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Ottawa’s forgotten: Final chapter being written for human remains recovered during LRT dig

Paula McCooey, Ottawa Citizen
September 22, 2017

Perhaps one of the most poignant events of Canada’s 150th year will take place Sunday at the Canadian Museum of History.

There, members of the public will get a chance to pay their respects to a group of this region’s early settlers.

They are Ottawa’s forgotten.

The remains of 79 people who were left behind in what was once Barrack Hill Cemetery, the city’s first known graves site for Europeans, were unearthed in downtown Ottawa in 2013 after being discovered during the early stages of light-rail construction.

After a painstaking process that has taken years, the remains are about to be brought to their new, final resting place at Beechwood Cemetery. Before that, on Sunday, there will be a public visitation at the Canadian Museum of History.

“It’s particularly fitting with respect to the Ottawa 2017 events that this ceremony … occur in this year,” says city archivist Paul Henry.

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.

“The city is fulfilling its civic duty with respect to the remains,” Henry says.

“The first set of remains were found as part of the LRT construction and so there’s a direct link between the city’s responsibility, but also in terms of the broader ethical responsibility … to ensure that these souls are appropriately cared for.”

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