A group of Mahone Bay residents took on the large task of restoring many headstones and their inscriptions in the Bayview Cemetery, and then took it a step further: mapping the entire cemetery and putting all the information online.
The volunteer group, put together by area historian Bob Sayer, was recognized this past spring with a Mahone Bay Museum Heritage Recognition Award. More recently, Town of Mahone Bay Mayor David Devenne, in a special ceremony September 16, offered his thanks to the group on behalf of the town, and presented them with a letter of thanks and a town pin.
"When I first heard of the cemetery project a number of years ago the first discussions were around preserving the headstones, particularly the ones that were in hard shape," said Devenne. "Gradually that morphed into the mapping and identification of all the graves and the old burying ground, as some people refer to it."
Now that the cemetery is mapped up and digitized, people can look online and see a photo of where their ancestors might be buried as well as the headstone.
The goals of the volunteer group were to map the location of the grave markers; record inscriptions for each marker; record names of those buried; photograph and number each stone; make information available online and in print; and plan the repair, cleaning and maintenance of the grave markers as needed.
"It was something magical for all of us. It was like opening a window to the past," said Sayer. "We were making sure that people weren't forgotten. When we brushed off a stone, washed it, there was a genuine tremor and excitement when we revealed the information. They were telling us their story. It was quite moving at times and I think we got a lot out of it."
This project was a combined effort of the Town of Mahone Bay and a group of volunteers consisting of Ingrid Crouse, Madeleine Lajambe, Bob Weld, Jon Zwicker, Jamie Saulnier, John and Linda Caulfield, and Bob and Trish Sayer.
The volunteers spent hundreds of hours over the summers of 2016 and 2017 and beyond working on the project.
The cemetery is a town and provincial heritage site containing about 750 stones that have been identified with some 900 names recorded. A number of those buried there came from the first generation of settlers brought out by the British government and transported first to Lunenburg then on to Mahone or Mush-a-Mush in 1753 and 1754.
"The stones really told the story of their lives. Where they were born, when they came to Nova Scotia, how many children, how many grandchildren," Sayer said. "They put all that on the gravestone. There was a 15 year old who was killed by a train at the train station. There were families that were wiped out by scarlet fever. There were shipbuilders; one had on his tombstone 140 ships, meaning he had built that many."
Sayer said that it was time for a project like this as many tombstones were crumbling, many were covered over with vegetation, and numerous inscriptions were fading away. Sayer attended workshops to learn how to map and repair the gravestones.
For more information on the project or to check out how it all works, go to www.townofmahonebay.ca under the Bayview Cemetery tab.