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.

ed­i­tor@ cb­n­com­pass. ca

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

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.

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

This is the sight that greeted vol­un­teers when they ar­rived at the Amer­i­can Man coastal cairn on Aug. 23.

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

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.

Pho­tos sub­mit­ted by Sandy New­ton

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.

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

This was the view from Seafor­est Drive in Cupids as vol­un­teers re­stored the coastal cairn atop Spec­ta­cle Head on Aug. 23.

Photo by Terry Roberts/the Com­pass

Roy Dawe uses a heavy ham­mer to en­sure the rocks are se­cured.

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