Old Burying Ground Foundation

The Old Burying Ground National Historic Site - Provincial and Municipal Registered Heritage Property


Updated December 27, 2011
The mid 19th Century Restoration

"Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, the burying of the dead was treated as an unpleasant necessity, to be avoided as much as possible by the living." [9] "On the assumption that the grounds were inexhaustible repositories, the graves were dug wherever space permitted, without recourse to any guiding plans. Under such conditions they quickly became overcrowded and ill maintained. The ground surfaces that remained were often incapable of supporting any vegetation other than weeds and wild grasses. The problem was compounded at the end of the 18th century by the rapid rise of the urban population, which put an intolerable strain on the burying grounds. It is at this time, therefore, that murmurs of objection to the unsavoury state of affairs began to be heard. By the second decade of the 19th century, these had grown into a major reform movement. Driven by changing attitudes towards death and burial, and not least by a healthy fear of contagious disease, the campaign led in the 1830s and 1840s to the development of the first romantically landscaped "rural" cemeteries." [10]

As the description in Thomas Haliburton's satire The Clockmaker reveals, "the Old Burying Ground in Halifax did not escape the notice of the reform movement:
You know where Governor Campbell lives, don't you, in a large stone house with a great wall around it, that looks like a state prison, well, near hand there is a nasty dirty horrid lookin' buryin' ground there - it's filled with large grave rats as big as kittens, and the springs of black water there, go through the chinks of the rocks and flow into all the wells and fairly pyson the folks - it's a dismal place, I tell you." [11]
In the summer of 1844 the Old Burying Ground ceased to function as a cemetery. Camp Hill on the western edge of the town became Halifax's new "rural" cemetery.

In 1860, the decision to erect the very large Welsford-Parker Monument in the Old Burying Ground coincided with the Halifax City Council's undertaking an improvement of the grounds. The eight foot high perimeter wall was removed and replaced by a low wall and a decorative iron fence. Two gravel paths were laid out and some of the present plant material dates from this period. The entrance was changed to Barrington Street immediately in front of the Welsford-Parker Monument. The emphasis given to the open entrance underscored the new role of the burying ground as urban green space. [12]

The 1980s Restoration

By 1980, the Old Burying Ground and the Welsford-Parker Monument were in a state of rapidly accelerating deterioration, suffering from the ravages of time, urban pollution, neglect and vandalism. The grass untended, paths overgrown, litter and debris scattered over the site was in striking contrast to the renewed elegance of Barrington Street, the fine old buildings and churches in the area.

In 1984 a complete inventory was taken, revealing the degree of the work that was necessary. As St. Paul's Church had neither the means nor the manpower to undertake such a restoration project, the Old Burying Ground Foundation was established in 1987. Its objective: to raise $795,000. A lead gift of $250,000 from the Province, and a pledge of $25,000 from St. Paul's provided the seed money.

Between 1989 and 1995 an extensive restoration was carried out, consisting of repair and straightening of stones, rebuilding of the Welsford-Parker Monument and sections of the historic stone walls and iron fence, culminating in 2000 with new cast metal gates in keeping with the original circa 1860 design.

The Present Restoration

In 2008 a detailed stone by stone survey and assessment of the condition of 1310 gravestones in the Old Burying Ground, National Historic Site of Canada, was performed by Heather Lawson, Restoration and Consultant Stone Mason, resulting in a comprehensive report and recommendations for a "reasoned, prioritized restoration effort" to ensure long term protection and preservation of the stones. The assessment has led to a three phase project costing approximately $160,000 to be spread over several years.

Phase One, which was divided into three segments, will be completed in January 2012. Phase Two site work is scheduled for the period May 2012 - January 2013. The Foundation hopes that Phase Three will follow closely behind Phase Two in the spring of 2013.

Timely completion of the three phases of the project will have a stabilizing effect and make future conservation and preventive maintenance efforts more efficient and manageable.

The Foundation has been generously supported by Parks Canada grants, the Province of Nova Scotia, Halifax Community Heritage Grant, the Halifax Foundation, corporations and individual donors.


[9] Stanley French, "The Cemetery as Cultural Institution: The Establishment of Mount Auburn and the 'Rural Cemetery' Movement", American Quarterly, Volume 26, No. 1, 1974

[10] Adell, Agenda Paper: The Old Burying Ground, Halifax, Nova Scotia

[11] ibid, quoting Deborah Trask, Life How Short Eternity How Long: Gravestone Carving and Carvers in Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Communications Information Centre, 1978

[12] Susan Buggey, Building Halifax, 1841 - 1871, Acadiensis - Volume 10, No. 1 Autumn 1980, pp. 90 - 112

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