Description of Historic Place
The Omnibus Cemetery is a pioneer cemetery used by various Protestant denominations in the region of Tignish Shore, in western PEI. The site is located in a wooded area on the Christopher Road west of Route 12, the North Cape Coastal Drive. Today, it is abandoned and overgrown. The site also originally contained a church. The registration includes the cemetery itself.
The Omnibus Cemetery is significant as an example of the solidarity among the various Protestant denominations in the mid-19th Century in western PEI. It was established together with a church by Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists. The church was the first Protestant church in the Tignish area. It opened on January 29, 1860 and was named Omnibus, meaning "all would be one". The diary of Rev. Robert William Dyer (1808-1887), an Anglican clergyman who came from Newfoundland in 1859 and stayed on PEI, reveals much of our information on the religious history of the site. The text for the first sermon in the now vanished church came from Exodus 20:24. The first burial recorded was of a Mr. Grey in 1869. In this excerpt from his diary, Dyer describes the opening of the new building:
"After the Morning Service, I took some refreshment and started off to Tignish to hold Service in the new church. I was not a little gratified to have the pleasure of opening this new building, especially as it has been built by all denominations, namely, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Baptists. Service commenced at 3 o'clock with singing, and then commenced our beautiful Service, and a sermon, Exodus 20, and the 24th verse, which I had partly prepared for the purpose. After the Service we sang the evening hymn and closed the service of the day which was, I believe, enjoyed by the whole congregation. This is the first time since I came to this Mission that I have had a church in which to conduct services or to preach. it seemed a comfort and a great pleasure. if there should have been one soul born again at the service, it was but the place of the (re)birth of one sinner, besides a pleasure, what a mercy. "Laus Deo.""
It is also valued for its connection to the historic 1873 August Gale. In the aftermath of the devastating storm, two seamen, John Gillespie and John McLeod, were interred here after they drowned in the sinking of the "Carrie R. Rich" on a reef in nearby North Cape. John Gillespie's tombstone is the only remaining headstone still standing today. The August Gale and its impact on PEI is discussed fully by Dr. Edward MacDonald in his article: "The August Gale and the Arc of Memory on Prince Edward Island," The Island Magazine, Number 56 (Fall/Winter 2004): 10-20.
The inscription on the Gillespie stone contains text from the 1832 hymn "Asleep in Jesus! Blessed Sleep" by the Scottish hymnwriter, Margaret MacKay (1802-1887). It reads: "Asleep in Jesus! far from thee / Thy kindred and their graves may be / But thine is still a blissful sleep / From which none ever wakes to weep."
When all the denominations established their own individual congregations, the church and cemetery gradually fell into disuse. By 1946-1950, road widening construction near the site actually removed headstones which were in the way of the new road! Today, there is only one headstone visible. The details of Rev. Dyer's diary are preserved in the Alberton Museum. In 2009, the great granddaughter of Rev. Robert Dyer, the Rev. Sylvia Dyer, visited the site.
The site is symbolic and evocative of some of the earliest pioneer inhabitants of the Tignish Shore area.
Source: Culture and Heritage Division, PEI Department of Communities, Cultural Affairs and Labour, Charlottetown, PE C1A 7N8
File #: 4310-20/O1
The elements which embody the heritage value of the Omnibus Cemetery include:
- the cemetery in its location, extent and surviving land formations
- evidence of the use of the place as a cemetery with unmarked graves and a surviving headstone