May 14, 2014 1:56 pm

Historic Halifax cemetery raising money for headstone restoration

HALIFAX – A cemetery that’s been an landmark in south-end Halifax for nearly two centuries is raising funds to restore its crumbling limestone headstones.

Holy Cross Cemetery has been an important landmark for the region’s Irish settlers, and after suffering through years of disrepair, a community group steeped in Irish heritage has been making progress in the cemetery’s restoration. It’s painstaking — and costly — work, but it’s helping to preserve a part of the city’s history.

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The cemetery, established in 1843, is located at the corner of South and South Park streets, and is the burial grounds for many Irish-Catholic immigrants who came to Halifax around the time it was built. One of the most famous settlers is Sir John Sparrow David Thompson, the first Maritimer and first Roman Catholic to become Prime Minister.

Fourteen years ago, vandals knocked over and broke 70 headstones. Others made of limestone have crumbled over the years, which is why the Holy Cross Trust is working to restore them.

“If you just glued them and stood them up again, they’re easy to knock over, so somebody came up with the idea with putting aluminum sleeves on the side,” said Brian O’Brien, the chairman of the trust.

The church was built in one day — Aug. 31, 1843 — by 1,800 workers. It has undergone extensive repairs, including the addition of an air-exchanging unit to keep out moisture and save its windows, which were replaced but maintain their original glass.

“The coloured window at the front of the church dates back to the 15th and 16th century,” said O’Brien. “The figurines were restored and to keep them from further damage they are now stored in the Art Galley of Nova Scotia. The figurines here are replicas of the originals.”

Every Saturday, 20 to 40 volunteers show up to do landscaping and repair headstones. Over the past six years, 20,000 hours of volunteer work have been put in, and the church has also been re-shingled. All of the work costs money, so the trust has brought in Raymond Bassett, the Irish Ambassador to Canada, for a fundraising dinner Wednesday night at the Delta-Halifax.

“The main theme I’m going to speak about is the Canadian contribution to the peace process in Ireland,” he said. “Very few people know there was a very big Canadian involvement in it.”

Brian Doherty, a board member of the Holy Cross Heritage Trust said the restoration efforts are “one of these great projects that has galvanized the Irish community [and] united them.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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