Hidden cemetery along Cole Harbour trails tells story of forgotten souls

COLE HARBOUR, NS – The Cole Harbour Heritage Park trail system winds through the remnants of two old farms, a brook and skirts along a beautiful shoreline. But there is also a significant piece of Nova Scotia history along the trail, one that many people know nothing about.

The site is actually the final resting place for more than 40 people.

In 1887, part of the 400 acre provincial park was actually home to Poor’s Farm.

SEE BELOW: Photos from the Poor’s Farm Cemetery

“It’s called the Poor’s Farm because they were poor people. They were also called the harmless insane. These would have been people that probably suffered from diseases like tourettes and MS, MD,” said Terry Eyland, curator of the Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum.

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“They couldn’t care for themselves, they couldn’t make a living, they had to go somewhere and the county would take them there.”

The Poor’s Farm site itself housed several buildings and a farm that residents would work at. The facility operated for more than 42-years until it was destroyed by fire.

A photo from the early 1900’s of the Poor’s Farm in Cole Harbour. Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum

Over the course of it’s existence, 300 people died at the site. Some of those people are still buried at a cemetery that lies just off Poor’s Farm Road.

Hidden history

Many people who use the trail on a daily basis had no idea that were walking past such an historic spot.

“I always walk these trails with friends and I had no idea,” said Jillian Hines.

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“I’m actually from Cole Harbour, like I grew up here and went to school here and I don’t know any of that history,” added Alana Spicer, a trail user.

“I should know more about where I’m from.”

A photo of some of the residents who once lived at the Cole Harbour Poor’s Farm. Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum

There is a plaque with information about the area at the head of the trail, but the only indication a cemetery exists is in the form of an asterisk on a map.

The fact the cemetery isn’t well known comes as no surprise to Eyland.

“It’s one of those things, it’s gone. It’s been gone for many years. It opened in 1886 and they built buildings until probably 1900 and at that time, everything was pretty much established. In February of 1929, it burned in quite a spectacular fire,” he said.

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Digging for more

The cemetery remained unmarked for years until some members of Natural Resources placed wooden crosses on the site to mark the graves. A few years ago, anthropology students at Saint Mary’s University actually used the site as part of a project.

They excavated the area, looking for artifacts and trying to determine exactly how many graves there were on the site.

“The main goal while we were excavating was not to actually disturb the bones if we didn’t have to for the most part, and just delineate the grave shaft because you can actually see a change in soil and texture where the grave shaft has been dug down to place the grave,” said Laura de Boer, an archeologist who worked on the project.

A 2007 photo of the archeological dig on the property that was once home to the Poor’s Farm in Cole Harbour. Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum

“We did actually exhume one grave, it turned out to be a young woman about 12 to 15 years of age. It looked like she had kind of been bumped in her coffin as she was being lowered in because she wasn’t buried with her arms crossed.”

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De Boer says she always wanted to go into Egyptology and study historic Egypt, but after working on the Poor’s Farm Cemetery project, she decided she wanted to stay in Nova Scotia and work to find unmarked graves here. De Boer says being able to participate in the excavation is important so people can pay their respects to those who are no longer with us.

“We’re kind of bringing back these forgotten people, because the people who died at the Poor Farm were not claimed by their relatives,” she said.

It’s hoped that with funding, the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association can help to place more information about the Poor’s Farm and those who are buried at the Poor’s Farm cemetery.

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