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Finally a modicum of respect: new highway through Marshalltown will avoid almshouse graves

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MARSHALLTOWN – The Department of Transportation will avoid paving over any graves – marked or unmarked – when work begins on the new highway through Marshalltown.

Brenda Small and three other members of Marshalltown Alms House, Voices for Hope, met with representatives of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal on March 10 to discuss plans for a new stretch of Highway 101 between Digby and the Upper Cross Road in Marshalltown.

Small and Margaret Faye formed the Voices for Hope Facebook group, now with 297 members, to locate and honour the graves of people who lived at the Marshalltown Alms House.

Small told the council of the Municipality of the District of Digby and MLA Gordon Wilson of her concerns that the highway might go over the unmarked cemetery and they arranged for a meeting with the highways department.

“We met with Adam Osborne and a group from the highway planning department,” says Small. “He assured us last Thursday that absolutely no graves will be paved over. We made them aware of the burial sites we’re aware of.”

Small says the highway planning staff said their priority is to choose a corridor for the highway that avoids any graves and they will let Small know when they finalize the exact route.

For now, Small is happy that the government is trying and someone is listening.

“We are very pleased to hear they have absolutely no intention of paving over anyone,” she said. “Moving and exhuming bodies is a nightmare and very expensive.”

The Marshalltown Alms House

The Alms House was located in what is now a vacant field with a big patch of brambles just west of the Maud Lewis memorial on the same side of the road.

In fact, Maud Lewis’ husband, Everett, worked as a night watchman at the almshouse.

The Marshalltown Alms House was built in 1891 and housed people unable to look after or provide for themselves independently.

When the facility closed in 1963, the building and property was sold to a private owner.

“I just don’t understand how a government could sell a piece of land knowing a hundred bodies are buried there,” says Small. “Now there’s a cemetery and grave site protection act and it says once a site is used for a gravesite it can’t be used for any other purpose.”

Small says at least some of the gravesites were disturbed with a bulldozer when one owner started to prepare the land to plant strawberries.

Archaeologist

Transportation has hired an archaeologist to see if they can determine how many people are buried at the almshouse site but so far survey results have been inconclusive.

Small, who has 12 years experience in the funeral business industry, and Margaret Faye have been going through the records of people who lived in the almshouse and checking, one by one, their death certificates, to find out where they are buried.

Although an original working list showed the names of only 55 people, Small says the death certificates show at least 100 people were laid to rest there.

Some day Small would like to see the graves marked with some kind of memorial honouring the people buried there.

“Right now we’re waiting to see where the road goes and what kind of access we’ll have to the site before we can determine what we can do about a memorial,” she said. “Not all the stories are happy stories.

“When I think about what life must have been like for people who lived there, especially those deemed to have been insane…”

She leaves the sentence unfinished.

“You can’t rewrite history – those were the times and they thought this was the best way to look after these people,” she continues. “What happened happened but now we would like to see these people remembered.”

jriley@digbycourier.ca

Scanning for gravesites

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has hired an archaeologist to see if they can determine how many people are buried at the Marshalltown Alms House site.

Brenda Small of the group Marshalltown Almshouse, Voices for Hope asked for the survey before construction begins on a new stretch of Highway 101 between Digby and the Upper Cross Road in Marshalltown.

Small says Laura de Boer and her crew spent several weeks at the site with an EM-38B or geophysical scanner this winter – it measures the ground’s conductivity and magnetic susceptibility for half metre under the surface.

These measurements can be turned into maps showing geophysical anomalies which provide clues about what lies under the surface.

de Boer told Brend Small that conditions at the site make finding the graves with the geophysical scanner difficult and it would be as difficult with ground penetrating radar (GPR).

de Boer also said the bulldozing makes it very difficult to find graves, even with a hands on approach of stripping back the soil and looking for distinctions in soil colour and texture that would point to grave shafts.

Geophysical scans are done by walking back and forth over a given area with the EM-38B which looks like a fancy level.

These surveys are faster, less intrusive and destructive and give a more complete picture than traditional archaeological methods of digging a test pit every five metres or so

For more on geophysical surveys and archaeology, read this post from a blog about research at the Grand Pre National Historic Site.

Brenda Small and three other members of Marshalltown Alms House, Voices for Hope, met with representatives of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal on March 10 to discuss plans for a new stretch of Highway 101 between Digby and the Upper Cross Road in Marshalltown.

Small and Margaret Faye formed the Voices for Hope Facebook group, now with 297 members, to locate and honour the graves of people who lived at the Marshalltown Alms House.

Small told the council of the Municipality of the District of Digby and MLA Gordon Wilson of her concerns that the highway might go over the unmarked cemetery and they arranged for a meeting with the highways department.

“We met with Adam Osborne and a group from the highway planning department,” says Small. “He assured us last Thursday that absolutely no graves will be paved over. We made them aware of the burial sites we’re aware of.”

Small says the highway planning staff said their priority is to choose a corridor for the highway that avoids any graves and they will let Small know when they finalize the exact route.

For now, Small is happy that the government is trying and someone is listening.

“We are very pleased to hear they have absolutely no intention of paving over anyone,” she said. “Moving and exhuming bodies is a nightmare and very expensive.”

The Marshalltown Alms House

The Alms House was located in what is now a vacant field with a big patch of brambles just west of the Maud Lewis memorial on the same side of the road.

In fact, Maud Lewis’ husband, Everett, worked as a night watchman at the almshouse.

The Marshalltown Alms House was built in 1891 and housed people unable to look after or provide for themselves independently.

When the facility closed in 1963, the building and property was sold to a private owner.

“I just don’t understand how a government could sell a piece of land knowing a hundred bodies are buried there,” says Small. “Now there’s a cemetery and grave site protection act and it says once a site is used for a gravesite it can’t be used for any other purpose.”

Small says at least some of the gravesites were disturbed with a bulldozer when one owner started to prepare the land to plant strawberries.

Archaeologist

Transportation has hired an archaeologist to see if they can determine how many people are buried at the almshouse site but so far survey results have been inconclusive.

Small, who has 12 years experience in the funeral business industry, and Margaret Faye have been going through the records of people who lived in the almshouse and checking, one by one, their death certificates, to find out where they are buried.

Although an original working list showed the names of only 55 people, Small says the death certificates show at least 100 people were laid to rest there.

Some day Small would like to see the graves marked with some kind of memorial honouring the people buried there.

“Right now we’re waiting to see where the road goes and what kind of access we’ll have to the site before we can determine what we can do about a memorial,” she said. “Not all the stories are happy stories.

“When I think about what life must have been like for people who lived there, especially those deemed to have been insane…”

She leaves the sentence unfinished.

“You can’t rewrite history – those were the times and they thought this was the best way to look after these people,” she continues. “What happened happened but now we would like to see these people remembered.”

jriley@digbycourier.ca

Scanning for gravesites

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has hired an archaeologist to see if they can determine how many people are buried at the Marshalltown Alms House site.

Brenda Small of the group Marshalltown Almshouse, Voices for Hope asked for the survey before construction begins on a new stretch of Highway 101 between Digby and the Upper Cross Road in Marshalltown.

Small says Laura de Boer and her crew spent several weeks at the site with an EM-38B or geophysical scanner this winter – it measures the ground’s conductivity and magnetic susceptibility for half metre under the surface.

These measurements can be turned into maps showing geophysical anomalies which provide clues about what lies under the surface.

de Boer told Brend Small that conditions at the site make finding the graves with the geophysical scanner difficult and it would be as difficult with ground penetrating radar (GPR).

de Boer also said the bulldozing makes it very difficult to find graves, even with a hands on approach of stripping back the soil and looking for distinctions in soil colour and texture that would point to grave shafts.

Geophysical scans are done by walking back and forth over a given area with the EM-38B which looks like a fancy level.

These surveys are faster, less intrusive and destructive and give a more complete picture than traditional archaeological methods of digging a test pit every five metres or so

For more on geophysical surveys and archaeology, read this post from a blog about research at the Grand Pre National Historic Site.

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