It’s October, the month of Halloween and the start of the more solemn Day of the Dead. As a tribute to those holidays I will be posting The Cities of the Dead, stories and photos of various cemeteries. A former co-worker once reacted in shock when I told her that I’d visited a cemetery in New Orleans. Macabre, she thought. Old cemeteries are fascinating. They tell stories of people and their times.
Rue St. Jean was our evening hangout during our stay in Quebec City. St. Jean is a lively, eclectic mixture of restaurants, shops; boutiques, bars, churches and history. You can do some shopping, have a quick drink at Bar Le Sacrilège where the seats are church pews; dine at one of St.Jean’s many restaurants; people watch while enjoying some gelato and then close out the night listening to some live music at Fou-Bar. The next morning you can ask forgiveness for your sins at Notre-Dame de Québec Cathedral-Basilica. It’s all there. And in the midst of all the lively goings on is a cemetery – a fascinating old historic graveyard.
During the early 19th century, Quebec City was one of the most important ports in North America for immigration from Great Britain. By the mid-nineteenth century nearly half of Quebec City’s population was English speaking. In need of a cemetery to serve the Anglican and Protestant community, St Matthew’s was opened for it’s grim business in 1771. The oldest cemetery in Quebec City, St. Matthew’s is the eternal home for some of Canada’s earliest settlers.
Looming over the cemetery is St. Matthew’s Church which had it’s beginnings in the early 19th century when an Anglican priest celebrated mass for parishioners in the gravedigger’s house. Later renovations that included arched windows and a dome officially turned the old home into a chapel. The chapel was destroyed by fire in 1845. A new chapel was erected in 1849 with a capacity of 500. Between 1870 and 1882, architect William T. Thomas designed changes that transformed the chapel into the church that now presides over the graveyard.
During the 20th century the city’s Anglican population began to dwindle and in 1979 the city was asked to take charge of both the cemetery and the church. With their acquisition the church was turned into a library and the graveyard was designated a city park.
The park is a hangout for locals who meet and chat on stone benches under the many ancient trees. Dogs chase balls on the patches of grass, weaving around the many old tombstones that still remain.
I paid the park an early morning visit with my camera and then again with Cora one evening just before heading to dinner.
Above, aglow in the evening light, St. Matthew’s church is framed by a pair of old trees in the former cemetery, now park. In the two photos below, old grave markers flank old St. Matthew’s.
There are 314 gravestones in St. Matthew’s Cemetery representing 580 souls. The cemetery is the final home for some 6,000 to 10,000 people. However, given the limited space available people were buried in layers. So many residents yet so few gravestones. Why? Most of those buried in the cemetery (or their next of kin) would not have been able to afford a monument.
As with any cemetery the markers tell stories of life, death and the occupations of Old Quebec’s residents. Many of the markers are the victims of time and weather; broken, cracked, tilting and inscriptions worn.