Heritage Committee Promotion

The old Witless Bay cemetery on Harbour RoadThe Witless Bay Heritage Committee was founded in 2004, so that the preservation of the community’s cultural heritage would not be addressed as an afterthought to the lament of “My, what a shame!” This Committee, now an official arm of the Witless Bay Town Council, and officially recognized as one of Council’s Residents’ Advisory Committee, is now well established, and has spearheaded a number of important projects.

Projects include:

  • Working to highlight and preserve the community’s internal trail systems;
  • Creating storyboards drawing attention to the Town’s many highlights;
  • Developing a Canada Post Cancellation Stamp highlighting our Ecological Reserve.
  • Assisting and encouraging heritage property designations and restoration.
  • Organized a seaside graveyard restauration project.
  • Conducting interviews with residents about past community events and ways of life.
  • Sharing information with the public by way of annual photo days, articles in local newspapers, the Town newsletter, and on the Town website, and by participating in the town’s Puffin Festival.
  • Co-hosting the Witless Bay Field School.
  • Each of these initiatives is detailed below.
    Protection of the Community’s Internal Trails – The Heritage Committee has been highlighting assisting to preserve the community’s internal trail systems by compiling lists of trails, laneways, cart paths, and the like. Making use of information obtained through their interviews with seniors, the Heritage Committee has worked with Council to protect these trails against encroachment and to help ensure access is available. Developers work productively with Council to help ensure that these trails form part of development plans.

    Interpretative storyboards – The Heritage Committee spent countless hours reviewing pictures and preparing information to support their selections, and with the help of a local artist and business person, they designed a number of storyboards. These storyboards highlight the Town’s important elements and detail responsible environmental and conservation management practices. The storyboards were placed throughout the community in popular locations where community members and visitors gathered or stopped to rest.

    Cancellation Stamp Project – The Town of Witless Bay is home to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, which contains North America’s largest colony of Atlantic Puffins (with over 260,000 mating pairs) and the second largest colony of Leach’s Storm Petrels in the world (with over 620,000 pairs). Witless Bay also has a Puffin and Petrel Patrol, which works to rescue stranded chicks and return them safely to the ocean (see the mini- documentary on this here: http://youtu.be/mtSHVHE4fj0). As such, the Town of Witless Bay has a special duty to protect the environment. Highlighting this special responsibility, the Witless Bay Heritage Committee worked in conjunction with Canada Post to create a cancellation stamp representing the Ecological Reserve. The stamp details a puffin (which is also the Town’s logo) proudly resting above the ecological reserve.

    Heritage Designations, Protection, and Restoration – The Heritage Committee has worked productively and cooperatively with the Town Council of Witless Bay to protect, restore, and design a number of heritage properties in the town. For instance, with the closing and sale of the large Presentation Sisters’ convent, many residents expressed concern for the future of the building. The Heritage Committee worked with the new owner to ensure that the heritage aspects of the structure be maintained. The Committee held several meetings with the owners, working productively to help ensure that the building is protected. Today the convent is in the process of being completely restored, and has been designated as a Provincial Heritage Site. Another example of the Heritage Committee’s work in relation to heritage designations, protection and restoration is the extensive inventory of the historical homes prior to 1930.

    Graveyard restoration project – Under the direction of the Heritage Committee, a crew was hired through a government-sponsored support project and cleanup of the town’s old seaside graveyard was undertaken. In addition to cleaning up the graveyard, the Committee repaired the fences, restored and secured the headstones, improved the landscape, refurbished the old access path and designed interpretative signage. This process raised awareness of the site and both residents and tourists can now more readily visit the area. To complement this work, the Heritage Committee worked in conjunction with a provincial archaeologist and the director of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. This site is now an official archaeological site assigned the Borden #ChAe-14. In addition, the committee approached the Town Council with a formal request to have the graveyard declared as a Municipal Heritage Site, and today it stands as a Municipal Heritage Site in our community.

    Interviewing seniors – The Heritage Committee has recently begun conducting interviews with residents about past community events and ways of life. These interviews explore seniors’ recollections of folkways, and ways in which they interacted with the environment. The Heritage Committee has so far completed two dozen interviews with local seniors. These recordings are transcribed and entered into an electronic file. Stories from these interviews will be edited and published, together with historical photos of the town.

    Co-hosting the Witless Bay Field School– In Fall 2014, the Heritage Committee assisted Council and the Community Enhancement Committee in hosting a group of Masters and Ph.D. students from Memorial University’s Department of Folklore. These students documented heritage buildings in the community and conducted interviews with residents to learn about their traditions, practices, local knowledge and skills.
    Witless Bay Field School BLOG: https://witlessbayfieldschool.wordpress.com
    Witless Bay Field School BOOKLET: http://www.mun.ca/ich/resources/Witless_Bay_Booklet_WEB_VERSION.pdf

    The Witless Bay Heritage Committee is a dedicated group of individuals who are very environmentally conscious and are known to be present at any gathering where they can offer their knowledge and help the community to be the best it can be for future generations.

    Current membership:
    Kevin Smart (Chair & Council representative)
    Mary Sobol (Secretary)
    Peter Sobol (Treasurer)
    Bonnie Johnstone (Acquisitions)
    Maureen Walsh (Acquisitions)
    Marjory MacDiarmid
    Barry Norris
    Sébastien Després (ex officio, Mayor of Witless Bay)

    Share your ideas!
    Do you have suggestions for the Heritage Committee?
    How can Council help this committee fulfill its mission?
    How can the Community Enhancement Committee help this committee fulfill its mission?
    Send ideas this way: sebastiend@mun.ca; 334-1166


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