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Construction dig unearths 19th century cemetery in Montreal


The skeletal remains of 40 people buried in the early 19th century were discovered last week in downtown Montreal during construction at what is believed to be the site of a former protestant cemetery abandoned more than 160 years ago.

Construction dig unearths 19th century cemetery in Montreal
The skeletal remains of 40 people buried in the early 19th century were discovered last week in downtown Montreal 
during construction at what is believed to be the site of a former protestant cemetery abandoned 
more than 160 years ago [Credit: Hydro-Quebec]
While crews were digging to install electricity cables below the surface of one of the city’s main arteries, René-Lévesque Boulevard, Hydro-Quebec brought in an archaeological team to verify whether there were any significant artifacts to be found on the construction site.

The efforts were not in vain as the archaeologists quickly came across a number of bones. The work zone, which is located practically in front of Hydro-Quebec’s Montreal headquarters, turned out to be the site of an old protestant cemetery that existed between 1799 and 1852.

The City of Montreal bought back the land in 1874 to establish a public park known as Dufferin Square. The park later gave way in the early 1980s to a federal building, the Guy-Favreau Complex. The majority of the remains from the cemetery were exhumed at the end of the 19th century and buried in another cemetery on Mount Royal, but some of the bodies were forgotten or missed.

When the human remains were discovered last week, work was suspended for one week to give the archaeologists the time to properly exhume the bones. One particular irony is that the discovery occurred during Archaeology Month, which occurs every August in Quebec.

Construction dig unearths 19th century cemetery in Montreal
The work zone, which is located practically in front of Hydro-Quebec’s Montreal headquarters, 
turned out to be the site of an old protestant cemetery that existed 
between 1799 and 1852 [Credit: Hydro-Quebec]
Some of the human remains were found no more than 40 centimetres from the surface of the road.

“We often say that they are buried six feet under the ground, but it’s not always true, said André Burroughs, an archaeologist with Hydro-Quebec’s environment unit.

Only two complete tombs were discovered, but a number of bones were also found strewn about the site. It’s believed that they would have belonged to about 40 different people. They could be the result of a common grave or bones that were displaced when the cemetery was being transformed into a park at the end of the 19th century.

“It stirs up a lot of emotions. When we found a piece of a dish, bottles, smoking pipes, the things that are part and parcel of an ordinary life, that’s one thing. But when we come across a tomb, it’s an individual with whom we can establish family links,” said Borroughs.

Construction dig unearths 19th century cemetery in Montreal
The protestant cemetery was used to bury anglophone members of the military 
as well as civilians [Credit: Hydro-Quebec]
“The year 1852, or even 1799, it’s not that long ago. We only have to go back five or six generations and we will find a parent. There is someone somewhere that has a family link with the people that we have found.”

There are no indications that would allow archaeologists to determine the identity of the discovered remains for the moment. Tests will be conducted to determine the age, sex and stature of the remains. But it is not expected that DNA tests will be conducted to try and find descendants as it would require too much work.

The protestant cemetery was used to bury anglophone members of the military as well as civilians. It is where the prominent businessman James McGill, founder of McGill University, was buried. When the cemetery was closed, his remains were moved in 1875 to a monument located in front of the school’s arts pavilion where they remain to this day.

While uncommon, the discovery of grave sites beneath the ground in Montreal has occurred in the past. During work to repave two other sites, Place d’Armes and Dorchester Square, the bones of 162 Montrealers were discovered at the site of an old cemetery where tens of thousands of people had been buried.

Author: Pierre-André Normandin | Source: The Star [September 06, 2016]
TANN

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