FISH-NL concerned over church’s proposal to build over final resting place of thousands of migrant fishermen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Thursday, July 18th, 2019

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) has serious concerns over a proposal by the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to construct an annex adjacent to the church that could disturb the burial ground of thousands of migrant fishermen.


Bristol, England 1787. 

Further, FISH-NL says at the very least a memorial to their memory should be erected on the site.

“Newfoundland and Labrador was built on the fishery, and the life and death of potentially thousands of migrant fishermen and their contribution to our development as a culture and society should be recognized,” says Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL. “At the very least they deserve our respect.”

Retired Memorial University history professor Robert Sweeney has estimated that between 5,000 and 15,000 fishermen (and they were mostly young men, between the ages of 14-24) from the West Country of England could be buried in the cemetery.

Indeed, Sweeney has described the cemetery in downtown St. John’s as “the largest pre-Confederation cemetery of wage earners in Canada,” with most of the fishermen buried there having died from injury or disease dating back to the 17th century.

The proposed annex would be built next to the historic cathedral to house a parish hall, offices, a café and space for community outreach work.

According to the NL Heritage Website, “even by Elizabethan times, the Newfoundland fishery was highly regarded as a national resource and was highly prized as an activity that trained men and boys to the sea, 'a nursery of seamen'. Throughout the southwest of England the overseas cod fishery became an established industry, and migration to Newfoundland became a major cultural tradition.”

The ships that went into the fishery were referred to as “Newfoundlanders,” and the people that sailed on them were referred locally as “Newfoundland people” or “Newfoundland men.”