“I like to think we are repairing a dignity deficit for these folks,” says Paul Henry, Chief Archivist with the City of Ottawa. And indeed, these individuals and their remains have had a rough go of it. When the Barrack Hill Cemetery was closed in 1845, many of the buried dead were claimed by their families and reburied at the Sandy Hill Cemetery (which, by the way, in turn was closed in 1911, becoming Macdonald Gardens Park, and the bodies—well, at least most of the bodies—were moved again, this time to Beechwood Cemetery). Those left behind when the two-acre Barrack Hill Cemetery was closed were probably those whose families did not claim them. But why? Perhaps they couldn’t afford the cost, perhaps they’d moved away from the area and never heard news of the cemetery’s closing, or perhaps, more than likely, the entire family had died of disease in one of the town’s many early epidemics and there simply was no one left to claim them.
So there they remained, the town turning into a city, roads laid out and buildings built right on top of the forgotten cemetery. The archaeologists found evidence that as digging occurred in the area over the years (to lay water mains, or other services), it was clear that occasionally old burials had been disturbed, and many times remains were simply “redeposited on site, mixed with fill, and so this resulted in a lot of small bone fragments,” says Mortimer. Thousands of them, actually.