Built on History – Old Cemeteries

A memorial stone erected by the caring people of Yarmouth County to the inmates of the Arcadia Poor House who lie in unmarked graves.  The City of Halifax should take note and erect a similar memorial to those buried in the unmarked graves in the pottersfield of Grafton, Brunswick and Spring Garden Road, city of Halifax.

This morning I woke up to an email with a CBC link to a story about all the old cemeteries in Halifax that have been built over. Recently, the Halifax City Council voted to save the unmarked cemetery of the former Halifax Poor House on the corners of Grafton, Brunswick and Spring Garden Road.

This wonderful article is here – Thousands of people are buried under downtown Halifax. What are they owed?

But there are many more unmarked cemeteries in and around Halifax and not just of the settlers/colonials. When building for one of the early hospitals in the area that became known as the Cogswell exchange around the area of the Scotia Square building, it was recorded the settlers unearthed the grave of a Mi’kmaq man. He had been buried with some identifiers of his status.

Many communities have property development built over it, moved the cemetary,  lost records of those buried there, or even moved graves. Here in my area of Annapolis Royal,  Amberzine Lewis the granddaughter of Rose Fortune,  had her grave moved when a driveway for the old court house was put in place.  Amberzine, (and we believe her grandmother Rose Fortune) was buried in the Garrison Graveyard in Annapolis Royal in the ‘Black Section”.  When I was doing research on the grave of Rose Fortune, I was not only surprised to find that the Garrison Graveyard had a ‘Black Section”, I was also surprised to find that most current historic researchers in the area did not know this either. We had to refer back to old books and records to find that there was segregation of African Nova Scotians even in this graveyard.

You can read about the Garrison Graveyard on this fabulous webite Map Annapolis.

The Old Garrison Graveyard was segregated with a “Black Section”. This was news to many current historical researchers.  Photo courtesy of The Annapolis Royal Graveyard Tour

Most poor houses did not mark the graves of those inmates in their institutions when they died. They simply did not have the money to mark the graves and, instead, buried them in sections of old fields and by stone walls. The poor masters needed to spend the money on the living, not the dead, it was argued.  And some communities did not want the poor in their graveyards and cemetaries as they equated poverty with personal failures on the part of the poor.

This subject continues to fascinate many of us. The attitudes toward the poor, the treatment of the poor, our ancestors who were poor. And many of us want to honour those who had such a difficult time in life who went before us. How do we do this as development continues to move on those who went before us and now lie in known areas but unmarked graves? It continues to be a discussion between those who revere history and those who revere ‘progress’.

Trepassing the Arcadia Poor House Cemetery

The Arcadia Poor House cemetary, located at the end of the runway at the Yarmouth Airport. I climbed over three fences with these signs on them to get to the graveyard of the poor house inmates in 2017.

Looking for your School Teacher Ancestor?



Happy Heritage Day today Everyone. I’m celebrating by heading off with my History Nerd Friends Kent, Denise and Wilber (Willard!) today to the Admiral Digby Museum to hear a talk about Brinley Town, the original settlement of the Black Loyalists in what was then Annapolis County. It was located just outside of the town of Digby. The town lost nearly 75% of it’s inhabitants when the exodus to Sierra Leone happened in 1792. The remaining citizens expanded out into what became known as Jordanville and Acacia in what is now known as Digby County. When the province put the 101 highway through to Yarmouth in 1993, they cut right through this historic community. This is what is known as the geography of racism and environmental racism. You can still see the where the 101 Highway cut through the community today, nearly 30 years later. It is astounding that they would do that to a community.

Today I am putting up a post that is not so much about poor houses as poor school districts. And I hope I am not violating any copyrights today or annoying any other organizations. My apologies again. I am posting a link, however, to documents that are 100+ years old and are shared online so I believe I am safe. I like to share history….apparently too much. 🙂

I also like to tackle history that has not been recorded as evidenced by my book about Poor Houses in Nova Scotia. When seeking unrecorded history, I look for what I call ‘puzzle pieces” that I put together to show the whole picture of the unrecorded history. These puzzle pieces are little jewels that, brought together,  make a beautiful piece of jewellry.

Lately I have been working on a piece about Birch Town, Annapolis County. Yes, Annapolis County had a Birch Town that was not nearly as famous or as old or historically significant as the Birchtown of Shelburne County. It was, however, historically significant to those who ancestors lived there and to Annapolis County as there has been very little written about the predominantly African Nova Scotian settlement. It is a piece of history that has disappeared…until you put the puzzle pieces, the little jewels, together.

One of the jewels I discovered was the School Records for Nova Scotia. These records often have little astericks (*) beside the school districts to indicate a “poor district” where a school was located. Not surprisingly, the astericks often show up next to an area where a poor house was located and in communities of African Nova Scotians as our culture of colonization kept both First Nations and African Nova Scotians locked in a grid of racism and poverty.

For those of you seeking the jewels, the puzzle pieces, these online documents may be very helpful to you. Not only are towns, hamlets, settlements and school districts named but also they contain the names of school teachers in many of the areas and, occasionally, some of the names of students.

Journals of Nova Scotia Education 1880-1920




The Halifax Poor House Dead are safe…for now.

This morning a friend of mine tagged me on a Facebook post by Heritage Nova Scotia. It read:

HRM Council voted today to designate the Memorial Library, thus protecting it and the burial grounds on which it sits. Thanks are due to all those who worked to safeguard this historic site.

As many of you readers already know, the second Halifax Poor House, which was situated on the corner of Queen and Spring Garden Road, (across from the new Halifax Library) used the land on which the old Halifax Library sits (corner of Grafton and Spring Garden) as the ‘pottersfield’ in which to bury the bodies of ‘inmates’ of the poor house. Those who died in the poor house were buried in unmarked graves, layered in the ground. Because the town of Halifax was trying to save money, the bodies were not only layered, their graves were very shallow (we don’t want to pay the grave diggers too much!) and the spring frosts would often heave the bodies out of the ground. The stench was awful. People complained. More dirt was brought in to cover up the bodies. This pottersfield was used to bury the poor until the 1860s when the Halifax Poor House was moved to the corner of Inglis and Robie (the current site of the Issac Walton Children’s Hospital – the IWK) and the poor were then buried in unmarked graves at the Camp Hill Hospital Cemetary on Robie Street.

After the 1860s, the pottersfield was turned into “Grafton Park” and in the 1950s, the Halifax Library was established there. It is a lovely place to sit in the summer, enjoying the summer sun, reading a book, talking with friends. I have done it many, many times myself when I lived in the Halifax/Dartmouth area. I had no idea I was eating my Bud’s Spuds fries, working on my university papers,  and reading my books on a burial ground.

The work of many people to bring attention to this burial ground of the poor has brought about this progressive decision by the City of Halifax council to preserve the land and, perhaps, even acknowledge the dead who are buried there. Let us hope that we don’t have to fight this battle again in another 10, 20 or 50 years from now.

An excellent podcast was done by two students last November and is located HERE. I highly recommend listening to it to get a very good background and history of the second Halifax Poor House and the burial ground of those who suffered not only in life, but also in death.

Acadian Recorded, April 1853 One of the rare Notices of Death at the Halifax Poor Asylum. Dennis Morrisey is likely one of the thousands of unmarked graves of people who are buried at the old Halifax Library grounds.