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Remember This? The forgotten history of Geary Street Cemetery and the Dunn vault

Geary Street Cemetery was opened around 1835 to replace the over-crowded earlier St. Peter's burial ground which was located near the former Tim Horton's on Ochterloney Street
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Geary Street Cemetery is a little-known burial ground on Synott's Hill in Downtown Dartmouth. Each week day, hundreds of commuters fail to notice the small, historic graveyard, off of Alderney Drive. For those who are aware of Geary Street Cemetery, there is still a lot to learn, especially due to a lack of up-to-date interpretation at the site. According to Dr. John P. Martin, late Town Historian of Dartmouth, on page 61 of The Story of Dartmouth: 
    
"The former part of the Common where now lie the ruins of an abandoned Catholic cemetery, should be one of Dartmouth's historic attractions. It is noteworthy for a mounded stone burial vault, for its great number of Indian graves, and for an unmarked tomb of a titled lady said to have belonged to the Spanish nobility. The complete story of her suspicious death on the present Montagu farm at Lake Loon, and the excitement in Dartmouth during the subsequent inquest in 1846, is fully related in Mrs. Lawson's History. Many of the town's early residents are buried there. The oldest headstone is for Andrew O'Neill, died August 14, 1832. Around that time, Michael Dunn, a merchant, conceived the idea of building a large vault for his family. It contains 13 coffins of adults and children, arranged in tiers on either side, and is one of the few vaults remaining in the Province. The century-old graves of the Indians are identified by the oblong chunks of slate rock, laid in symmetrical rows in a separate section. Most Dartmouth Indians attended St. Peter's Church."

Geary Street Cemetery was opened around 1835 to replace the over-crowded earlier St. Peter's burial ground which was located near the former Tim Horton's on Ochterloney Street.

It is not fully known what members of the Dunn family were buried in the vault, which still survives on the edge of Geary Street Cemetery. According to The Story of Dartmouth (page 364), Mrs. Michael Dunn died in 1860 at the age of 71 and was buried in the family vault. John Martin records that in 1867, James P. Dunn, age 42, was the last family member to be buried in the Dunn vault. In 1950, Dr. Martin entered the vault, accompanied by Colin Dunn, to examine the thirteen coffins. In the Preface to The Story of Dartmouth, John Martin writes that that they even opened one of the lids to "gaze upon one of the adult skeletons". Many Dunn descendants continue to call Dartmouth home. It is note-worthy that The Story of Dartmouth records the vault as being made of stone. Today, it seems to be encased in concrete. 

On page 299 of The Story of Dartmouth, John Martin writes: 

"Geary Street Cemetery should be restored either by public or private subscription, and made into a tourist attraction like old St. Paul's cemetery at Halifax. The breast-high stonewall could be replaced, and an appropriate plaque erected, noting the Thompson burial-place and that of Bartholomew O'Connor (q.v.), hero of the battles of Badajoz and Waterloo. The latter's gravestone contains such particulars, and is probably buried in the sod. It is doubtful if any other cemetery in the Province has such a unique repository as the Dunn vault. The grave of the Indian Chief should also be noted. Certainly no cemetery in Halifax County has such a number of Micmac graves as Geary Street. All are marked with simple slate slabs, which could be easily uprighted."

John Martin described Indigenous people with language that is no longer acceptable. It is interesting to note that nearby Tufts Cove Cemetery, lovingly cared for and restored by Gary Wright, features flat slate stones lined in rows. 

After Dr. Martin called for commemoration of the Geary Street cemetery in his book, a monument was unveiled by members of the Dunn family in 1962. Although Geary Street Cemetery was heavily landscaped in the 1970s as part of a neighbourhood improvement campaign, several old grave stones remain standing. There is also a newer section of the cemetery, associated with St. Paul's Church in North End Dartmouth. Geary Street Cemetery is another beautiful and fascinating part of our community. 

David Jones is an archaeologist and historian from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. David Jones has a weekly thirty minute history segment on The Rick Howe Show, NEWS 95.7. Unlike his great grand uncle, Dr. John P. Martin, David has not been in the Dunn family vault. Join David Jones in his continued call for an HRM Archaeological Master Plan by emailing your support to clerks@halifax.ca. 




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