Abandoned cemetery in Shemogue may be one of dozens in N.B.
Saplings and alders grow up between old gravestones in forgotten cemetery
Larry Wells pushes aside alders and young poplar trees to leave the wet, muddy path. He's looking for the grave site of his great grandmother, Sarah Lowther, who was born in England in 1885, then died in New Brunswick in 1935 and was buried in the Shemogue Protestant Cemetery.
Wells says this cemetery has always been far from the beaten path, but the land used to be mature forest until it was logged a few years ago. With all the trees cleared away, nine-foot saplings and bushes are taking over, growing between what records show should be 10 grave markers. Finding gravestones among the tangle of growth is nearly impossible in this abandoned cemetery.
"I thought it was very disrespectful for someone to go in and harvest in an old cemetery," Wells said.
"Even though it's old and it wasn't kept up the best, it's a cemetery."
Wells said he started coming here almost a decade ago, and cut a path between stones a few years later. But after the land was logged in 2016, he says he hasn't been able to stay on top of the maintenance.
Eternal resting place, eternal maintenance
According to the Association of New Brunswick Cemeteries, this is only one of what may be dozens of abandoned cemeteries in the province.
Valerie Traer, the president of the association, said older cemeteries struggle with paying for maintenance year after year, especially if plots are no longer being sold and no money is coming in.
Traer is on the board of the Riverview Cemetery in Dalhousie, and she says the cemetery is more than 200 years old and "full."
"It can cost us anywhere from $3,500 to $4,000 a season to keep up mowing and trimming," Traer said.
Add to that the cost of repairing damaged and weather-worn gravestones and the costs continue to climb. Without a dedicated group of volunteers to take care of a graveyard, it can eventually fall to the wayside, and in some cases be forgotten.
Aside from a basic sign of respect, Traer said it's in the province's best interest to help fund the repair of abandoned cemeteries because they bring in tourist dollars.
"I do know that people traveled from New Brunswick to look for their ancestors, and it would be nice if there was more support to spruce up any historic cemeteries that are found abandoned and neglected," she said.
"It would be nice if there was more support for them."
According to the province, the Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, via the Heritage Conservation Act, has authority over all non-active cemeteries in New Brunswick.
There are approximately 4,000 cemeteries that are no longer offering burial plots, but the department agrees with Traer — there are likely many more undocumented, forgotten cemeteries scattered across the province.
Respecting burial grounds
How and why all the trees in and around the Shemogue Protestant Cemetery were cut is unknown, but legislation states that no one is allowed to alter or disturb a burial ground. According to the Cemetery Companies Act, if a lot in the cemetery is damaged, repairs need to be completed as soon as possible. This is supposed to be done by the company that manages or owns a cemetery, or a person responsible for a family cemetery.
Legislation stipulates no one is allowed to excavate, alter, or disturb the area, knowing that the place is a burial ground.
Service New Brunswick records show the 8.7 hectares of land the cemetery sits on was last sold in 2018.
Final resting ground
Larry Wells did some digging and found earlier records that indicate the cemetery was noted on the land deed in 1915. He thinks the information wasn't carried on in future documents, leading to the information being lost.
Although 20 minutes of searching only turned up a handful of gravestones, Wells managed to find the grave of Private Arthur McMorris who died in 1916 while serving Canada during the First World War.
Botsford Parish Cemetery Records, researched by members of the South East Genealogical Society, shows other names of people interred at the site include Amos, Avard, Briggs, Dobson, Farrow, Lowther, McMorris, Spence and Faraday.
Wells said he had an uncle from Ontario who would visit the cemetery every year, which began Wells' interest. With the site now in such disrepair, he says he'd like the province to look into who logged the cemetery and have them clean it up.
The Association of New Brunswick Cemeteries would like to see specific provisions put in place to ensure cemeteries have and protect perpetual care funds to make sure todays' cemeteries are not forgotten.