The Old Burying Ground, also known as Saint Paul’s Cemetery, is situated at the corner of Barrington Street and Spring Garden Road in Downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Active from 1749 to 1844, this historic cemetery features approximately 1,200 above-ground gravestones (although there are 12,000 recorded burials).
‘Current’ maps of the Old Burying Ground do not reflect recent restoration work or modern science.
To facilitate research, mitigation and refurbishment, this fall, the Old Burying Ground has been the subject of an extensive archaeological geophysical surveying project, highlighting the latest technology.
Dr. Jonathan Fowler is an Associate Professor at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax. He teaches archaeology within the Anthropology Department and leads the annual field school at Grand-Pré National Historic Site and environs.
Dr. Fowler is mapping the buried archaeological resources of the Old Burying Ground in Downtown Halifax by ‘seeing beneath the soil’ with ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electro-magnetic susceptibility and conductivity instrumentation.
Over two days in October, the line intervals were marked out with measuring tapes and the entire property was surveyed with an EM38 susceptibility and conductivity measuring device, developed by Duncan McNeill and his team at Geonics.
Electro-magnetic surveys are used to quantify differences in the magnetism and moisture levels of soil, potentially revealing buried archaeological features such as walls, ditches, pits, burials, cellars, streams and wells.
It is hoped that this particular survey will detect graves, buried gravestones, an old stream that is noted in old aerial photos of the graveyard, pathways and any potential structures on the site.
“First, I might say that this cemetery is an extraordinarily valuable heritage resource for Halifax, for Nova Scotia, and indeed for the entire country. The Old Burying Ground Foundation has done important work safeguarding this site and interpreting its stories, and we’re happy to help them by contributing some of the latest methods in archaeological science,” says Dr. Jonathan Fowler.
Referring to the smaller GPR survey in an ‘empty’ section of the cemetery, Jonathan Fowler indicates that “the radar results to date are interesting, and are clearly giving evidence of an old pathway that is no longer evident on the surface. The data processing has really only just begun.”
Dr. Fowler was assisted in the Old Burying Ground survey by several of his current and former students.
Wesley Weatherbee and Max Tardy, for example, are recent graduates of the Anthropology program at Saint Mary’s University.
Wesley Weatherbee is an archaeologist with field experience gained in Nunavut, Labrador and Nova Scotia.
Max Tardy, although now working in the insurance industry, has assisted Jonathan Fowler on projects both in Nova Scotia and Cuba.
Weatherbee and Tardy are mapping and 3D modelling the entire graveyard using modern photogrammetric and surveying methods.
Jonathan Fowler is also currently employing archaeological geophysics to search for evidence of Fort Cornwallis, one of the five original forts built around the town of Halifax in 1749, at the site of the Royal Artillery Park, and for evidence of the oldest covered hockey and skating rink in Nova Scotia, dating to the early 1860s, in the Public Gardens off of South Park Street.
Sara Beanlands and Steve Garcin of Boreas Heritage, in partnership with Dr. Fowler and Parks Canada, have recently conducted archaeological geophysical surveys on the glacis of Citadel Hill, in search of Fort Luttrell, another one of the five original forts built around the town of Halifax in 1749.
This research was recently presented by Sara Beanlands and Dirk Werle at the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology (CNEHA) 2018 conference held at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax.
Dr. Fowler, his students and fellow archaeologists such as Sara Beanlands and Steve Garcin, are illustrating the benefits of conducting archaeological geophysical surveys in Downtown Halifax and throughout Nova Scotia.
Archaeological geophysical surveys should be required on development sites with archaeological potential in historic Downtown Dartmouth and Halifax.
The parking lot of Saint Mary’s Basilica (the former burial ground of Saint Peter’s Church, active from the 1780s to the 1840s) and the lawn of the Spring Garden Memorial Library (the Halifax Poor House cemetery) would make excellent candidates for archaeological geophysical surveys.
At this time, shovel testing is not planned for the Old Burying Ground site, considering that it is a cemetery not under any immediate threat. However, the EM38 and GPR surveys will facilitate a better understanding of the underground features of this very historic and notable National Historic Site.
David Jones is an archaeologist and historian from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Listen to David discuss Nova Scotia history and archaeology every Thursday at 12:06pm on The Rick Howe Show, NEWS 95.7. David enjoyed participating in the archaeological geophysical survey of the Old Burying Ground.