It’s a little tricky to visit Windsor’s oldest surviving Protestant cemetery these days.
Construction crews are painstakingly repairing the lone crumbling staircase that leads to the Old Parish Burying Ground.
It’s a project that Troy Burgess, the Town of Windsor’s acting director of public works, said needed to get done.
“The stairs were starting to fall in. So we're doing what was dangerous, or we were scared was going to be dangerous,” said Burgess in an interview.
Coastal Restoration and Masonry Limited was contracted to do the work.
A foundation has been laid and the stones are being replaced in the same order as they appeared, Burgess said.
“They actually numbered the stones when they took them out. And then they're putting them back in in order. So it will look the same, but it will have a foundation under it so it will be stable,” he said.
Burgess said construction-wise, there have been challenges due to the cemetery’s steep banks, and what appeared to be a lot of in-fill.
Work began in early June and it’s anticipated the site will reopen soon. The cost for the restoration is in the $60,000 range, with $1,623 coming from a provincial grant, Burgess said.
He said the town would like to replace other parts of the stone wall in the coming years but there is no timeframe to get this work done.
“So what we would like to do is do parts of it at a time (and) put a foundation under it. Same as we we’re doing with the steps, so it will be there forever instead of having to come back in another 20 years and doing this again.”
The cost of doing that work has yet to be determined.
“We're not sure what our budgets are going to look like with consolidation. So there's still a lot of unknowns that way,” he said.
Kel Hancock, the West Hants Historical Society president, said there are graves dating back to the mid-1700s at the Old Parish Burying Grounds on King Street.
“The earliest known burial in the cemetery was that of Mrs. Rachel Kelly, who died on Jan. 27, 1771,” said Hancock. The majority of burials took place in the 1800s, with only a few burials in the early 1900s.
“Those would have been just people that had already planned to be buried there or wanted to be buried next to a relative.”
Hancock said he was pleased to hear the town was working on saving the entrance to the site and said it’s important to keep the cemetery in good condition to preserve this link to the past.
“It's respect for the dead,” said Hancock. “It's commemorating those people that came before us.”
The cemetery is currently overgrown with grass, with some places being tall enough to tickle one’s knees. The Town of Windsor mows the site but upkeep has been lax this summer due to the cemetery not being easily accessible for visitors.
Several headstones are bearing the age of time, weather and vandalism. Others remain standing tall, lettering intact, signalling loved ones now long forgotten.
So who is buried in Windsor’s oldest surviving Protestant cemetery?
“Some of these are relatives of people who are significant, but people around here wouldn't even know the people that were significant. Like Christie. When I see that name, I think of a former town attorney, prosecutor of George Stanley, and past grand master the Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia,” said Hancock.
But he’s not buried there — just his family members.
“Most of these guys were buried with honour in Halifax,” said Hancock, noting that most of their relatives were not buried beside them.
Such is the case of Susannah (Boutineau) Francklin, the wife of Lt. Governor Michael Francklin.
“He was a key figure in Nova Scotia history that's often overlooked,” said Hancock. “But his story was just amazing.”
Francklin, sometimes spelled without the ‘c’, arrived in Nova Scotia in 1752 and worked as a clerk in a trading post.
He was captured by the Mi'kmaq during Father Le Loutre’s War and while in captivity, learned to speak much of their language and picked up their customs.
“He remained well-respected by the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia for the rest of his life,” said Hancock.
“I personally think he was hugely significant in ensuring that the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet remained loyal to the crown during the American Revolution, because they were being courted by General Washington to rise up.”
Aside from serving in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, Francklin helped with the return of Acadians to the province and in 1779, he established the Shubenacadie reserve.
He died in 1782. His final resting place is in the crypt of St. Paul’s Church in Halifax.
As for his wife, Hancock said not much is known as the contributions of the wives have largely been lost to time.
“As it stands with wives back then we'll (likely) never know because they didn't talk about anything that they did,” said Hancock.
She died in 1816 at 75 years of age.
Louisa Neville Haliburton, who died in 1841, is best known for being the first wife of Thomas Chandler Haliburton — a famed writer, judge, lawyer and politician. She is also buried in Windsor. She has been described as an accomplished gardener who helped in the creation of fruit and flower gardens around their Clifton House estate in Windsor. Her husband, who was born in Windsor in 1796, died in 1865 in Islesworth, United Kingdom.
There are more than 40 known graves of children who lived to be less than one year of age buried at the site. The earliest record the Journal could locate was that of James H. McLatchy, who died at six days old in 1839. Eliza Lavers, born in 1816, survived for seven days.
Some families were hard hit with losses, including that of T.S. and Susan Harding, who, in 1855, lost three children within two months. Jeanette A. Harding died at three years old on July 22, 1855, while her brothers, John G., who was eight years, and Lewis E., who was nine months, passed away on different days in August.
The society has a list of all known graves. However, Hancock says there are likely many others buried at the site — and nearby — that don’t have markers.
“It's believed that there have been slightly more than 4,000 burials in Windsor's old parish burial grounds,” said Hancock, noting many of these graves were lost to time, and have had buildings erected over top.
“Some of the graves were never marked and the markers on some have disintegrated or disappeared,” he said.
Two Anglican chapels stood on the site. The first one was built in 1771, which was later moved to College Road. It still stands today, across from the entrance to King’s-Edgehill School.
A second chapel was built in 1788 but was destroyed by fire in 1892.
SOME NAMES OF NOTE
• Rev. William Cochran; 1833 (76 or 77 years of age) — Headmaster of King’s College from 1790-1803; from Northern Ireland; married Rebecca Cuppaidge Cochran and had four children
• Isaac Deschamps — Canadian judge and politician; participated in the Bay of Fundy Campaign to remove Acadians
• James DeWolfe Fraser; 1852 (47 years of age) — Barrister at law
• John Fraser; unknown (60 years of age) — Surgeon of His Majesty’s Royal Nova Scotia Fencibles
• John Manuel Hensley; 1876 (43 years of age) — Vice principal and professor of pastoral theology at Kings College
• Henry How; 1879 (52 years of age) — Vice principal of King’s College, professor of chemistry and natural history
• James Irone; 1858 (73 years of age) — Barrack sergeant at Fort Edward
• Rev. William Colsell King; 1858 (86 years of age) — Was sponsored by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel of London, United Kingdom, to come to Nova Scotia for missionary work; served as a minister for several decades; served as principal of King’s College for 10 years
• George McCawley; 1878 (76 years of age) — Reverend; was a former principal at King’s College
• Neil McGeachy; 1805 (unknown age) — From Argyllshire, Scotland; perished at sea
• John McKay; 1826 (48 years of age) — Captain in the 27th Regiment of Foot
• F. J. Parker; 1861 (33 years of age) — Physician
• Francis Carter Pike; 1848 (64 years of age) — Surgeon of Hampshire, Great Britain
• Thomas Edward Robinson, Esq.; 1869 (39 years of age) — Born in England; was a contractor for the Windsor and Annapolis Railway
• Albert Trider; 1871 (18 years of age) — Accidentally killed on the Windsor branch of the railway
• Lewis M. Wilkins; 1848 (78 years of age) — United Empire Loyalist; served as a judge in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia
• Other prominent Windsor families include the DeWolfes, the Dills, the Dimocks, the Kilcups, the Kings, the Hunters, the Smiths, the Tonges, and the Wileys.
IF YOU GO
What: Old Parish Burying Ground, founded in 1771
Where: Across from Maplewood Cemetery (in the 1100-1200 block of King Street), in Windsor.