Halifax, Acknowledge Your Historic Poor!

A gentleman came walking quickly into the Sissiboo Cafe in Annapolis Royal on Sunday as I was working. “I just read about the burial ground for the Halifax Poor House in your book” he said. “The Old Burial ground is at the corner of Spring Garden and Barrington. Where, specifically, is the burial ground for the people of the Halifax Poor House?”

“At the spot where the old Halifax Library was, a former court house” I told him.

Image result for Old Library in Halifax
Thousands of bodies of inmates of the second poor house in Halifax are buried beneath the ground here and so many people do not know this as they read their books and eat their lunch here. They do not know about the people buried here as there is no marker, plaque or monument to acknowledge them. 

“And there is no plaque, stone or anything to acknowledge them?” he asked.

“Nothing” I answered.

“Okay thank you” he said and he hurried off again. I am still wondering what that was about.

So many people lie down on the grass in the summer on this very spot in the summer. They are eating their lunches, having some fries from the local french fry truck, reading a book, meeting friends, enjoying the sunshine….all the while they are doing this on top of decayed bodies of inmates from the poor house. And they have no idea. I, myself, have done exactly that. It’s macabre.

oldburialground
The Old Burial Ground on the corner of Spring Garden and Barrington Street. It receives federal funding while the poor house burial ground across the street isn’t even acknowledged.

And, unlike the Old Burial Ground across the street on Spring Garden, there is nothing to note the final resting place of the human beings who had such a difficult time in life; who did not have an inheritance, a family, money to make things easier in their lives. Just unmarked graves where an old building stands and people enjoy their lunch in the summer.

The second poor house of Halifax was on the corner of Spring Garden and Queen Streets. The Bank of Montreal has stood there for many years. The site of the poor house is outlined in red. The site of the burial grounds for the poor house inmates the corner of Brunswick and Spring Garden. Brunswick street was not there at the time of the burials. It was just part of the yard of the poor house. Screenshot (24)_LI

Historian Thomas Raddall wrote:

“There must have been many an edifying spectacle for the gentlefolk sniffing the flowers across the way. There poor house dead were buried hastily in shallow graves in the yard, and for many years there were complaints about the smell which hung over this part of Spring Garden Road”

If you live in Halifax or visit Halifax, stop by the statue of Winston Churchill. Take a moment to sit and look around you. And pay a bit of homage to the people buried underneath. They do not receive any kind of funding to maintain their graves let alone any kind of acknowledgement that they are buried there. They might have died of disease, of old age, of ill health, an accident or by the neglect of poverty. That could have so easily been us if we had been born in a different time, a different era, a different family.

Halifax, you really need to acknowledge the most vulnerable of  your citizens buried there.

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For further reading, these articles are very interesting:

The unclaimed dead beneath our streets

Poor House & Mi’kmaq Buried here