DIGBY, NS – The names of everyone buried at Digby’s Old Loyalist Cemetery are now known, thanks to a man named Brian McConnell.
McConnell is the President of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada’s Nova Scotia Branch.
His research on previous Loyalist-related articles led him to search through properties, deeds and death records. After 3 months of looking through Digby’s records, he had it.
“It’s important to know the past so it stays alive, and people can only do that if they know who’s here,” he said.
The process of finding names
Walking around the cemetery in accurate Loyalist dress, which he got after joining the 84th regiment of Royal Highland Immigrants' living historian group at Fort Anne, McConnell describes always wondering who was actually buried at the cemetery.
“I knew so many others who wondered that same question. How many times have we all walked by this place and wondered at that?” he wonders.
Since the National Archives of Canada released all records of Loyalist land claims online, McConnell has regularly researched Loyalist history throughout eastern Canada.
It’s a type of work that comes naturally to McConnell, who works full times as a lawyer in Digby.
After narrowing his search to Digby and combining it with the names on the gravestones, everything fell into place, and he successfully found each person buried in the cemetery, as detailed in the article he wrote describing his research.
What he found
McConnell not only confirmed the names of people buried in the cemetery, but was able to construct profiles for each of them too. People like Henry Rutherford, who once owned the public wharf and became Digby’s first elected representative in the provincial assembly in 1793, and others like Daniel Leonard, a simple sail maker who worked alongside his brother.
After completing the research, McConnell also discovered this is the only Loyalist cemetery for which the plot of land was sanctioned as a cemetery independently of any church.
The plot of land was sold by Rutherford to two other Loyalists for $1, conveying specifically it be used as a cemetery.
“This is significant. Most Loyalist cemeteries you see are within a pre-existing graveyard, most often connected to a church,” he said.
Other findings and their significance
The cemetery’s most recent deed issued by the Town of Digby around 1910 specified the cemetery be designated by four stone posts, still visible today.
It also specified it be maintained like a park, with benches, which also remain on site today.
He also found articles chronicling the site falling into some disrepair over the years, and a 1973 Digby Courier article stating the Admiral Digby Horticultural Society took over caring for the site, and really cleaned it up.
These, and other findings, tell a story not known to most people still alive in Digby.
“A lot of people that knew the stories about this place just aren’t around anymore,” said McConnell.
“This will help people know once again what this place’s story is.”
For a complete list of McConnell’s findings, read his article here.