SACKVILLE, N.B. – The Old Lower Sackville Methodist Cemetery in downtown Sackville is safe and in good hands.
That’s the message the committee in charge of its upkeep wants the public to be aware of in light of online information that has circulated recently indicating the graves located there are in danger or that there are plans to relocate some or all of them.
“We decided it was best just to outline that there is a cemetery there and there is somebody looking after it,” said local historian Phyllis Stopps, who is also chairperson of the Sackville United Church’s cemetery committee.
The online comments have circulated in the wake of recent news that a new 36-unit seniors’ development is being constructed on land adjacent to the cemetery, which is located near the corner of Main and York Streets in downtown Sackville.
Stopps said there are regulations in place in the Province of New Brunswick that ensure the development will have no impact on the cemetery.
“According to all of the regulations there are in New Brunswick, there will not be any building done on the site, there will not be any removal of the graves and locating them in a different spot and, as the building commission mentioned, the regulations are that the building has to be 30 feet from the edge of the cemetery.”
Origins of the Old Lower Sackville Methodist Cemetery
Stopps said the Old Lower Sackville Methodist Cemetery was founded when the church was established in its long-time downtown location.
“The original site, as many people know, was at the site of the first cemetery, the Methodist Burying Ground, and the congregation split in 1816 and the Upper Sackville Methodist Church was established at that time and, of course, the downtown (church).”
Stopps said the downtown church was originally located on the property where Cranewood now sits but moved to its long-time location across the street around 1836.
“The first burial was in 1836,” she said, adding this basically marked the end of the use of the other cemetery in Middle Sackville.
Burials continued in the downtown’s Old Lower Sackville Methodist Cemetery until 1886.
“The site was referred to as a Methodist Cemetery, but at the time in the downtown area there were no other cemeteries in 1836. The only other sites that were available were the Four Corners Cemetery, which would have been in Middle Sackville, and then the Westcock Cemetery. And so, no matter what religion you were, you were buried at that site in the downtown area. And I think it was 1864 when the main cemetery (on Upper York Street) was opened. At that time, it was called the Sackville Rural Cemetery, which sounds rather ironic now.”
She said the committee has extensive records of the burials that took place in the Old Lower Sackville Methodist Cemetery.
“The Methodists and the Anglicans in particular were very good record keepers and we have the books in the United Church archives up on Wright Street. We have all the original books with all the burials and deaths.”
Preserving the past
Stopps said the land for the Old Lower Sackville Methodist Cemetery was deeded to the church by a neighbouring resident at the time, and the congregation has looked after it since.
“We feel it’s an obligation of a congregation to maintain the gravesites of the adherents who went before so there is no other choice but for the church to look after the site.”
In addition to general maintenance of the cemetery grounds, considerable restoration work has been completed throughout the years.
“There was a major restoration leading up to 1990,” Stopps said, “because that would have been the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the churches in the Sackville area.
“The site was in pretty good condition at that time, there were new signs and all the stones were upright. Any stones in quite a few pieces were set in a layer of concrete.”
Unfortunately, in 2010 vandals did considerable damage in the cemetery, even breaking off stones that had never been damaged before. The cemetery committee reached out to the families whose ancestors’ gravesites were damaged about repairing the stones but only three responded. That left the committee to deal with the remaining damage over the years since.
“We have what we call stone of the year,” Stopps said, explaining that work can only be done when funds are available in the coffers of the congregation.
Efforts by the cemetery committee to apply for various heritage grants in the past have failed, she added.
In some cases, she added, if a stone is damaged beyond repair, it is replaced with a military stone of the same size and colour.
This year, the cemetery committee is replacing a stone belonging to the wife and infant daughter of a prominent physician in the town during the 1850s and ’60s, Dr. Lewis Johnston.
Stopps said she was asked recently what would be needed to complete all of the required restoration work. She estimates it would be in the $20,000 range.
“But in my opinion if you (restore/replace) one stone at a time, you are making progress.”