Skeletal remains found in Saint John may be connected to old TB hospital, say police

Saint John police are investigating after skeletal remains were discovered on the old Willett Foods property on the city's east side on Monday.

Local historian believes bones found in east Saint John more likely connected to former almshouse

The former Saint John Tuberculosis Hospital on Bayside Drive, circa 1950. (New Brunswick Museum/Louis Merritt Harrison Collection)

Saint John police are investigating after skeletal remains were discovered on the old Willett Foods property on the city's east side on Monday.

Gulf Operators was doing some excavating on the Willett Avenue property, now owned by Irving Oil, when the bones were found, said Insp. Tanya LeBlanc of the criminal investigation division.

The bones were loose and "quite deteriorated," she said. "They appeared to have been there for quite some time."

Based on consultation with the coroner's office, investigators believe the bones may be connected to the former Tuberculosis Hospital, said LeBlanc.

But Harold Wright, who has made a career of delving into local history, suspects the bones are more likely connected to the former Saint John Almshouse, which used to sit on the Willett Foods site and had its own burial grounds.

"To me, that makes sense," said Wright.

The Tuberculosis Hospital was hundreds of yards southeast of the former almshouse site, which is where the remains were located, according to popular historian Harold Wright. (Heritage Resources/Kent collection)
The almshouse, which dates back to the 1850s, housed people with no income.

"That was the institution where we put people on today what we would call welfare or social assistance," he said.

"Sometimes people were there for a short time, sometimes people were there for a very long time … years."

Several of the graves were exhumed and relocated during the 1960s and '70s, when the former dry dock was expanded and Bayside Drive was rerouted, Wright said.

The TB hospital, which dated back to the 1930s and was demolished in the early 1980s, would have been located hundreds of yards southeast of the almshouse, he said.

It did not have its own graveyard and the burials of anyone who died there are all documented, Wright said.

Another possibility, he said, is that the remains date back to when the land was farmland. It was common for families to bury loved ones on their property.

An anthropologist is working with police to determine the age of the bones, LeBlanc said.

She could not say how long the process might take.

"Once this information is verified through the coroner's office, arrangements will be made for a dignified reburial," she said.