At its Nov. 27 meeting, the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg council approved the placement of a memorial monument and interpretive signage on the grounds of the Hillside Cemetery, located above the ball fields at the Municipal Activity Recreation Complex (MARC).
The monument and signage will serve as long-overdue expressions of respect and recognition of some of the men, women and children who lived and died at the Lunenburg Municipal Hospital, which operated for nearly a century on the grounds now occupied by the MARC in Dayspring.
People who passed away, and whose remains were not claimed by families to be buried in their home communities, were interred at Hillside Cemetery. Death records show 188 burials there.
The first recorded burial was Jan. 28, 1904, while the last burial occurred on Feb. 27, 1959. The youngest person buried there was a boy, less than a day old. The oldest was a 106-year-old man.
Apart from three weathered headstones, rows of 6"x8" flat numbered granite stones mark the graves.
In the late 1880s, the Nova Scotia government, burdened with a cumbersome and costly patchwork of social welfare responsibilities, decided that the formal institutionalization of poor, physically sick and mentally ill individuals would be a fiscally responsible and generally acceptable solution.
People sent to the hospital had no choice. Many had no employment prospects, were ill, and couldn’t look after themselves. Individuals deemed to be criminally insane were also housed in the hospital.
These so-called “inmates” mingled with fellow residents — including children — during the day, then were locked in cells at night. Iron bars remain on some windows in the MARC Program Building.
Many hospital residents occupied their days tending to the extensive vegetable gardens, and taking care of the farm’s chickens, pigs, cows and other livestock.
The hospital was closed in 1980 when the provincial government dismantled this one-size-fits-all health-care model, and transitioned to specific-care
facilities such as nursing homes for the elderly, homes for troubled youth, and forensic hospitals for people with severe mental disabilities.
The remaining 65 residents moved to a new home, LaHave Manor, located just up the road. Three of those original residents still reside there. The name of this home for adults with special needs was changed recently to LaHave House, and is managed by the Riverview Enhanced Living Society.
Riverview board chair John Robart said he is pleased with council’s action. “It’s an excellent opportunity to recognize our community’s past. I’m glad to finally see it happening,” he said.
“Many changes have occurred in how health care is provided since hospitals such as the Lunenburg Municipal Hospital closed, including how we work to integrate residents back into the community.”
Former MODL councillor Elmer Garber, whose father Calvin served as a caring hospital administrator who championed many positive institutional changes, also applauded council’s move.
“It was not a good idea to bury people, then forget about them, so placing a memorial at the cemetery to remember and honour them is appropriate and respectful,” he said.
After council voted unanimously to approve the design and wording of the memorial monument and interpretive signage, MODL mayor Carolyn Bolivar-Getson said everyone, regardless of his or her circumstance, deserves a proper burial and remembrance when they pass away.
“The hospital might not be a part of our heritage that we can take particular pride in, but it is a part of this region’s history, and placing a remembrance at the cemetery is the right thing to do. It’s time. I look forward to the unveiling and dedication of the monument in the near future,” she said.
Although no names of interred individuals will be referenced on the monument or signage, death records can be accessed at the South Shore Genealogical Society, located at the Lunenburg Academy.
Among the causes of death listed in the records are consumption, heart trouble, stroke, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, jaundice, cholera, fall in hay barn, and drowning in the LaHave River.
A brass plaque crafted by Lunenburg Industrial Foundry and Engineering will be affixed to a large granite boulder donated by Lange’s Rock Farm. Nature’s Reflections Landscaping is providing transport of the boulder and placement at the cemetery at no charge.
The plaque will read “Hillside Cemetery — This memorial is dedicated to the residents who lived and passed at the Lunenburg Municipal Hospital, and were buried here between 1904 and 1959. Remembrance placed by the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg.” When a dedication ceremony is scheduled by council, that date will be added to the plaque.
To be secured at the entrance to the cemetery, the sturdy weather-resistant interpretative signage will include a history of the hospital and cemetery, as well as historical photographs of hospital buildings.