Mary McCarthy wants people to know about the Wheary graveyard near Fredericton and other black graveyards in the area that are being forgotten by time and history.

Bushes and trees have overgrown the handful of graves and the iron gate that surrounds the burial site is crooked and rusted.​

'The stones of this era tell a bit of a story.' - Mary McCarthy, New Brunswick Black History Society

"The stones of this era tell a bit of a story," said McCarthy as she walked through the Wheary graveyard in Keswick.

"I believe they're telling a little summary of their lives. What's unfortunate is that we can't read all the writing because of the deterioration of the stone."

The Wheary graveyard is the final resting place of some of the early black New Brunswickers in the area. The family lines of black settlers died out, or their descendants moved away long ago.

hi-mary-mccarthy

Mary McCarthy looks over some of the graves in the Wheary graveyard in Keswick (Lauren Bird/CBC)

The 22-plot graveyard sits on the edge of private property in Keswick. Most of the gravestones are more than 100 years old and hardly visible through the brush and some have started to decay.

In the summer, McCarthy recruited a small crew of people to fix up the graveyard by cutting branches and raking leaves, but it is now overgrown once again.

McCarthy is the president of the New Brunswick Black History Society. She hopes that by preserving the graves and fixing up the cemetery some of that history could also be preserved. 

"I want to tell their stories because my ancestors weren't sitting in Parliament creating history," she said. "History was recorded by the people who could record history… I want to challenge that."

The Wheary graveyard isn't alone in being forgotten by time and history. There are other black burial sites around Fredericton that were in similar a state.

hi-mary-louise-mccarthy

Mary Louise McCarthy is president of the New Brunswick Black History Society. (CBC)

The Dymond Graveyard in Mactacquac Heights was only discovered when the land around it was developed in the 1990s. Now it's cared for by neighbours, as is another graveyard that was in disrepair — the Kingsclear Kilburn Community Cemetery off the old Trans-Canada highway — it has been taken care of by people who live near it for more than a decade.

But the stories of the people buried there are harder to maintain. 

Rev. Ross Hebb has done a lot of research into the black graveyards in the area.

He's the priest at St. Peter's Anglican Church on Woodstock Road. Its cemetery is rare in that it was integrated from its beginning in the 1800s.

Hebb has sifted through maps and baptismal records to try and reclaim some of that history.

'The trouble with the Wheary graveyard is that the original community no longer exists.' - Rev. Ross Hebb

"The trouble with the Wheary graveyard is that the original community no longer exists," he said.

"In some ways the Wheary graveyard is fortunate now in that it now has people who are aware of its presence and are interested in its upkeep."

To do that, McCarthy hopes to inspire people to find a connection to the graveyard and those who are buried there.

"I think it's the fact that this is our history. We live and we hope to do good things … our death is the most respectful way to honour what we've done in our life.

"There's something to be said for perpetual care." 

hi-wheary-grave

A crew cleaned the Wheary graveyard of brush in the summer but it has already overgrown. (Lauren Bird/CBC)