It was a cold, rainy weekend in 2013 when a group of volunteers started reclaiming an abandoned family cemetery in north-end Gatineau from choking undergrowth and litter.
The workers didn’t even know whose cemetery it was. There was no sign, and the gravestones gave little information beyond names and dates of people buried from the early 1800s to the mid-1900s. Barbers, Langfords, Frasers, Davidsons.
The little cemetery which once overlooked open country from a picturesque hillside is now surrounded by houses, so that its connection to the past was lost.
Today we know that the graves belong to the extended family of Joseph Barber (1801-1876) and his wife, Elizabeth Twamley (1801-1856), Irish Methodist immigrants who married in 1824 and settled on what is now Gréber Boulevard in the early 1830s. In the following 140 years some 53 people are believed to have been buried there, beginning with Joseph and Elizabeth’s two-year-old daughter Margaret in 1836.
But when this newspaper and Le Droit investigated the mysterious abandoned site in 2011, little of this was known, and the whole property on rue de l’Épée was a tangled mess.
Jean-Guy Ouimet, an enthusiastic genealogist from Gatineau, went to work to fix that. He had no idea that his early cleanup work would lead to years of investigation and work to protect the property.
“After those (newspaper) articles appeared, we had a meeting,” he said, gathering people from the Société de généalogie de l’Outaouais, from the City of Gatineau, and living members of the Barber family, traced to a farm outside Winchester. (They are now in their eighties.)
Volunteers spent four days cutting away the thick bushes in the fall of 2013, raking years of fallen leaves, and generally cleaning up the place.
“There was even an 80-year-old gentleman who was helping us, and children of five or six,” Ouimet says.
In following years they removed full-sized trees that were in bad shape and straightened headstones. And each year since then there is a work bee of general cleanup, cutting grass and planting some flowers, just like yard work around any other property along the street.
The site has no electricity or running water, so the work is all done by hand, as it was when the Barbers farmed that land.
But Ouimet wasn’t finished yet. He and fellow genealogist Suzanne Bigras started tracing who is buried in the cemetery, and how they were related. What followed was a list of 53 names — some with their names on stones, others with no stones but written records proving they are there, and 19 listed as “probables.”
They are mostly Barbers, with a number of members of other farming families — Langfords and others. Some of these families intermarried with Wrights descended from Philemon Wright. Many died young: Emma Langford lost three daughters — Annie, Eva and Marjorie — each at the age of five or six around the end of the 1800s. Emma died in her thirties.
All this retracing of history took Ouimet and Bigras “two full years of intensive work,” and they aren’t done yet.
Why do all this work? we asked.
“Curiosity. Being a genealogist one has the reputation of being curious. So at the beginning we wondered: What is this cemetery? Is it a religious cemetery? A family cemetery?
“We also love heritage, and having a gravestone with an inscription from 1836 — that’s pretty old. You rarely see that in the Outaouais.”
The original farm was sold and redeveloped in the 1990s.
“We got caught up in it, and we think it’s important to preserve heritage where it’s Indigenous, francophone, anglophone, it’s all important,” Ouimet said.
“Almost all the old farm houses in Templeton West have been demolished to build homes that all look alike.”
Ouimet and Bigras, together with one remaining Barber relative in Eastern Ontario, have formed the non-profit Corporation du cimetière patrimonial Barber in order to maintain and showcase this little corner of Outaouais history.
The cemetery has a web page with photos and a brief history on the website of Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.