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Saturday, 7 September 2013

Portage Shore Old Pioneer Cemetery: Where might they be?

 One of the ways of finding our ancestors is finding their resting place.  Sometimes the only record left is the tombstone monument with their name and date of death. If one is lucky, the exact date of birth and death are engraved on the stone, with the spouse and children on the same stone, or in the adjacent plot.  

In Prince Edward Island, simple red Island sandstone markers, engraved with initials, mark many of the early settlers graves.  The sandstone is soft, time and the elements wearing away clues as to who lies beneath.

Prior heading out on our family history trip, I had ordered all the cemetery transcripts for the Protestant cemeteries located on the Lots where I knew we had family.  Amazingly, the Portage Shore Old Pioneer Cemetery was right on the property that used to belong to old Angus.

We knew that the cemetery was overgrown, without any family stones, but decided to venture out there, anyway.

When the Scottish settlers first arrived, they did not waste their energy building large, fine homes.  They learned from others, that the original selection of site and direction was not useful in the long run. So the original houses they built were "about 12 feet square" and "roofs should be covered with boards since, shingles are expensive for the first beginning, requiring many nails." The first house was probably built close to the shore, because the land was covered in forest and travel was by boat.[i]

This would also explain why the cemetery is close to the shore.  Access to the cemetery is now on private property, where the old farm was located.  The existing farmhouse on the property also originally belonged to the McInnis family and then the Robinsons.  Built about 1860, it was likely the second or third family home.  

We walked through a path in the bush and trudged through high grain fields, perhaps juncea canola, mosquitos buzzing all around our heads. If you did not know the cemetery was there, you would not be able to find it.  It is overgrown, with only a few stones left.

We know Angus' son Donald and his family are buried in the St John's Presbyterian Church cemetery in Belfast, but we cannot find where the rest our ancestors who came on The Rambler are buried.  It's very likely that Angus and his family are buried here at the Portage Shore Old Pioneer Cemetery

While there are a number of stones with initials, there are only four stones left where the names are legible. None of those included our family names.

In spite of the lack of clear proof, it was special to walk were our ancestors first walked and where they were likely buried.  To imagine what the land must have been like, covered in forest and that it was our folks’ hard work that cleared those fields.  What it must have been like, in moments of peace, standing by the water, missing the home they had left across the ocean.  Or, perhaps, they were just too busy from dawn to dusk, surviving, to take in the stars on a clear night.

A few days after our visit to the cemetery, we were to learn more, when we met a cousin who grew up on the property. When he was young, he recalled, there were about 15 -20 markers in the cemetery.

He believed the last people buried there were people from Wheatly River.  He remembered an older gentleman and his son would come every fall to clean it up.  There were many trees and the Blue Herons would roost in the trees.  Eventually the Blue Heron’s roosting killed off the trees.

He also remembered when he was a child, with his father; they would work the field around the cemetery.  When they came across fieldstones, they piled the stones up against the edge of the cemetery.  

He recalled that his great-uncle, Cleve Robinson had told him a story of when he was a teenager.  (Per the 1901 census, Cleveland Robinson was born in 1892 and lived on Lot 33 with his parents. Following this post, I learned that he was actually born February 16, 1882.)  Cleve said that a fellow from Charlottetown, who was to go to Boston to medical school, was obliged to take a skeleton for his studies.  Presented with this challenge, he took a skeleton from the cemetery, cleaning the bones on the train as he travelled.

He also shared rumours that some of the lost souls of the 1851 Yankee Gale are buried in the cemetery.  This was a terrible storm where many boats floundered against the north shore of Prince Edward Island.  The Island Register has a compendium of information on ships and lives lost in that storm. [ii]

Stan recalled that his father told him lives were lost at sea, with many buried at Stanhope.  The bodies were found along the beach after the storm. They had collected them, taking them to Collin McClure’s barn where they laid them out for identification.   This is not improbable as the cemetery is only 158 feet from the shore. Meacham's shows the McClure's right at the point, with the unmarked cemetery not far away.
Screen shot close up of Meacham's 1880 Map of Prince Edward Island, Lot 33 from Island Imagined

Sometime in the 1960's, the local Women’s Institute, looking for a useful project, decided they would clean up the cemetery.  They hired two men to clean it up.  The men came in with bulldozers and cut out the stumps.  They moved all the sandstone markers and fieldstones, cleared the cemetery clean, seeded grass.  Once it was nice and clean, they returned the markers and the sand stones, and likely the field stones that had been along the fence.  They lined up the stones, in a nice neat east-west, north-south, square and diagonal arrangement. 

Our cousin was certain one of the Ross stones was not put back in its original place.  That Sadie was reset with the “S” backwards and the “9” is a “P."   It is such a shame that we can no longer see the exact place where they lie.

After hearing these stories, I revisited the cemetery transcripts, together with my list of "missing ancestors".  The list of those ancestors for whom  I have yet to find a grave.

As my cousin Fred says, "old Angus is probably the first one buried there".  This is because Angus was 60 years old when he immigrated from Scotland.

We are missing:

McInnis, Angus (b 1746 -?)

Wife Margaret (b 1754)

McInnis, Hector (b. 1776 -?)

Wife McDougall, Mary (b. 1778 -?)

McInnis, Allan (b. 1781 –?)

Wife Catherine McKinaly

Charles McInnis (b. between 1806 -184)

Wife Ann McEwen (b. about 1820)

Wife Elizabeth Clark (b.?)

Flora McInnis (b. 1781)

Isabella McInnis (b 1790)

Mary McInnis (b. 1794)

Sarah McInnis (b. 1798)  - could this be Sadie McInnis?

Janet McInnis (b. 1800)

John McInnis (b. 1805)

Catherine (b.?  - d. 1848)

James McInnis  (son of Allan) (b. 1822)

Looking at the protestant family names adjacent to the area, one can see there were many with the name Ross, Robinson, McKenzie and Matheson.  None had the last name beginning with an "I".  So, I suspect that the initials "M-I" stand for McInnis.   

With this in mind, I matched up the following stones with our names:

Row 1.                         A-M-I (Angus or Allan McInnis?)

                                    F.M-I D.G. – 70 (Flora McInnis & D.G.?)

                                    J-M-M-I  (Janet or John or James McInnis?)


Row 2.                        J-H-M-I (Janet or John or James McInnis?)

                                    ZADI – M-C-I-J (Sadie aka Sarah McInnis?)

Row 6.                         J-M-I (Janet or John or James McInnis?)[iii]

In the end, it does not matter, because the stones are not placed on their graves.  What counts is we saw and felt the place.

[i] Campey, Lucille H., The Silver Chief : Lord Selkirk and the Scottish Pioneers of Belfast, Baldoon and Red River (Toronto : Natural Heritage Books, 2003) p. 36
[ii] The Island Register. « The Yankee Gale of 1851 » ( 7 September 2013)
[iii] P.E.I. Genealogical Society, Cemetery Transcript, Ch. Of Scotland Portage Road Old Pioneer Cemetery Lot 33-6 (Charlottetown: The P.E.I. Genealogical Society, Updated 2000)

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