Nova Scotia

A grave mystery: Century-old marble headstone found in N.S. backyard

When Tona Hennigar was told her great-grandfather's grave was found in someone's backyard in Upper Kennetcook, N.S., she was fascinated. His name was already carved on a family headstone about a kilometre away.

Family buried in St. Peter's cemetery, 2nd headstone found not far away

Tona Hennigar is fascinated that a headstone bearing her great-grandfather's name was found in a backyard – one kilometre away from where his family headstone sits in a church cemetery. (David Laughlin/CBC)

When Tona Hennigar got a call that her great-grandfather's grave was found in someone's backyard in Upper Kennetcook, N.S., she was fascinated.

His name – Joshua Hennigar – was already carved on a family headstone in a cemetery about a kilometre from where the other grave was located.

"The only speculation was since there's already a gravestone marking Joshua, his wife, and one of their children in the St. Peter's cemetery, it makes me wonder if this was an older one," said Tona Hennigar, who lives in Dartmouth.

The gravestone, made of solid marble, was found face down in the backyard of a home that was recently sold. A small piece of another gravestone was found in the same backyard. (David Laughlin/CBC)

When she drove out to Upper Kennetcook to see the gravestone for herself, she couldn't believe it was in pristine condition.

"I'm very surprised, the shape of it, it's better than I was expecting even. It's lovely," she said.

The headstone was found face down in the backyard of a house that was recently sold. The homeowner posted about it on social media in the hopes of getting word to relatives, but declined to speak to CBC News.

The post was forwarded to Holly Hanes with the East Hants Historical Society. She's working on a project to locate and catalogue every grave in East Hants.

Holly Hanes from the East Hants Historical Society has spent the past few years working to catalogue every grave in the area. (David Laughlin/CBC)

"The large cemeteries, they're easy to locate," Hanes said. "We know where they are. Especially if they're affiliated with churches, you drive along and you see a cemetery. The records are there. But these kind of single, off-the-grid ones are a little bit more interesting."

Hanes said it's lucky the marble headstone was face down all this time because it protected the etchings from exposure to the elements.

After more than a century, the other Joshua Hennigar headstone, erected in the St. Peter's cemetery, shows a bit more deterioration. Both headstones have the same dates for birth and death.

Joshua Hennigar's family gravestone in the St. Peter's cemetery in Upper Kennetcook, N.S. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Without a time machine, it's impossible to know why there are two headstones for one man, or why one ended up on a property that never belonged to Hennigar or his children.

Hanes said there could be several explanations, including the possibility that his family didn't own a plot at the cemetery at the time of his death in 1894. His wife, Hannah, lived until 1940.

Hennigar said the house in Upper Kennetcook, which once belonged to her cousin Lou Garby, was built in 1948.

His nephew, Bruce Garby, operates the gas station next door and used to play in his uncle's yard as a young boy. He said there used to be a small barn on the patch of land that Hanes believes could be a burial plot.

Hanes said concrete coping like this could indicate the perimeter of a burial plot. (David Laughlin/CBC)

To make matters more confusing, there appears to be a piece of a second headstone that was found in the same backyard. It was not nearly as well preserved, having been made out of sandstone rather than marble, and only the letters M-E remain.

"We kind of went hunting through the records to see who the other stone may belong to, and it's really really hard to tell. It's kind of a new mystery," Hanes said.

Early settlers

The Hennigar name is well known in the Upper Kennetcook area.

Christian Hennigar emigrated from Germany and was one of the first settlers in the East Hants area. He was Tona Hennigar's great-great-great-grandfather.

A black-and-white photo of Joshua Hennigar, who died in 1894 at the age of 55. (Submitted by Harcus Hennigar)

In 1982, Tona Hennigar and other descendents erected a millstone monument in Upper Kennetcook in Christian Hennigar's honour. Though the mill no longer exists, he ground the grain for the whole settlement.

That monument is directly across the street from the house where Joshua Hennigar's second headstone was found.

Tona Hennigar said it's hard to believe a headstone bearing her great-grandfather's name has been across the street all this time. It's hard to believe for Hanes, too, who grew up two houses down the street and has walked by more times than she can count.

While Hanes continues on her mission to locate and document every grave site in East Hants, Tona Hennigar hopes the marble stone can be put somewhere it can be seen, and its historical significance appreciated.


Brooklyn Currie is a reporter and producer with CBC Nova Scotia. Get in touch with her on Twitter @brooklyncbc or by email at

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