Preserving the past

Trail and storyboard planned for Methodist cemetery

Kevin Curley
Published on June 19, 2014
Steve Bonnell, president of the Clarenville Historic Society, stands in front of the tombstone of Thomas Godden, laid to rest over 140 years ago. 
Kevin Curley

A provincial historic site and cemetery for some of Clarenville's earliest settlers will be getting recognition before the end of the summer.

The Shoal Harbour Methodist Cemetery located off Balbo Drive had been hidden in a wooded area until recently. It had been in limbo until a developer cleared the land in front of the cemetery for the Heritage Society to make use of the site after recognizing the potential as a contribution to the community.

Steven Bonnell, president of the Clarenville Heritage Society, says the developer will also be helping with signage and steps leading to the cemetery.

The cemetery is a protected archeological site, which means no one can own it or go in and make changes. Those in the community had suggested opening the area more and putting a monument in the center, but Bonnell and his group aren't allowed to clear trees or put up a monument due to provincial protection.

"So what we are looking to do is go in and design two or three storyboards with information about those buried there and the reason why the cemetery came into being, along with its significance to the area," says Bonnell.

The cemetery is the resting place of the scholar John Tilley. He and his family will be the centerpiece of the whole project. Tilley, originally from Hant's Harbour was born in 1789 and died in 1871. He and his sons settled in the area and were responsible for the settlement of Shoal Harbour.

"After they settled here, other gentlemen from Hant's Harbour also moved into the area. They were the driving force behind the community," says Bonnell.

Bonnell says the project is coming along nicely; all of the content has been pulled together and Bonnell even met with Gord Tilley, the great great grandson of John Tilley, who gave the Heritage Society material to use.

Bonnell also plans to use some of Tilley's poems for the storyboards.

"Tilley learned the Latin and Greek classics. He also wrote a lengthy poem about his days living in Old Perlican. So we hope to use some excerpts of those poems along with the history of the Tilley family," says Bonnell.

The group envisions three or four boards, with one showing a map of the area. They also want to put up a roadside sign to alert travelers making the cemetery easier to find.

"The next thing for us is to do a storyboard write-up and make sure it's done right. We want to present the drafts to town council and the public to get their input to make sure everything is correct," says Bonnell, adding, "once it's on the storyboard and we've paid for it, then it's done. So if there is a word missing or passageway that should have been done we want to make sure it's all included.

The Heritage Society wants to see the project completed by the end of the summer and Bonnell estimates it will be finished by September.

"We want to see this project finalized because it's the burial place of our community's original settlers and there is a lot of history there."

If anyone has any questions, suggestions or wants to contribute to the project, they can contact Bonnell at 709-466-7489 or by email at