Moynahan Surnames

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Bytown's Unclaimed Remains - Paying My Respects In Ottawa

79 souls were left behind, either because entire families were wiped out by disease, 
or their relatives could not afford to move them.

On Sunday September 24, I attended the Public Visitation where there were 52 caskets containing the remains of 79 individuals, including men, women and children.

This story captured my attention for three reasons:
  1. I live in Centretown very close to where the bones were discovered 
  2. I have an ancestor (Matthew Moynahan 1770-1860) whose remains were also re-interred when St. Mary's cemetery (Maidstone, Ontario) where he was buried in was moved to a new location (More about Matthew here:
  3. I am drawn to stories about ancestors with no descendants like these 79 souls (see my post: Bachelors, Spinsters, Priests and Nuns

The Public Visitation was held in the Resource Room of the Canadian Museum of History on September 24, 2017, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. There was a guest book for people to sign that will become part of the permanent archives of this Bytown story.

Caskets on display in the Resource Room of the Canadian Museum of History
Ben Mortimer reminded us that this visitation on September 24, 2017 was occurring almost four years to the day when the bones were first uncovered and construction work halted at Queen St (near Metcalfe) in Ottawa on September 19, 2013.

Janet Young ( anthropologist/ curator with the Canadian Museum of History) and Ben Mortimer (Ben Mortimer, a senior archeologist with the engineering consulting firm Paterson Group, who led the dig, ) were on hand to answer questions

Slide show presentation at the Visitation: Archeological work was done by the Paterson Group

Slide show presentation at the Visitation Ottawa in the 1800s

Slide show presentation at the Visitation: Barracks Hill (1843-1859)
At the Visitation there were rows of three sizes of numbered caskets:
  • Large: Numbers 01 to 22
  • Medium: Numbers 23 to 37
  • Small: Numbers 38 to 52
19 persons were uncovered in their original resting place including the well known "Burial 8" (rugged thirty-something labourer who walked the dusty streets of Bytown with a tobacco pipe clenched between his teeth.) who was now resting in Box Number 10.

Burial 8 was laid to rest in Box #10

The Barrack Hill Cemetery Story 
Collected From The News

In 2013 and 2014, a minimum number of 79 individuals and casket materials from Bytown’s earliest cemetery, Barrack Hill, were discovered under Queen Street during O-Train Confederation Line construction. (See video of discovery here: Watermain work uncovers human bones )

Source: Ottawa Citizen
There are at least three historical maps that clearly show a cemetery in the vicinity, established in 1828 for military and civilian dead. (The burial ground was closed in the 1850s) Entire families were buried there - those who "died of diptheria, malaria, cholera and other illnesses, as well as canal workers who perished on the job." (Source: CBC)

Plan of Bytown with its limits shewing the exact situation of every street & lot, by Donald Kennedy, 1842

Source: Ottawa Citizen The Barrack Hill Cemetery can be seen between Elgin and Metcalfe right underneath Queen Street.
 (Source: Old Cemeteries Map
Looking Back, Pioneers of Bytown and March 
by Naomi Slater Heydon. 
"During the two decades before the original cemetery closed in 1845, some 500 fetuses, babies, children and adults were buried there."

However, when it came time to close the cemetery, in the name of progress and city building, only relatives who could afford to move their dead to another cemetery in Sandy Hill, now known as MacDonald Gardens Park, did so.
At the time, Henry says, Bytown sported a population of only 7,000 people and was still a Wild West, of sorts. Prior to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1849, it was incumbent upon the families to physically move the dead themselves, rather than being the responsibility of the county magistrate.
The unclaimed remained in their plots as new buildings and roads, including Queen and Metcalfe streets, were built over the two-acre plot of land.

 (Source: Ottawa Citizen
Source: Ottawa Citizen
While more than 3,000 bones were unearthed, Burial 8’s was the only adult skeleton discovered intact.Read about him here:

Ottawa City Archivist Paul Henry

In 2014, the province of Ontario asked descendants of people buried in a forgotten cemetery near Elgin and Queen Streets in Ottawa to come forward to determine what should be done with their remains. (In accordance with the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 33


The province informed the public of its intentions in a notice in newspapers :
"The individuals buried at the Barrack Hill Cemetery lived alongside the founders of the nation's capital, were its earliest inhabitants and some of them possibly helped build the Rideau Canal. Accordingly, these grounds can be considered to be of great historical and archaeological significance," the notice read.

Watercolour of Lowertown from the Barrack Hill near the Rideau Canal Locks and Sappers Bridge by Thomas Burrowes, 1845

These early Bytown residents will finally find a permanent home at Beechwood Cemetery, the National Cemetery of Canada. They will be reinterred at a special ceremony at Beechwood Cemetery on Oct. 1. transported in 19th century style horse-drawn hearse.

Additional Links:

"The Other Side Of The Hill" Dr Don Nixon

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