Nova Scotia Journal

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The history of abandoned cemeteries in Nova Scotia

abandoned cemeteries

The only mark of “Baby’s” life on Earth is a rabbit-engraved tombstone that the wilds of Nova Scotia have quietly consumed during the past century.

Even that may have been lost if Steve Skafte hadn’t scoured the untamed fields of Plympton, Digby County, searching for the Hardscratch burial place, which was guarded by a rusty gate.

He ripped through the pines, swept away the deadfall, and brushed away the moss that had engulfed the shaky cairn. Skafte shared images and GPS coordinates of the graves to Abandoned Cemeteries of Nova Scotia, a Facebook group devoted to recording orphaned burial grounds, after clearing the area for future visits.

According to Skafte, the gone and forgotten to die twice: once in life and again in remembrance. In that sense, he said, the project’s goal is to resurrect these crumbling historical monuments in Nova Scotia.

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“It’s like a 1st step to make sure it doesn’t disappear,” said Skafte, a Bridgetown-based writer and photographer. “We’ll make sure they’re never lost again if someone comes along years later and finds them in even worse form than I found them.”

Abandoned Cemeteries of Nova Scotia have recorded approximately 100 burial sites around the province in the last year, from the farthest ends of Cape Breton to Skafte’s usual neighborhoods in the Annapolis Valley, which contains so many plots that he refers to it as “the dead core.”

If a cemetery isn’t maintained regularly, it’s regarded as “abandoned,” but the overgrowth on many sites is so thick that Skafte assumes they haven’t been touched in decades.

He described the graveyards as being tucked away in tangled woods, perched on precarious hilltops, or the edge of untended fields. Many of the tombstones date from the 18th century and have shattered or sank into the Earth as the coffins underneath them rusted and crumbled.

Large-scale rural-to-urban migration has depopulated parts of Nova Scotia’s countryside, turning some villages into ghost towns and leaving the gone without progeny to care for their final resting places.

Skafte’s Facebook group is, in some ways, a crowdsourced extension of Marble’s research, which began roughly 50 years ago when he went out to examine graves in Annapolis Valley and Colchester County. According to the retired Dalhousie University professor, these tombstones provided crucial insights into Nova Scotia’s past.

Death dates revealed the severity of epidemics centuries ago. Graves represented the mistreatment of the poor with numbers instead of names. Prejudices dictated where the deceased were interred, with cemeteries racially segregated and religious.

Source: CTV News

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