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Truro church grounds serve as permanent home for former parishioners

Rev. Lori Ramsey, left, discusses St. John’s Anglican Church burials with Maria Murphy, who manages the Terrace Hills Cemetery.
Rev. Lori Ramsey, left, discusses St. John’s Anglican Church burials with Maria Murphy, who manages the Terrace Hills Cemetery. - Fram Dinshaw

TRURO, N.S. – It may not be widely known but St. John’s Anglican Church harbours a secret.

It’s a secret that links the stately downtown Truro place of worship with a very different time in history.

And Rev. Lori Ramsey is fine with it.

“It happens all over the world,” she says. “Most major cathedrals on the planet are built on the remains of those who went before. Christians believe that our beloved are very close to us, they’re just beyond the veil. We respect that they are there, but it wouldn’t be unusual at all to have something over them.”

Since 1873, deceased parishioners have been buried at what is now Terrace Hill Cemetery on Kaulback Street. Prior to that, people were interred in the church’s surrounding yard on Prince Street in downtown Truro.

About 40 stones from the former cemetery were relocated to Terrace Hill, the rest destroyed.

And the remains… remained.

The Anglican diocese in what is now Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island was first established in 1749. It was only in 1820 that missionary John Burnyeat arrived from England to spread the faith in earnest.

Based in Truro, Burnyeat bought the parcel of land along Prince Street and by 1825 a small white wooden church was built on the western edge of this large plot, next to today’s Church Street.

People were buried in the church yard on Prince Street until the 1870s, by which time the railway was running and an influx of settlers were taking up residence in the Truro region.

“This was becoming the downtown and it was quite built up and bustling and it did not seem to be an appropriate place to still do burials,” said Ramsey. “One of the contributing factors is there were several serious flu epidemics around that time.”  

With more settlers, the Anglicans needed a bigger church than their wooden building, which was knocked down to make way for today’s dark stone building.

In 1873, a new cemetery plot was purchased by the church on Kaulback Street. At the time, it was at the edge of town bordering the woods – and it was deemed a healthier spot for burials.

The Terrace Hills cemetery took its modern form in the early 1900s, after a church member donated a second land parcel.

This left the issue of moving the pre-1873 tombstones when the new church and cemetery were built. Some gravestones were moved up to Terrace Hill, but many were simply dumped in the back of the lot, according to Ramsey. Those buried before 1873 remained below the church property. The parishioner also paid for a monument that still stands today, listing the names of all the deceased parishioners on the St. John’s Church records.

The church underwent renovations three years ago that included a new section with an elevator shaft. The shaft required a deep foundation, that went into the soil where graves had once been.

However, 145 years after burials at the cemetery were discontinued, builders found no human remains, as they would have decayed over the many years.

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