A grave situation that needs addressing.
History buff documenting local grave markers, but need for ongoing maintenance exists
Donald Pare hears the whispering of lost stories and the echoes of vanished history amid old gravestones that he’s trying to save.
The child psychologist and former daycare owner, 61, has photographed and researched more than 300 grave markers near Baddeck during the past five months. As he says, “it takes a certain kind of person to do this, and I’m that kind of person.”
“I probably have another couple hundred (to do),” he said by phone Nov. 18 from Calgary, where he lives with his partner Sandy Buchanan. Pare is assembling his photos of tumbled gravestones and forgotten cemeteries into a book, which he hopes to publish in Baddeck.
His passion for the project started during a Buchanan family reunion. While visiting the house that Sandy’s great-great grandparents built in Baddeck Forks, Pare poked around in closets and the attic.
“Of course, with five generations living there, they never threw anything away,” he said. “The photography was unbelievable. You know, glass plates (before film came into use in the early 1900s, photo negatives were developed on thin glass). The sad part was that a lot of people didn’t know who these people were, because the photos were so old.”
Pare worried that if something happened to the house, the history would be lost.
“I think everybody knows somebody in Baddeck whose house burnt,” he said. “We were living in Toronto, so I kept going back and forth, scanning everything. Then it was, ‘okay, this is kind of interesting. I’ve got all this stuff. Now what am I going to do with it?’”
Curiosity about where the people in the photos were buried stirred in him, and he started going to the cemeteries and taking pictures of the headstones, knowing that there was a great chance that a lot of them were relatives.
“These people — a lot of them were the founders of Cape Breton. These were the first generation who came from Scotland. So, there’s a lot of history.”
But nature, “as beautiful as it is, can destroy an old cemetery,” he said, describing one stone that he documented, which marked a grave beneath a tree. The tree had fallen over and was resting on the cracked stone.
Because the grave markers sometimes show no names, only dates and a simple phrase, such as “father and son,” Pare often reads up to 60 death certificates in a day.
“It’s a big job,” he said. “One headstone can sometimes take two to three hours.”
“It’s very satisfying to know that those people aren’t lost. It’s like yelling out to them, ‘hey, we know you’re here.’”
He has completed about a dozen cemeteries, but some, especially the tinier, older ones, have eluded him.
“One of the smallest would be Crowdis,” he said. “Nobody knows where it is anymore.”
“I’ve got people in town that are helping me, and it’s very important that we find it.”
Wendy Nicholson has been “like a god-send,” Pare said, because she has gone to cemeteries and taken photos for him.
And before Pare got started, Lloyd Stone, “for years, unselfishly,” repaired forgotten grave
markers then stood them upright again.
“A lot of people have done a lot of work,” Pare said, mentioning Jean Doane, D. Edward Macphee, John D. Macphee, R.B. Macphee and A. Hanam.
“Then I come in and take whatever information I can get off the stone, and I just run with it,” he said. “It’s kind of like bringing (the people) back to life, but the sad part is you also watch them die in the process. It can get emotional, especially when you’re dealing with the younger ones.
If you see a family lose four children to cholera over four days, you just think, ‘how did they go on?’”
Pare would like to see every graveyard near Baddeck documented, but fears he can’t complete it.
“This generation that has been doing it is getting older, so can we just light a match under the next generation?”
“It would be such a good historical project for young people … to get off their phones, go into an area and excavate.”
“You would be walking for a mile into the weeds, but it takes you back into the history of Baddeck, to when it was a port town with a much larger population than now.”
“Because we have Lloyd Stone out there, literally gluing headstones back together. And the work that he’s done… what happens when he’s gone?”
“For this generation coming up, it’s so important to see that headstone of a two-year-old little girl that died of diseases that we don’t even have anymore. You think of all the young lives that were lost.”
Trends and evolving attitudes can be discerned from the stones, Pare pointed out.
For example, “although Armenia Marie's headstone credits her husband, Jacob Styles, as sheriff, and her father, Irad Hart, as a prominent Margaree lawyer, it failed to mention that she bore and raised nine children."
"In my own way, I feel I’ve given her credit, long overdue.”
One of the grave markers that Pare has documented in the Baddeck area.