"THE OLD PROTESTANT CEMETERY"
October 6, 1998
INDEX.....Shortcuts to Specific Topics;They've called it the "ELM AVENUE CEMETERY", the "ELM AVENUE ANGLICAN", the "OLD PROTESTANT CEMETERY" and the "OLD ANGLICAN CEMETERY"
At first glance, the difference in names seems unimportant and insignificant, yet the slightest omission of one word or the subtle differences implied, is probably the reason this poor old cemetery, located in the heart of Charlottetown, has remained in it's present deplorable condition for the last 200 years!
As you will see, the responsibility for the restoration and the naming of this historic cemetery has remained a sensitive issue and the source of bitter indifferences for many decades. There's no denying it, even today, mere mention of the topic arouses strong emotion.
For me it started while I was researching my family history, the MacLaren's of Greenwich..PEI, and the names John and Catherine MacLaren came up. LATTER DAY SAINTS records showed they were buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery, there in Charlottetown, although I'm not even certain they are my direct ancestors, it certainly brought up a topic that's time was well overdue!
The "Old Protestant Cemetery" was a public burial ground used by the early settlers from approximately 1780. Back then, it was one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots on the island, but sadly today, you can only see the deplorable condition of the cemetery and read the old newspaper articles that tell how past attempts, every fifty years or so to clean it up have failed.
It's central location in Charlottetown begs attention, as noted in a recent "tourist letter" that appeared in the Guardian, Sept 26, 1998. I personally don't know the author but it does make one wonder how many other tourists have felt the same way, but didn't take the time to sit down and write a letter about it.
Aside from it's present deplorable appearance, indifference was caused when the ownership of the cemetery was granted to the Episcopalian Church by the Government in 1826 and bitter controversy arose regarding the church's consecration of the cemetery. Both the consecration and the subsequent grant of the land created the question of whether or not this invalidated the rights and claims of other denominations and the question came before the Legislative Assembly in 1830.
It was resolved unanimously; "that no religious rite or ceremony can
invalidate rights acquired by prescription, and usages uninterruptedly
continued for so long a period, under the immediate cognizance of the
Executive Government".But now, the "Old Protestant Cemetery" has to once again confront that same issue, this time it's caused by a local group, the PEI Genealogical Society.
By designating the cemetery, ANGLICAN, eliminating the word "PROTESTANT", the PEIGS had literally converted all those interred there to the EPISCOPALIAN faith, thereby bringing back old feelings and arguments the "Crown" and the Episcopalian Church had once caused.
The name problem is complicated to say the least! When I first inquired about purchasing the OPC cemetery transcript, I found that the PEIGS had eliminated the availability of the 33-10 OLD PROTESTANT CEMETERY transcript "completely," in their words,
"Enclosed please find a copy of our cemetery transcripts which is published
quarterly in our Society newsletter. The Old Protestant Cemetery, Elm
Avenue was transcribed in 1983 and therefore, would have been listed as
the other cemeteries were for some considerable time.
This cemetery has not been "added" recently".It's obvious, by substituting the OPC name in their publicationslist and by using instead, 33-10 "ELM AVE CEMETERY, ANGLICAN", they make it difficult for anyone doing family research, to locate a Protestant ancestor in Charlottetown. Fortunately, the OPC name will always be available through theLatter Day Saints FHC records.
The PEIGS further confuses the issue by showing at 33-10b, "ST. PAUL'SANGLICAN BURIALS," yet when you pay for and receive the cemetery transcript, itreads "The OLD ANGLICAN CEMETERY, ELM AVE," 1805-1826. The 33-10 and 33-10b isthe same cemetery!
I heard the 33-10 represents the stones still existing at the last readingin 1983, and 33-10b is taken from St. Paul's burial transcript records. Butwhat I can't understand is, if the consecration did nothing to the otherdenominations, why is it they want us to think everyone buried there is Anglican?
Now that this story has unfolded, the PEIGS is taking it upon themselves, once again, to change the name "officially" to the "Elm Ave. Cemetery". But what about the denomination? Why do they want to remove any reference to the word Protestant or the name, the Old Protestant Cemetery after so many years, there must have been a good reason for our ancestors to have called it that in the first place! At this point, it doesn't seem fair to change anything further until the majority of the Island citizens, not just one group, comes to an agreement on the name.
We need answers from church officials and descendants to get further information, personal opinions and knowledge, rather than leaving this to a "Executive Committee". It may be endemic to many on the committee, but this controversy could be settled by the cooperative wisdom, common sense and overall concensus of the "PEOPLE of PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND", but only if the story gets out!
Attempts to limit discussion and links, or to blame others on this public issue is only doing harm to genealogy in general and any serious thoughts of a restoration project. As most people in genealogy would agree, just because history may not always be a pretty picture, that in itself, is not enough of a reason to threaten the messenger or keep it hid in the dark.
The inadequate response from the PEIGS though, should be a priority issue tobe addressed immediately by the combined PEI Protestant contingent. Our ancestors deserve more recognition, appreciation, and respect, nothing should get in the way of our pursuit to restore the cemetery to a pristine park setting, and it's name historically accurate. Someone had to begin somewhere to discuss this old, yet sometimes bitter and sensitive topic, in order to correctwrongs and set the records straight, once and for all, so it might as well have begun here. If you have any knowledge or feelings you'd like to share, it would be appreciated.
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