The remains of 204 people laid to rest in Mount Hermon Cemetery

Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Cameron MacMillan, chair of the Mount Hermon Cemetery Association, archeologist William Moss, the Reverend Mia Anderson, Bishop Dennis Drainville and Deacon Cynthia Patterson at Mount Hermon Cemetery in front of the gravesite where the remains of 204 unknown people from St. Matthew’s Cemetery were recently interred. 

The earthly remains of 204 people were interred in Mount Hermon Cemetery on November 5. They were originally buried in the St. John Street Protestant Cemetery, now referred to as St. Matthew’s Cemetery, in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, in the course of restoration work being carried out along the south wall of the former Anglican church and in the cemetery in 1999 and 2000, and later in 2009, their skeletal remains were exhumed. 

Bishop Dennis Drainville presided over a funeral liturgy as members of the Mount Hermon Cemetery Association, the Anglican Diocese of Quebec, and archeologists and researchers who had worked on the project looked on.  

William Moss, chief archeologist for the City of Quebec, gave an overview of the project, which has been ongoing for many years. “Today we are reburying 204 individuals of the 7,000 to 10,000 who were buried in St. Matthew’s Cemetery between 1772 and 1860.” 

Moss explained, “In doing that work, the City followed guidelines set out by English heritage and the Church of England for the treatment of human remains, and we worked very closely with members of the diocese and the parish, the Reverend Mia Anderson [pastor of St. Michael and St. Matthew’s Church in Sillery at the time] and Bishop Drainville, and our colleagues from Université Laval, Réginald Auger and Allison Bain, and Isabelle Ribot of the Université de Montréal. 

“These individuals are unnamed and unknown, except for what paleoanthropologists can now tell us from the analysis of the remains,” said Moss. “All tell a story of life in Quebec City in the 18th and 19th centuries. No matter how they lived it is important that their remains be reburied with dignity. May they rest in peace.” 

When St. Matthew’s Church on Rue Saint-Jean was closed in 1979, the congregation merged with that of St. Michael’s Church in Sillery. St. Matthew’s was later converted into a branch of the city’s public library system. Rev. Anderson said, “When they dug down to where the buttresses were to be installed, this cache of bones was discovered.” 

The researchers said it was impossible to identify any of the deceased individuals. Researchers were, however, able to determine gender and, using DNA testing, they grouped the remains of each individual. 

James Sweeny, archivist of the Diocese of Quebec, explained that the families of most of the people buried there didn’t have the means to purchase a headstone. “Many had probably just come off a ship and had no money and no family. The remains that were discovered were buried in layers, wrapped, not in coffins, six or seven layers deep in some cases, with planks of wood separating the layers.”

Sweeny continued, “The [St. John Street Protestant Cemetery] operated for about 60 years. It was closed by law in 1848 because of fears of the spread of diseases. There were a couple of interments after it closed, because the family already had a plot or a stone.” 

David Mendel, who has published a number of guide books about Old Quebec, explained that there had been a chapel on the site as early as 1827 and that, after the terrible fire that destroyed much of Saint-Jean suburb in 1845, the present-day St. Matthew’s Church was built there in 1848-49, and enlarged in stages. 

Mount Hermon Cemetery manager Marc Brennan explained that the remains were interred in an area of Mount Hermon where many of the bodies that had been exhumed from St. Matthew’s Cemetery at earlier dates were reburied, as were remains from an Anglican cemetery in Lévis. 

Brennan said, “The remains were reburied two weeks ago, Friday, October 30, and a large headstone was set in place. The Ville de Québec has taken care of the cost of the burial and had small caskets built specifically for each group of remains. There are no names on them, only the inscription, ‘Unknown but never forgotten.’”

On Friday, December 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Archeology lab of Université Laval, 3 Rue de la Vielle-Université, in the Old City, the researchers will be giving a presentation about the scientific findings, and will explain the bioarcheological research done on the remains found in the cemetery.