 as the result of a grenade training accident (premature burst). He is remembered on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and page 88 of the Newfoundland Book of Remembrance.

Norman was buried in the north-east section of the Bajus Churchyard, Pas de Calais, France, and is listed as serving with the 3rd Battalion Canadian Infantry (1st Central Ontario Regiment).

As far as I can tell, his is the ONLY Commonwealth War Grave in the Bajus churchyard:

His marker in Clarke’s Beach, designed by Chislett’s Marble Works of St. John’s, was probably arranged by his mother, Emma Jane Norman, upon the death of her husband Robert James in 1927. Emma survived husband and son by a number of years, passing away February 11, 1941.

The Newfoundland Regiment carving remains a bit of a mystery. Was it inscribed by Chislett's, unaware that Private Norman had served in the Canadian Forces? Or was it added later by someone locally, perhaps by someone unfamiliar with the specific meaning of the insignia? If you know anything about this story, email me at

May 24, 2017: UPDATE HERE!

Wednesday 10 May 2017

The Tomb of John and Isabella Fergus, Mercer's Cove, Bay Roberts.

I blogged recently about a Jack ‘o Lantern which was said to haunt Big Island in Bay Roberts, and I suggested that Big Island was the same spot as Fergus Island. Local historian Mike Flynn backed me up on this, and today I found this reference to back it up:
“By 1560, Bay Roberts was used by Jersey fishermen, and Spaniards were there, too, perhaps from as early as 1588. Reports that the original name was Bay of Robbers because of the many pirates in the 1500s and 1600s have not been substantiated. Jersey fishermen referred to the area as Roberts Bay and used places later known as Beachy Cove and Big or Fergus Island.”
“History: Bay Roberts.” Decks Awash, vol. 20, no. 01 (January-February 1991) p 3-13.
The name Fergus Island comes from one John Fergus, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, who opened a mercantile establishment at Bay Roberts in 1812. John Fergus, along with his daughter, Isabella, are buried nearby, at the old Wareham’s Lane Cemetery, Mercer’s Cove, Bay Roberts.

Unlike any other grave in Bay Roberts, John and his daughter Isabella share an above-ground tomb, a reminder of their relative wealth in the community in the early 19th century. A tomb is generally a burial receptacle or container where a body or bodies are stored above ground. The Fergus tomb is a pretty good example of what is known variously as a box tomb, slab tomb, box grave, or chest tomb.

You can read all about the different types of possible tombs here:
The inscribed text on the Fergus tomb is very faint, and hard to read, but the project gives this as the text:

"Sacred to the memory of Isabella Fergus, native of Glasgow, Wife of William Donnelly, Merchant, who died 19th June 1843, aged 36 Years."


"Sacred to the memory of John Fergus, Merchant, native of Glasgow, who died 15th July 1835, Aged 53 years."

Friday 5 May 2017

Is the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre haunted?

A few years ago, I got an email from a woman by the name of Jaimie, asking me if I knew any ghostly tales about the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre building in St. John's, specifically concerning the basement.

“I’ve spent the last couple of weeks cloistered down there on the library side, working on a project and if you haven’t already got something, I have a story to share,” she wrote.

It sounded like too good a story to pass up. I got in touch with Jaimie, and asked her about her experiences.

At the time, Jaimie had been working in the archives on a project which involved a lot of trips back and forth through the collection.

“I’ve always found the basement to be a little creepy,” she describes. “I can hear voices and whispering and little snatches of song and such sometimes, but always assumed that it was just activity carrying through the ductwork from the children’s library, which is directly over my head, or the theatre.”

Jaimie figured it was just her imagination. Then one day she heard the noises again, on a day when the theatre was empty and the children’s library had closed.

“I was moving a truck of books from one area towards another area,” she says, “and I ended up passing by a whole bunch of shelving units (those neat rolling ones), when passing by one of the aisles between the units, I saw someone standing there.”

Jaimie turned her head, expecting to find a lost library patron; “as we occasionally do,” she explains. Instead of another person, she found herself looking at nothing but an empty aisle and a pale grey concrete wall.

“The person that I’d seen was wearing dark colours,” she describes. “I had the impression of something resembling a nun’s habit.”

“Well, needless to say, I finished off that truck, got back in the elevator and went upstairs, where I commiserated with a co-worker about the general creepiness of the basement,” Jaimie adds.

The co-worker informed Jaimie that the site apparently once housed a boy’s orphanage, hinting that this might explain some of the ghostly goings on.

The co-worker did indeed have some facts correct. The site of the current Arts and Culture Centre was formerly the site of the Shannon Munn Memorial Orphanage. In 1918, Sir Edgar Rennie Bowering and Mrs Mary Munn presented the property, to be known as the Shannon Munn Memorial, to the Church of England Orphanage.

The current theatre and library building was opened on May 22, 1967 as the province’s principal Centennial Year project. The building was designed by the Montreal architects of Ameck, Desbarets, Lebensold and Sise and the St. John’s firm of Campbell and Cummings.

Is the basement of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre home to a singing ghost? You’ll have to make the trip there and be the judge of that yourself. But as Jaimie puts it, “I’m definitely not the only one who finds it creepy down there!”

Photo: "Dance School - ballet" credit Karen King Parsons,

Thursday 4 May 2017

The Jack 'o Lantern of Big Island (Fergus Island) #FolkloreThursday

I've been doing some research on stone cairns, markers, and navigational aids in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, which are sometimes called "American Men." I came across this intriguing story about a Will o' the Wisp, locally called a Jack 'o Lantern or Jacky Lantern, which made his home on one particular cairn of rock.
When father was a boy his mother used to warn him of Jack o’ Lantern. Jack o’ Lantern was supposed to live on top of the American Man (the name given to the cairn on top of Big Island in Bay Roberts). The island was not visible from the house as the view was blocked by Big Head…. Jack o’ Lantern was of course marsh gas and was really visible. I have seen him. Father was scared and believed in the tale attached to what he saw. However he did not always obey when threatened. Grandmother would say, “There’s a light on Big Head; it’s after you.” Jack o’ Lantern just appeared on Big Head. He then progressed down the harbour, being very noticeable over the bogs at Running Brook. He then went to the bogs in French’s Cove and from there crossed to his home on top of the American Man on Big Island. (Bay Roberts) Q67-774
Quoted in: J.D.A. Widdowson,'Aspects of Traditional Verbal Control: Threats and Threatening Figures in Newfoundland Folklore' (St John's: Memorial University Ph.D. Thesis, 1973), page 233-234
From the geographical clues in this, I'm assuming Big Island is what is now called Fergus Island, located near the Bay Roberts Shoreline Heritage Walk. Mike Flynn, local historian, tells me many people from the east end of Bay Roberts refer to Fergus Island as Big Island, and that he also remembers reading about a cairn on the isle.

Does anyone have a memory of a cairn or marker on the top of Fergus Island? Or better yet, know of a historical photo that would show it? Drop me a line at

Photo: Diving at Fergus Island on the Shoreline Heritage Walk. Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Looking for info on stone cairns and "American Men" in Conception Bay. #amwriting

I've blogged a little bit before about "American Men" - stone cairns or markers like the ones at Spectacle Head, Cupids, and at Spider Pond, Spaniard's Bay.  Today, I was up to the top of the ridge on the southside of Harbour Grace, to look at a more recent stone cairn, erected by the appropriately named Stone family.

I've also come across something of a mystery.  I found an article in The Trident newsletter, published by the Newfoundland Historic Trust in February 1974. The article features a very rough map that shows an "American Man" somewhere between Spaniard's Bay and Harbour Grace.

Dos anyone know of an American Man somewhere in the Bishops Cove-Upper Island Cove-Bryant's Cove area?

Or is it possibly an error on the part of the map-maker who has placed the Cupids American Man in the wrong place?

Or, even better, do you know of other cairns or markers in that section of Conception Bay that I'm missing? Let me know! Email me at