It is often said that in the town of Grand Falls-Windsor we tear down too much of our history. But even in communities where no building at all remains, you will find the monuments dedicated to those that once lived there. Besides a number of houses, there is little now to remind us of the very early days in which the town was settled. Down by the river between the old coal pile and Valley Road there is a cemetery filled which marble headstones much like any you would find in outports across the Island.
The Valley Road cemetery really is a pioneer cemetery. Soon after work commenced on the town and mill people married, people were born, and, people died.
According to available records, the first person to be buried in Grand Falls was 16 year old Jane Francis Gardner who had died of tuberculosis on September 24, 1907. Young Ms. Gardner was a member of the first family to have come to the town from Millertown in the fall of 1905. [i][ii] If she was the first to be buried there then the first burial was a Roman Catholic service.
The second confirmed burial was of Mrs. Martha Bishop wife of Stephen Bishop, aged 46 who died of pneumonia on October 19th, 1907. She was a member of the Church of England, so the second funeral service would have been Anglican.
In the time period between the deaths of Ms. Gardner and Mrs. Bishop the accident that resulted in the “Grand Falls Tragedy” occurred claiming the lives of four men. Some of the bodies were not recovered; none of the victims are listed as having been buried in a marked grave in the old cemetery. Only Louis Kelly and William Hatt are listed in the death records for the district and I do believe the others are listed in their home districts as having died at Grand Falls.[iii]
There a headstones in the cemetery that commemorate a number of people that are not buried there, they include a few people who died else ware before their families moved to Grand Falls or bear the wrong dates. There are also some members of the Newfoundland Regiment who are buried in France or Belgium whose names are commemorated on family plots, such is the case for Corporal Macintosh Frew, who was killed the Battle of Monchy. [iv] There are also headstones that wouldn’t be out of place in an older Newfoundland outport commemorating people who had come from South West England like Horace Herbert from Dorset and Edward Wells from Somerset.
By the mid 1920’s the little cemetery by the river was getting crowded. In 1924 it was reported that the Cemetery Committee of Holy Trinity (Church of England) had located a suitable location about a half a mile “out of town” on the new Botwood Highway.[v] The new cemetery was planned and fenced during 1926. The plots were laid out by Mr. Winderler one of the senior engineers with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. [vi] The first marked grave in the Anglican section of the new cemetery dates from September of 1927. It can be assumed that the other denominations were similarly planning their own sections in the new cemetery around the same time period. My notes suggest there may have been a Roman Catholic burial in the new cemetery in 1926, but this might have been on a family monument and the person actually buried in the old cemetery. The earliest United Church headstones seem to date from 1928. It looks like most of the burials for both Grand Falls and Grand Falls-Station were at this cemetery. It seems the earliest headstones in Windsor are Pentecostal and Roman Catholic examples from the 1930’s (1931) and 1940’s. It is likely that the old Windsor Pentecostal cemetery is the oldest in the former town of Windsor, with St. Joseph’s being second oldest.
The old Valley Road cemetery seems to still have been used for some time parallel to the new one. This must have been due to some families having purchased plots in the old cemetery. True because of this there are sporadic headstones bearing dates much later than the late 1920’s. The most recent grave according to the transcription is Garland Morrissey from 1992. This is part of a much larger family plot.[vii][viii]
The old Valley Road cemetery is truly a pioneer cemetery for the Town and the region. A look at the headstones gives one insight into a much more difficult and sometimes tragic time. Most funerals this day and age are for older people, whereas way back when Grand Falls was the region was first settled the number of children dying probably surpassed the number of old people passing. Infantile sickness of many types could prove fatal in the days before antibiotics. Tuberculosis was also rampant and for the few thousand people living in the area at the time there was only one of two doctors; one of whom, Dr. Chamberlain ended up buried at the now fairly young age of 44 (or 38) in the Valley Road Cemetery.[ix]
If anybody has anything interesting to share please do. It is interesting to note that it was about two years after the first families came to Grand Falls that the first burial took place.
[viii] I think I recall somewhere that there was an even more recent burial there.
[ix] I had always thought Dr. Chamberlain died as a result of an epidemic (possibly typhoid, typhus or diphtheria) he was treating, but his death record records his cause of death as “Acute Brights Disease” his age is listed there as 38 whereas his headstone says 1873-1917. http://ngb.chebucto.org/Vstats/death-reg-bk-7-1917-1918-tw.shtml