History of N.B.'s Ha Ha Cemetery goes way beyond a funny name
James Upham says it's hard to believe the quiet hillside cemetery was once 'an actual war zone'
In New Brunswick's Albert County, along Route 915, you will find a graveyard with a name that doesn't quite seem fitting for a place where the dead are laid to rest.
Between Riverside-Albert and Cape Enrage, in a community called New Horton, is the Ha Ha Cemetery.
Moncton historian and educator James Upham calls the site "a really cool spot."
"It's so cool when you have these places that catch your eye and they sort of stand out and people notice them," he said. "What is it and where does it come from?"
Upham said many have taken note of the eastern Quebec community near the New Brunswick border called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!, but this cemetery is called Ha Ha because it is next to yet another place with the same unusual name.
"This is called the Ha Ha Cemetery because it's next to the Ha Ha River or the Ha Ha Creek, and that creek runs through this marsh," Upham said from the hillside graveyard.
The call of the loons
A sign at the cemetery confirms that the farming and lumbering community sits on the edge of Ha Ha Bay which drains into Ha Ha Creek.
It goes on to explain that legend has it that Indigenous people were inspired to call the area Ha Ha "from the call of the loons," and that on calm, summer days you can hear the loons calling.
According to Tom Johnson's interactive map of New Brunswick Indigenous place names, there are two sites close to the Ha Ha Cemetery that were used as Indigenous camping grounds.
Johnson works with the non-profit Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqn Inc., representing nine New Brunswick Mi'kmaw communities.
The first site was located below what is now known as Mary's Point, and its Indigenous name was "See-bel-quitk," according to his map.
The second is labelled as the "Germantown Lake campsite" and according to Johnson's map, on the north side of the lake is "a knoll with a spring and a good beach, known to have been an old Indian camping ground of some importance."
Johnson says that campsite has been used by Indigenous people "within the memory of persons still living."
Map of New Brunswick with Indigenous place names highlights continued presence
According to a sign at The Ha Ha Baptist Cemetery, this is one of three pioneer graveyards in the area.
Upham points out that very little is known about the earliest use of the land where the Ha Ha Cemetery sits.
Even though the sign says it was established in 1800, Upham said "you tend to put people in burial grounds where there's already burial grounds."
He believes a substantial archaeological dig would be needed to determine how far back the history on the hill goes.
"And this is one of the interesting things about the Maritimes," Upham said. "If you just scratch the surface, even if you go to a spot where the rain has made some runoff happen, you scratch the surface, you start finding little bits of pottery, little pieces of glass, coins — reminders that people have been here."
Founder of Albert County buried here
The Ha Ha Baptist Cemetery is well known not just for its name. It is where John Smith, the "founder and first representative of Albert County" is buried along with two of his three wives.
Upham said the first settlers in the area were Acadian. The remains of their dikes are still visible and there is also evidence of apple trees they planted.
However it wasn't just a community of peaceful farming for those who lived here. There was a stretch of about 150 years in the 1600s and 1700s when it was "an actual war zone," Upham said.
"There was entire periods where it would have been physically dangerous for you or I to walk down that road alone in broad daylight. Which is hard to believe here."
Looking around, he points out how Albert County felt the impact of the battles between the French and English at Fort Beauséjour, which is near the border with Nova Scotia.
"There are kids who grew up here who knew what it was like when the soldiers from another country showed up and said, 'No, we're burning down your house now.' That happened here."
John Smith died in 1871 and is remembered as a "unifier," Upham said.
"When John Smith worked along with a lot of other people to coalesce the county of Albert into a unified thing, he was working with the descendants of people who saw what happened when this territory was not unified, when people fought badly over this area."
Like all of the roadside spots Upham likes to visit, the Ha Ha Cemetery has a history that goes well beyond what you might expect.
"We're standing in a place where a unifier is buried. We're also standing in a place where people have seen the results of disunity. It's the same spot," he said.
"We're in a spot where layers and layers and layers of history are on top of each other."
with files from Khalil Akhtar