Undeterred by vandals
Volunteers rally to restore ‘American Man’ rock cairn in Cupids
In a remarkable show of resilience and community pride, an iconic symbol of the Town of Cupids that had been partially dismantled by vandals last month has been rebuilt high atop Spectacle Head.
Early on Thursday, Aug. 23, more than a dozen spirited volunteers, armed with tools such as a heavy hammer, crowbar, ladder and measuring tape, and plenty of stout-heartedness, hiked to the top of this wind-blistered ridge that dominates the entrance to the harbour and offers a specular view of the surrounding ocean and landscape.
Passing vast patches of blueberries on their way, this tenacious troop reached the summit — some 100 metres above sea level — after about a 25-minute ascent.
Few stopped to admire the view on this magnificent morning, however. What greeted them was a scene that had most shaking their heads in disbelief and disappointment.
Quick to mobilize
An iconic coastal cairn — a man- made pile of flat stones that had been a sea marker for mariners for generations, and developed in more recent years into a popular destination for locals and tourists alike — was partially dismantled by vandals. Known to many as the “American Man,” the cairn had stood about seven feet high and measured about five feet in diametre.
But someone went through a great deal of effort to remove many of the stones in an effort to topple the pile.
People like Harold Akerman, chair of the Cupids Historical Society, Deputy Mayor Ross Dawe, and Roy Dawe, who chairs Cupids Legacy Inc., were quick to mobilize when word spread of the damage.
They spread the word that such wanton vandalism would not go unchecked, and organized a team of like-minded citizens.
They marched to the site, and after roughly three hours of strenuous effort, restored the cairn, making it even taller and wider. Many residents of Cupids, in a show of moral support, watched the progress from their yards, their front windows or from along Seaforest Drive.
As the cairn grew taller, Roy Dawe coud been seen standing atop the pile, carefully positioning the stones being handed up by those on the ground.
“It’s one of our symbols, and by putting it back, we’re leaving a legacy again, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. Something for our children and grandchildren to come up here and see,” said Akerman.
Saddened by vandalism
Cairns are found all over the world, and have been in existence since pre-history.
There’s plenty of theories about the history of the cairn in Cupids, with some saying it got its name from the American fishermen who once plied local waters. There’s also a suggestion that it was originally referred to as “A Marker Man,” but morphed into “American Man,” and later into “Merican Man.”
Over the years, it’s become a tradition for visitors to add a rock to the cairn, and many have left coins.
One of the volunteers who helped restore the cairn, Cupids resident Suzanne Brake, said she was saddened by the vandalism and gladly agreed to lend a hand, despite the fact she was enjoying a vacation from her job at Confederation Building in St. John’s.
Brake and her partner Bob O’Brien are sailors, and understand the value of navigational aids. Since moving to the town six years ago, they often accompany family and friends to the site.
“Hopefully we can raise awareness to those who destroy things like this that it really does mean a lot to other people,” she said.
Cupids is known as the oldest English settlement in Canada, having been founded by John Guy in 1610. Some have suggested the cairn was in place even before Guy landed on these shores, though it’s hard to differentiate fact from folklore.
What’s certain is that anyone trying to remove such an important piece of the town’s history won’t have an easy time.
“We’ve survived for 400-plus years, and we’re not going to let things die now,” Akerman said.
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Among those who climbed Spectacle Head in Cupids on Thursday, Aug. 23 to help restore the “American Man” rock cairn were, from left, Ross Dawe, Winston Bishop, Harold Akerman, Dean Akerman, Ron Andrews, Rob O’Brien, Peter Laracy, Sandy Newton, Vernon Whelan, Peggy Seneca, Bud Whelan, Roy Dawe, Paul Strickland and Dan Seneca. Missing from photo were Ed Hayes and Suzanne Brake.
This is the sight that greeted volunteers when they arrived at the American Man coastal cairn on Aug. 23.
Harold Akerman displays the 1975 one-cent coin he discovered in the rock cairn. At left is Dean Akerman, while Deputy Mayor Ross Dawe at right.
These three photos show the “American Man” coastal cairn in early August (top), after it had been vandalized (centre), and the finished product following a restoration effort on Aug. 23.
Cupids resident Suzanne Brake lends a hand and a smile.
This was the view from Seaforest Drive in Cupids as volunteers restored the coastal cairn atop Spectacle Head on Aug. 23.
Roy Dawe uses a heavy hammer to ensure the rocks are secured.