Nfld. & Labrador

Outer Cove headstones honour love of rowing — to the grave

The people of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove take the Royal St. John's Regatta seriously, in life and in death.

The town's legendary passion for rowing is on full display at a cemetery filled with Regatta memories

Bert Hickey remembers seeing Regatta-themed headstones in the cemetery near St. Francis of Assisi Church in Outer Cove when he was a child. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Rowing flows through the blood, sweat and tears of the people in a community by the ocean just outside of St. John's. 

The residents of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove have long been known for their record-breaking performances at the Royal St. John's Regatta. 

"I remember listening to my parents talk about the men who rowed for Outer Cove in the past with such passion and respect," said Mayor Bert Hickey.

"As a little kid myself, I just couldn't help but get caught up in it."

So it's only appropriate the families of some of the most historic rowers continue to honour their feats, even once they've stopped living and breathing. 

I suspect you're going to see a lot more of this as we all pass away.- Bert Hickey

The cemetery near St. Francis of Assisi Church is somewhat Regatta-themed, and Hickey — who has his own lengthy history with the Regatta — said the trend dates back to when he was a boy.

Hickey recalled seeing the headstone of Dennis (9:13) McCarthy as a child, and asking his mother what the number meant.  

Dennis McCarthy's gravesite always stood out to Hickey when he was a child. Today, it's not uncommon to see Regatta memorabilia etched on rowers' headstones. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

He found out that McCarthy was a member of the famous 1901 Outer Cove crew that set a 9:13 course record at the St. John's Regatta that year, a record that held strong for 80 years. 

"One of the things this community was always so, so proud of was their success at the regattas," he said. 

Etchings include dates, faces and memorabilia

The prior record was from 1885, set by another crew from Outer Cove more than a century before the event earned its "Royal" designation in 1993. 

"Rowing played such a significant identification of what this little community excelled in," said Hickey. 

WATCH: Zach Goudie finds out about the legacy of Outer Cove's rowers from Mayor Bert Hickey: 

"If you look at the record books you'll see that Outer Cove — back in the late 1800s/early 1900s — would dominate the Regatta. They went up against the best that St. John's and all the other outlying communities had, and they'd always win."

Hickey, a retired rower and coach who led the M5 women's crew and Outer Cove men's crew — including his son, Brent Hickey — to championships last year, said the rowers from these historic crews more than a century ago were local heroes. 

Every member of the 1901 crew is memorialized on this headstone, marking the grave of one of the rowers. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

The families of the 1901 crew started the Regatta theme by honouring their historic record on the stones that mark their gravesites. Today it's not uncommon to see fairly new headstones with etched photos of teammates, dates from being inducted into the Regatta Hall of Fame, and other Regatta memorabilia engraved.   

"I suspect you're going to see a lot more of this as we all pass away," said Hickey. 

Hickey says Ron Brennan was a big participant in the Regatta for many years, so much so that his family decided to honour his passion at his gravesite. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Heather Barrett

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