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Old Witless Bay Cemetery

Witless Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0A, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2006/01/31

View at entrance to Old Cemetery in Witless Bay, NL. Photo taken November, 2005.; HFNL/ Dale Jarvis 2005
Old Cemetery, Witless Bay, NL
View from southeast corner of Old Cemetery overlooking the harbour in Witless Bay, NL. Photo taken November, 2005.; HFNL / Dale Jarvis 2005
Old Cemetery, Witless Bay, NL
Mid-1800s headstone listing several deceased members of the Mullowney family.  Photo taken November, 2005.; HFNL/ Dale Jarvis 2005
Old Cemetery, Witless Bay, 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 eighteenth century, the Old Witless Bay Cemetery (Borden # ChAe-14) is the burial ground to many of the original settlers of Witless Bay, NL. The cemetery overlooks Witless Bay Harbour from a prominent knoll located on the northern side of the community. The designation is confined to the area enclosed by the historic cemetery fence.

Heritage Value

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

The Old Witless Bay Cemetery has historical value as one of the older grave sites in the Southern Shore region. While the earliest distinguishable markers date to the mid-1800s, many nondescript stone markers of an earlier period are clustered in the southeastern corner of the graveyard. These weathered stones may date to the eighteenth century, around the time when permanent settlement began in earnest in the region. The legible markers are witness to Irish settlement in the community and serve as a genealogical record of Witless Bay’s founding families. These include the Mullowney, Carew, Tobin, Norris, Armstrong and Burke families. The surnames betray their Irish origins and other markers use accepted Irish symbols, such as the Celtic Cross, or name Irish hometowns of the deceased, a lasting testament to the influence of Irish settlement on what had been known as the English Shore.

The Old Witless Bay 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. The English Pilot 4th Book, dated 1689, states that in "Witleffe Bay...half way into the bay on the North side...planters live." Settlement increased during the eighteenth century when Irish fishing servants began to overwinter in the fishing stations along this stretch of coast. This cultural background is a source of pride for residents along the Southern Shore, even though little physical evidence of their forefathers remains 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 Witless Bay Cemetery has aesthetic value due to its prominent environmental setting, natural landscape features and orderly placement of burial plots. Located along the water’s edge overlooking Witless Bay Harbour, on a small knoll on the community’s north side, the location evokes a fitting sense of serenity. From the cemetery site there is an unobstructed view of the southern side of the community, the waters of Witless Bay Harbour and some of the islands that comprise the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Headstones and grave markers face the east, a small number of enclosed family plots remain and a cluster of coniferous trees mark the apex of the knoll. Also of aesthetic value is a prominent Celtic Cross that was erected in 1880 by Rev. M.P. O'Driscoll, a local priest, in memory of several family members including his father Michael O'Driscoll who died August 15, 1876. Though the inscriptions are nearly worn away with time and salty winds the Celtic Cross remains an impressive monument to the past.

Source: Town of Witless Bay Regular Council Meeting January 31, 2006, motion number 2006-016.

Character-Defining Elements

All those elements which represent the age, cultural significance and aesthetic value of the cemetery, including:
-variety of carved headstones, including a prominent Celtic Cross, and nondescript stone markers;
-original memorial stones and monuments with their surviving inscriptions;
-positioning of grave markers;
-the unimpeded view of Witless Bay Harbour;
-existing enclosed family plots;
-cluster of coniferous trees at the top of the hill in the centre of the cemetery;
-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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