St Paul's Cemetery, Halifax
It is no secret here on Virtual Tourist that I have a great and hopefully not morbid intererest in cemeteries, churchyards, graveyards, burying grounds or whatever you care to call them. No surprise then that when I spied the Old Burying Ground (also known as St. Paul's Church Cemetery for the place of worship just across the road) that I was straight into it for a look round.
Despite it being early July and therefore tourist season, I had the place to myself save for two young people in a sort of semi-casual uniform of polo shirts etc. who greeted me in the friendly manner I have come to associate with Canadians and told me to help myself to a look round. They further offered to try to assist if I had any specific questions about any of the graves here or the history of the place itself. Kind as their offer was it was not necessary as the signage here is both extensive and comprehensive. After having read a few of the explanatory panels I began to explore the ground where approximately 12,000 souls have taken their final rest.
What an absolute delight it was for a graveyard afficionado like myself, it was a complete treasure trove of unusual things, various styles of memorials apparently laid out in a more or less random fashion typical of the time it was in use. So when was it in use then? Here is a potted history although I do recommend the attached website for an excellent and comprehensive history.
The Burying Ground was opened in 1749 just outside the defensive structure that protected the relatively new settlement of Halifax in what were turbulent times. It was soon pressed into strenuous service by a typhoid epidemic of 1749 - 1750 which must have been a grevious loss for a relatively small community as it claimed about 1,000 lives. Indeed, such was the pressure on the available space that it was more than doubled in size in 1762. Interestingly the burial ground was always non-denominational and persons of many faiths lie adjacent in the now rather pleasant park, for that is what it effectively is nowadays.
In the early days there was an interesting anomaly here. The Church of St. Paul's were responsible for recording the deaths of those interred here but they were not allowed to collect burial fees as the land was Crown owned. This situation was rectified in 1793 when the Crown granted land title to the Church thereby allowing them to collect monies for their work and the ground continued to be used until 1844 when it was closed to further interments, a new "rural" burying ground having been established further from the city in keeping with funerary practices of the period.
The history of the site is not quite over yet though. In 1860 the huge George Laing monument which dominates the entire site was dedicated to the memory of Major Augustus Welsford of the 97th Regiment of Foot, and Captain William Parker of the 77th Regiment of Foot. Although both Nova Scotians they had fought for the British in the Crimean War and both perished in the action at the Redan in Sebastopol. It is rather impressive and if you are interested the lion which tops it is a whopping twelve tons. I have no idea how they got that up there without heavy mechanical equipment, it was some feat.
Whilst Welsford and Parker obviously dominate the place purely by the size of the monument, there are many, many more military and naval headstones to be discovered here reflecting the martial and often turbulent nature of Halifax over the centuries. Do not, however, run away with the idea that this is merely a military place, it is not. There are a regrettable amount of graves of children here which I suppose reflects the harsh conditions of early settler life in the "New World".
Perhaps the "star attraction" is the grave of Major-General Robert Ross who coincidentally happens to be a native of my fairly small country of Northern Ireland, having been born at Rostrevor in Co. Down in 1766. I wonder how many American readers will realise the (obviously inadvertent) contribution to their national heritage this man made albeit that he was an enemy. Allow me to explain for those that do not know about it.
Ross was basically the commander of all British forces in North America during the 1812 war between Britain and the "Americans". A veteran of Egypt and the Napoleonic Wars amongst other things, he was certainly no stranger to military action and had been seriously wounded in the neck at the Battle of Orthes. Recovering from his wounds, he was sent to "the Americas" where he took a raiding force to Bladensburg before marching on Washington (the only time a foreign force has ever done so). In acts of fairly wanton destruction and supposedly in retaliation for similar American raids into what is now Canada, which was controlled by the British, he torched various strategic buildings there including the home of the President. The building was so badly smoke and soot damaged that it had to be repainted - white. Do you see where I am going here? That is why President Obama and many before hime live or have lived in the White House.
Also during the same action a chap called Francis Scott Key was watching the glow of the many fires over Washington and was moved to write the following (and a lot more beside).
"Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
Yes, the American national anthem.
The rockets referred to were actually a new form of munitions (Congreve rockets) that the Americans had never been subjected to before. Ross was killed by either one or two sharpshooters whilst leading his troops into further battle. His body was embalmed in 129 gallons (586 litres) of Jamaican rum and returned to Halifax for burial. Now that is the way to go! He was eventually buried with full military honours on 29 September 1814.
Certainly, Ross is probably the most famous interment here but I find other less grand memorials equally fascinating like William Newel, soldier of the Rifle Brigade, who died in 1826 aged just 19 and with the lovely inscription on his stone, "A native of Ireland who lived beloved and died lamented". Wouldn't you just love to know what that story was, like all the other stories here. I suspect this is why graveyards fascinate me so much, each stone is just a story waiting to be told if you could ever find out what the story was.
If you want another more upscale monument to have a look at then you could try and seek out the stone to Erasmus James Philipps, a Major in the 40th Regiment of Foot, who was the Grand Master of the first Freemasonic Grand Lodge in Nova Scotia. I have mentioned elsewhere on my tips the great influence that the Freemasons appear to have in this part of the country and this is an interesting thing to see. The stone obviously is much later and was only dedicated in 1938 but it is still worth a look.
Sadly, time, vandalism, pollution, neglect, lack of funds and various other factors took toll and by the 1980's this lovely place was basically a mess of weeds and crumbling stonework. To their great credit various agancies (local, Provincial and national government as well as corporate and private donors) took the matter in hand and the Burying Ground was declared "a Municipal Heritage site in 1986, a Provincial Heritage Property in 1988, and a National Historic Site in 1991 - the first graveyard in Canada to receive such a designation" (this quote from the website). I have to say, it looks very well today and it would have been a disgrace to have let it fall into decrepitude.
I hope I have given you a flavour of this hugely interesting and now aesthetically pleasing place and I do highly recommend that you visit it if you have even the slightest interest in such things as I have mentioned.
St. Paul's Anglican Church is located in the heart of downtown Halifax; opposite City Hall at the south end of the Grand Parade.
The building that dates from 1750 is the oldest still-standing Anglican church in Canada.
Sunday services: 9AM and 11AM.
St. Paul's Anglican church, on the Grand parade, is the oldest church in Halifax and the oldest protestant church in Canada. It was built the year Halifax was founded, 1749. The building of course has been upgraded and changed a bit over the years but there are still services held in it on Sundays. It's open to the public as well.
The Old Burying Ground is the oldest cemetery of Halifax dated from 1749 and was in active servive for 95 years. Some 12,000 people were buried here although only about a thousand stones are actually at the spot.
In 1855, the Sebastopol memorial was erected at the entrance to honour two local men, Major A.F. Welsford and Captain William Parker, both killed in the Crimean War.
Old St. Paul's Cemetery was founded in 1749, the same year the city of Halifax was founded, and is therefore the province's first official burial ground. Over the years, some 12,000 people were buried there, even though there only are about 1,200 headstones (so about 10%) marking people's graves in the cemetery, the main reason being that many were buried without headstones, the other reason being that after the last burial, which took place in 1843, the burying ground slowly fell into disrepair, until the Old Burying Ground Foundation undertook the rather grueling task of restoring the cemetery. They did an awesome job, turning the grounds into a lovely, quiet park. There's also a sign near the entrance where all of the headstones that have been identified are clearly marked, so that people doing genealogical research can easily find their ancestors.
St. Paul's church is the oldest Protestant church in the country and the oldest building in Halifax. Erected under King George II in 1750, shortly after the city was founded, the church's architectural plans were based on those of St. Peter's Church in London, England. During summer, free guided tours of the church are offered and our guide was so great, he made sure to include some details he knew would be interesting for kids, and he also offered to give us the tour in French, which he spoke quite well. A truly beautiful building, with a rich history!
In use from 1749 to 1843, the old Burying Ground (St. Paul's Cemetery) was one of the highlights of my trip to Halifax.
It was a dark day when we visited and a crow cawed as we entered through the gates into the empty cemetery. My brother and I both got a chill at the sound effects.
Interpretive signs highlight graves of historical significance. Take the time to read many of them, they tell sad stories. Some of the stones are so worn you can only read them by getting down and looking at a sideways angle.
Many of the deceased were only a few months old. I remember one grave that told the story of a four-year old girl who died, her father died at 33 four months later, and his baby (which had been born after his death) died the next year. Very sad stories, it gives a glimpse of what life must have been like in the late 1700s.
Open to the public but grave rubbings (with paper and charcoal) is not allowed.
See my Halifax Travelogues for more photos of the Old Burying Ground.
In St. Paul's cemetery, you'll find the resting place for the 1st residents of Halifax . The Old Burying Ground refers to the "acre of sleep" within the cemetery. For a number of reasons I liked this place--it has interpretive signs explaining the history of the grounds and some of the people buried here. Most of all, for lying in the middle of a city, it's in remarkable shape. I saw no litter and nothing was defaced.
St Paul's Cemetery was my favorite sight in town though it was closed due to extensive damage by Hurricane Juan. There were many trees fallen over and I guess it might have been dangerous to wander around in this situation. From outside, it was one of the more scenic cemeteries I have seen in North America, with great old headstones from a bygone era. Aptly named, The Old Burying Ground, it is likely the oldest graveyard in the Martimes.
This is the oldest Protestant church in Canada. It was founded in June 1749 and its burial vault holds the remains of many illustrious British colonials of the period. Perhaps most interesting is the piece of wood embedded from the Halifax Explosion of 1917. I was there on Sunday and was able to enter the Church but could not take the tour.
The piece of ship embedded in the ground (shown in the picture) was also from the Halifax Explosion and ended up far across town.
On Barrington street across from the Government House is Halifax's oldest cemetery, founded in 1749.