Mount Hanly Cemetery (Courtesy CBC News)

The image above is from a recent CBC news article on one man’s quest to preserve Nova Scotia’s abandoned cemeteries. Steve Skafte, a Bridgetown poet and photographer, has created an online map of the forgotten graveyards that dot the province. I felt the same impulse to record the history around one of these sites when out walking with my son and we stumbled upon the Poor Farm burial ground. This became the opening chapter of my novel, Poor Farm.

What was it like to be autistic and sent to one of these places? The novel explores the forgotten history of autism, as well as asking how well do we understand it now. Nobody remembers the people buried without ceremony by the shore in Cole Harbour. By imagining the story of one of these lives, I hope to reduce some of today’s misunderstanding and stigma around autism.

UPDATE: I have received further information on the site from Terry Eyland, local historian and manager/curator at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum:

The crosses were put up by Natural Resources and mark the cemetery area, not specific graves. When you walk through the woods where the crosses are located you will notice depressions, 2 X 6 feet or so. Those are the actual graves that have collapsed as nature takes its course! The big hole, nearby, is where the ‘dead house’ was located. The dead house was where bodies were kept over the winter when it was not possible to bury the deceased. The people buried at the cemetery are folks whose bodies were not claimed by family after death. The names of the deceased are recorded in ledgers at the Halifax City Archives but I do not know what restrictions, if any, are on that material. The rough foundation you pass before getting to the cemetery is the remains of the dynamo house that was the earliest electricity used in Cole Harbour.

Terry Eyland – Dartmouth Heritage Museum