Gone and forgotten: The history buried in Nova Scotia’s abandoned cemeteries

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The lone people of “Baby’s” clip connected Earth is simply a tombstone with a rabbit engraving, dilatory being swallowed by the wilds of Nova Scotia implicit much than a century.

Even that whitethorn person been mislaid had Steve Skafte not scoured the unruly fields of Plympton, Digby County, to find the Hardscratch burial crushed guarded down a rusty gate.

He chopped done the thicket of conifer trees, swept speech the broad of deadfall and brushed disconnected the moss shrouding the rickety cairn.

After clearing the country for aboriginal visitors, Skafte posted photos and GPS co-ordinates of the graves to Abandoned Cemeteries of Nova Scotia, a Facebook radical devoted to chronicling orphaned burial grounds.

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The gone and forgotten dice twice, said Skafte – erstwhile successful life, past again successful memory. In that sense, helium said, the project’s ngo is to resurrect these crumbling monuments to Nova Scotia’s history.

“It’s similar a archetypal measurement to marque definite it doesn’t disappear,” said Skafte, a writer and lensman based successful Bridgetown. “We’ll marque definite that if idiosyncratic comes on years later, and they’re each successful worse authorities than I adjacent recovered them, they’ll ne'er beryllium mislaid again.”

In the past year, Abandoned Cemeteries of Nova Scotia has charted astir 100 burial sites scattered crossed the province, from the acold reaches of Cape Breton to Skafte’s stomping grounds successful Annapolis Valley, which has truthful galore plots helium refers to it arsenic “the dormant centre.”

A cemetery is considered “abandoned” if it doesn’t person regular maintenance, but the overgrowth connected galore sites is truthful impenetrable that Skafte presumes they haven’t been touched successful decades.

The graveyards thin to beryllium tucked distant successful tangled woods, connected precarious hilltops oregon on the edges of untended fields, helium said. Some tombstones day backmost to the 18th century, and galore person shattered oregon sunk into the ungraded arsenic the coffins beneath them rotted and collapsed.

Mass rural-to-urban migration has depopulated overmuch of Nova Scotia’s countryside, reducing immoderate communities to shade towns and leaving the departed without adjacent descendants to support their last resting places.

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But arsenic genealogy has emerged arsenic a fashionable online pastime, galore of Abandoned Cemeteries of Nova Scotia’s astir 6,300 members are looking to reclaim these ancestral ties.

Ashley Conrad of Cole Harbour joined the radical successful hopes of learning much astir her household history, and was amazed to observe that immoderate of her forebears were buried successful a wooded crippled she’d driven past hundreds of times.

Conrad followed a secluded way to Lawlors Point Cemetery to wage her respects to Clara Maud Giles, her archetypal relative 4 times removed.

“It was conscionable benignant of bully to find a consciousness of belonging,” she said. “If I were dormant for similar 300 years, I’d emotion for idiosyncratic to travel and sojourn maine and to beryllium remembered.”

 'Downtown Dartmouth Heritage Conservation District' 6:05 Downtown Dartmouth Heritage Conservation District

Downtown Dartmouth Heritage Conservation District – Oct 27, 2020

For Skafte, whose familial roots prevarication successful Ontario, the allure of abandoned cemeteries is little astir self-discovery but alternatively uncovering the memories of generations past.

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Sometimes he’ll beryllium capable to glean a fewer details astir the dormant done obituaries oregon folklore. But much often that not, each helium knows astir the radical who are buried are the fading names and dates inscribed connected the markers.

But Skafte said each clip helium unearths a tombstone, helium feels a consciousness of transportation that seems to illness time.

“All the brushwood you find, it’s successful the mode of the history,” said Skafte. “As soon arsenic you peel that back, it feels similar you’re astir close erstwhile it happened.”

Graveyards incorporate troves of accusation astir the ways radical lived, said historiographer Allan Marble, whose efforts to catalogue and conserve Nova Scotia’s abandoned cemeteries helped enshrine the extortion of these sites nether provincial law.

In immoderate ways, Skafte’s Facebook radical is simply a crowdsourced hold of the probe Marble started astir 50 years agone erstwhile helium acceptable retired to survey cemeteries successful Annapolis Valley and Colchester County.

The retired Dalhousie University prof said these tombstones provided captious insights into Nova Scotia’s history.

Dates of decease shed airy connected the severity of epidemics centuries ago. Graves marked by numbers alternatively of names exemplified the mistreatment of the poor. Prejudices determined wherever the dormant were buried, segregating cemeteries by contention and religion.

“Gravestone inscriptions are benignant of similar an outdoor room connected people’s lives,” said Marble. “Abandoned cemeteries whitethorn go wholly lost, and that accusation becomes lost.”

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This study by The Canadian Press was archetypal published Oct. 24, 2021.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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