The province of Ontario is asking descendants of people buried in a forgotten cemetery near Elgin and Queen Streets in Ottawa to come forward to determine what should be done with their remains.

Human remains and casket material were discovered on Sept. 19 last year under Queen Street during preparation work for the city’s light-rail transit tunnel. The discovery stopped work on the LRT there.

The province informed the public of its intentions in a notice in newspapers last week.

"The individuals buried at the Barrack Hill Cemetery lived alongside the founders of the nation's capital, were its earliest inhabitants and some of them possibly helped build the Rideau Canal. Accordingly, these grounds can be considered to be of great historical and archaeological significance," the notice read.

ByTown Museum map of Ottawa

The cemetery appears in the bottom right of this 1842 ByTown site plan. (Courtesy: ByTown Museum)

Until 1828, the bodies of those who died in what was then known as Bytown were ferried across the River and buried in Hull, according to historian Alexander Herbert Douglas Ross in his 1927 book Ottawa Past and Present.

But that year so many canal workers died a 50 x 50 metre cemetery — called the Barrack Hill Cemetery — was cleared near what is now Elgin and Queen.

Michael D'Mello, Ontario's Registrar of Cemeteries, said the remains of Prostestants, Anglicans, Catholics and later, some Methodists could be there.

If descendants can't agree on what to do, the question goes to an arbitrator, said D'Mello.

If no family comes forward, the work falls to a minister who will oversee their respectful re-interment at an existing Ottawa graveyard.

Glen Shackleton, who runs Haunted Walks Ottawa, has researched the cemetery. Shackleton said when it became full, sometime in 1845, families were permitted to take the bodies to newer Sandy Hill graveyards.

"I suspect that many of the wealthiest members would have been moved… even at the time they knew they were leaving bodies behind. There was just no money to move them," said Shackleton.

People whose ancestors are buried at the site must contact the registrar by March 21.