As archivist for the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, I had contacted Fr. John Nicolle to ask him if he would deposit all the church’s non-current records (from both St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s) at the Archdeacon Buckle Memorial Archive (ABMA) in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, in St. John’s. He agreed, so my wife Ellen and I were on the road to St. Paul’s.
We were driving along the lower road in Harbour Grace looking for St. Paul’s church. The rector, Fr. Nicolle, said it would be easy to find and when I saw it—I understood what he meant. There it was, solidly situated on a large green sward with a few askew headstones just in front of it. Ellen found a place to park, and we walked up the small paved walkway to the main doors of the church.
Fr. Nicolle and Mr. Bob Noseworthy, who is a member of the parish, were there to meet us. They showed us where the documents were stored, and I was happy to see they were in a sturdy vault, and carefully arranged. We removed them, put them in boxes, and carried them to our car for the trip back to ABMA.
I was delighted that Fr. Nicolle had agreed to have the records stored in ABMA. Many of our parishes have their records stored in damp basements which are often visited by mice. Some are kept in cupboards and other unsuitable places too numerous to mention. Harbour Grace is a very old parish whose history dates to 1764. Unfortunately, there are no records from that time, as the previous churches were destroyed by fire or wind.
The current stone church was consecrated on July 5th, 1840, by Bishop Aubrey George Spencer. The exterior reminds one of the rural churches built in England, and the surrounding grounds enhance that idea.
Throughout its long history of over a hundred years, St. Paul’s has served the Anglican community in Harbour Grace. Amongst the documents which will be stored in ABMA are baptismal, marriage, and burial registers. These registers are legal documents and should be stored in an environmentally controlled space, as we have at ABMA. There are still too many of our churches’ records that are in danger of destruction by agents of deterioration I mentioned before.
Many Anglican parishes continue to store their records in unsafe conditions. I plead to all parishes in the three dioceses to bring their records to their diocesan archive. If there is not a diocesan archive, then the diocese should create one where these precious documents can be stored and catalogued to the benefit of the whole diocese and the public.
All the documents a church generates as it goes about its holy business belong to the diocese. They should not be held in private homes where the same dangers can befall them, or where they can be lost or at the death of the holder be cast aside. Please bring these documents to your diocesan office or diocesan archive.
If there are volunteers in a diocese who wish to create an archive, please contact me at any of the addresses below for advice. I do not know everything, but I have worked in archives, and have contact with professional archivists who can assist.