New Brunswick

How a piece of the Berlin Wall ended up in a backyard in Keswick Ridge

Earl Gilbey keeps a bit of history in his own backyard.

For more than 50 years, Earl Gilbey has been building a wall that contains rocks from around the world

Earl Gilbey built a retaining wall in his backyard that contains rocks from all over the world, including the Great Wall of China and Mount Everest. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Earl Gilbey has never been to Germany, but he keeps a piece of the Berlin Wall right behind his house in Keswick Ridge.

It's just one of thousands of pieces of brick, marble and loose stones from around the world that he has added to a large retaining wall on his property.

Here is just a small section of Gilbey's wall in his backyard. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Gilbey has placed each of the historic rocks with his own two hands.

"It's just kind of a beautiful thing, really," he said from his home, about 27 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

Gilbey keeps a piece of the Berlin Wall in his backyard. It was given to him by his uncle, Bill Love. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Gilbey started the project 50 years ago, steadily adding to a collection that features rocks from prominent places like the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and a small chip of marble from the Parthenon in Greece.

This man has spent over 50 years building a historic wall outside his N.B. home

2 years ago
Duration 2:17
Earl Gilbey has used rocks from all over the world, including the Parthenon in Greece and the base camp of Mount Everest, to build a wall outside his Keswick Ridge home.

He also has rocks from the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., the Matterhorn in the Alps, the Alaska Highway, Cape Spear in Newfoundland and a rock found near the Great Wall of China.

A rock from the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

He has rocks from Mongolia, the North Pole, Russia, Ukraine.

He has cobblestones from Toronto and old Quebec. And many more rocks from across New Brunswick, including Grand Manan, Zealand and Barnettville, a neighbourhood south of Miramichi.

This rock from Barnettville, a neighbourhood in New Brunswick, has a giant hole in it. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

One part of the wall even contains hidden treasure, which is mostly spare change Gilbey uses when he runs out. 

A piece of lava rock from Washington state's Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Gilbey has a journal that documents all the rocks and where they're from. But he can point out any rock along the wall without having to consult it.

A stone from the Fredericton Curling Club after it burned in the late 1960s. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Over the years, many have heard about the project and stopped by to marvel at it. Many have contributed to it, too.

"People on holidays stumbling around, looking things over, 'Oh there's a little piece of stuff, I must take that home to Earl,' " Gilbey said.

'Loose rocks laying around'

A rock from the Matterhorn, a mountain in the Swiss Alps. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Gilbey said the collection hasn't caused any harm to heritage sites, as the tiny stones are mostly picked up off the ground.

For instance, the stone that came from the Great Wall of China was actually lying near the wall, not plucked from the wall itself. The keepsake is about the size of his thumbnail. 

A small rock that came from Venezuela. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

"Most of the rocks are from an area that isn't protected, " he said. "Any of these rocks, for the most part, are just loose rocks laying around." 

In his collection, Gilbey also has a small brick from Russia. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

The souvenirs have come from more than 100 friends, relatives, and customers from his art gallery and framing business. 

One of them was David Urquhart of Fredericton.

This rock was collected from Mount Everest in Nepal. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Urquhart provided Gilbey with a stone found near the Urquhart Castle in Scotland.

A rock found near the Urquhart Castle in Scotland. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Urquhart, who worked for the city, also gifted Gilbey with a piece of chimney from an old water pumping station at the end of Smythe Street after it was torn down.

The chimney included a piece that had the year "1883" embossed on it.

David Urquhart donated a piece of an old pumping station that was torn down in Fredericton. (Shane Fowler)

"There's quite a bit of history here and it's preserved ... it's all in one place," Urquhart said.

Gilbey points to a long grey piece in his wall from the old cotton mill in Marysville. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Gilbey's wall is about 55 metres long and just over a metre tall.

"I'll get it finished one of these days," Gilbey said. "I'm always full of crazy ideas."

Leaving a legacy

The wall begins with an old well pump cover from Nova Scotia. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Gilbey has also collected stones from Fredericton-area buildings that have been demolished, including the old cotton mill in Marysville and the historic Risteen building, which was torn down two years ago on the corner of Smythe and Queen streets. 

He also collects old tombstones that are about to be tossed from gravesites across the province.

A rock that was collected from the Yukon. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

When crews were excavating the grounds for the Fredericton Convention site, he collected a few stones there, too.

An old tombstone from an unknown gravesite that has the word "mother" written on it. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

"I got a decorative piece of sandstone from out of there," he said. 

Various rocks from islands in the the Mediterranean. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Gilbey is hoping to finish his wall at some point. But as long as people keep giving him rocks, he'll keep building his wall.

The original Grand Falls bridge plaque that was thrown out because it didn't have the town's name in French, which is Grand-Sault. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

"It's just something that I hope will stand for a good number of years," he said. "I'm leaving something behind that says I was here." 


Elizabeth Fraser


Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip?