Just outside the gates of the Lord Selkirk Provincial Campground in Belfast, P.E.I., lies one of the Island's oldest cemeteries. Until recently, it was easy to drive by only feet from its borders and not know it even existed, though most local people knew of its location. It had become overgrown with woods and underbrush, and a sign and chain fence that were placed there years ago, have long since disappeared.
The cemetery was Acadian in origin. Little remains of the original Acadian memorials, many made of sandstone, - since damaged or buried. Any inscriptions that might have been on the sandstone memorials have long been obliterated by the effects of weathering on the soft, pourous stone. This was due to the unstable nature of the soft rock, and not due to any lack of maintenance. It was the stone most available to the Acadian pioneers, easy to work, but unfortunately not made for longevity. Many of the first burials, also were likely simple wooden markers, which have long since decayed back to the earth from where they came.
Following its use by the Acadian people, the cemetery was used by the "Polly" settlers until the establishment of the "Polly" cemetery located on the Point Prim Road in Mt. Buchanan on the land of Dr. Angus Macaulay. Later, many "Polly" settlers were buried in the St. John's, Belfast Cemetery, which was first used in 1824. Two early Scottish stones, made of harder marble or limestone remain in the Acadian cemetery, only one intact.
On the left, as you enter Lord Selkirk Park, is an old Acadian Cemetery, which in later years was shared by some of the first Selkirk settlers. This photo depicts one of the remaining early sandstone memorials. Time has eroded all remnants of any inscriptions that might have once existed on the early Acadian stones.
The only intact Scottish stone in the cemetery is that of Alexander Nicholson. The inscription is very hard to read in places, but here is my stab at it.... Alexander Nicholson. A native of Skye, Inverness shire, departed this life 26 September, 1820, ae 40 years.
His wife, Mary Nicholson, who died 3rd May, 18(-1), aged 65 years.
Their Daughter, Isabella, who died November 16, 1811?, aged 25 years.
MacQueen ("Skye Pioneers and the Island", 1928) translates the year of Mary's death as 1854, and of Isabella's as 1844, but I cannot confirm this due to spall marks on the dates on the stone.
It is unfortunate that time has taken its toll on the stones, despite measures to preserve them.
Sadly, this stone is no longer readable, fragments having broken loose from the frame once fabricated to preserve the cracked stone. This stone can be identified, however.
"Skye Pioneers and the Island" by Malcolm A. MacQueen, Pg. 41/42 states that on October 21, 1928, "The French cemetery today (1928) is in a neglected and ruinous condition... In the same cemetery, two months earlier, there stood erect, in good repair, a marble stone inscribed as follows:- In Memory of Donald Martin, departed this life July 1, 1861 Aet 78. Emigrated to this Island 1803. And our souls are in eternal rest. For our bodies are not asleep, Dear friend for us do not weep. Also his wife, Ann, departed this life April 8, 1850, Aet 65. In the intervening two months this stone has been thrown down and broken, leaving as the sole watchman to mark this last resting place of sharers in an experiment noble in its philanthropy, but one poor slab of stone."
As one can see from the excerpt from "Skye Pioneers" above, a full restoration has been needed since the 1920's. There is good news, however. Though neglected, this small cemetery was never forgotten. It has remained dear in the hearts of Belfast residents. Work has begun on recently on the restoration of this historic cemetery. Layers of underbrush are being removed, and trees cut down. A number of stones missing for many years have been located in the foundation of a nearby building when it was replaced, and will be returned to where they rightfully belong, in the cemetery. It is hoped to be able to stabilze the site and its stones, for future generations to enjoy.
The restoration is underway under the watchful eye of the Belfast community, and plans are in place to maintain the site once restored. Work has been proceeding all Summer under the watchful eye and sponsorship of the Belfast Hisorical Society, and on Saturday, August 26, 2000, a dedication ceremony was held to commemorate the cemetery.
The old Belle River Church of Scotland Church has been moved to the site, directly across from the cemetery at the park gates, to be used as an interpretive center for the cemetery. The building was moved to the site in June, 2000, along the Trans Canada Highway from its former location in Belle River. Low overhead wires necessitated the removal of the roof, which has since been grafted back on. The building is being carefully restored on site.