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Old Cemetery Municipal Heritage Site

Port Kirwan, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2006/02/14

Headstones from the 1800s. Photo taken December, 2005.; HFNL/Andrea O'Brien 2005
Old Cemetery, Port Kirwan, NL
Oldest recorded headstone in cemetery, dated December 8, 1746 in memory of John Commons. Photo taken December, 2005.; HFNL/Andrea O'Brien 2005
Old Cemetery, Port Kirwan, NL
Headstone dating from the early 1800s in memory of members of the Brothers family. Photo taken December, 2005.; HFNL/Andrea O'Brien 2005
Old Cemetery, Port Kirwan, NL

Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/03/22

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Dated to the mid eighteenth century, the Old Cemetery, Borden # CfAf-24, is the burial ground to many of the original settlers of Port Kirwan, NL, formerly known as Admiral’s Cove. The cemetery is located atop a small hill in the centre of the community. The designation is confined to the area enclosed by the cemetery fence.

Heritage Value

The Old Cemetery has been designated a municipal heritage site by the Town of Port Kirwan because of its historic, cultural and aesthetic values.

The Old Cemetery has historical value as one of the older grave sites in the Southern Shore region. Archaeology surveys suggest it contains some of the oldest headstones in the province. While many of the gravestones in the Cemetery date from the early to late 1800s, the oldest stone dates to 1747, around the time when the greater region saw a shift from a seasonal fishery to large scale permanent settlement, particularly by Irish immigrants. The nineteenth century gravestones serve as witness to Irish settlement in the community and are a partial genealogical record of the founding families of Port Kirwan. These include the Aylward, Brothers, O’Connell, O’Neill and Trainor families. Most of the surnames betray their Irish origins, a lasting testament to the influence of Irish settlement on what had been known as the English Shore.

The Old Roman Catholic Cemetery has cultural value as a physical reminder of the ethnic composition of the community and the greater region. From as early as the sixteenth century the Southern Shore was frequented by migratory fishermen from the Iberian Peninsula, France and England. Port Kirwan was originally named Admiral’s Cove as it was a choice land berth for fishing admirals during the summer fishing season. Although some English settlers had previously moved to Admiral’s Cove, permanent settlement occurred mainly during the eighteenth century when Irish fishing servants began to overwinter. This cultural background is a source of pride for residents of communities along the Southern Shore, even though little physical evidence of their forefathers remain intact. The cemetery serves as a tangible witness to eighteenth century Irish immigration and its lasting effects on expressive cultural forms in the region.

The Old Roman Catholic Cemetery has aesthetic value due to its unique environmental setting and impressive collection of headstones. Located atop a small hill in the centre of Port Kirwan, the cemetery is visible from most vantage points in the community. Those headstones that remain vertical are easily seen as well. The material used in these stones varies, with many carved from slate or limestone. While some of these headstones would have been locally produced, such as the slate marking the grave of John Commons with its naive, yet elegant lettering; others were possibly imported from Ireland. These stones are quite huge and have impressively withstood the passage of time.

Source: Town of Port Kirwan Regular Council Meeting February 14, 2006

Character-Defining Elements

All those elements which represent the age, cultural significance and aesthetic value of the cemetery, including:
-variety of carved headstones and nondescript stone markers;
-original memorial stones and monuments with their surviving inscriptions;
-positioning of grave markers;
-view of the cemetery from variety of vantage points; and
-location, orientation and dimensions of the cemetery.



Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Authority

NL Municipality

Recognition Statute

Municipalities Act

Recognition Type

Municipal Heritage Building, Structure or Land

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Peopling the Land

Function - Category and Type



Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador 1 Springdale Street St. John's, NL A1C 5V5

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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