The Candlelight Graveyard Tours – Garrison Cemetery, Fort Anne National Historic Site
What better way to spend a summer evening than walking through a graveyard by candlelight, and hearing tales of it’s residents, the headstones, and history of a fort town all woven together into a rich fabric of the area’s past . The Garrison Cemetery is located within the 37 acre site of Fort Anne National Historic Site, in Annapolis Royal. Scottish colonizers built the first fort on what is now the site of Fort Anne in 1629. Next the French built a succession of four forts on the site beginning in 1643 and naming it Port Royal. In 1710, when Port Royal fell to the British, it was renamed Fort Anne. With a succession of forts that changed hands over the years, the Garrison Cemetery has been used by the French military, Acadians, the British military and the parish of St. Lukes, creating quite a diversity within this graveyard. The grave marker of Beth Douglass who died October 1, 1720 has given the Garrison cemetery the distinction of having the oldest English gravestone in Canada. Rose Fortune, a Black Loyalist and native of Virginia was the first female police officer in Canada. She patrolled the docks of Annapolis Royal and when she died February 20 of 1864 she was laid to rest in the Garrison Cemetery, although there is no grave marker for her.
As the sun begins to set we return to the Fort for the grave yard tour. We find that we were the first to arrive but soon others join the group. By the time the tour is set to start, our host, Alan Melanson, an internationally acclaimed heritage interpreter, has a sizable following of curious night seekers. Everyone is given a candle powered lantern to carry, and as the last bit of light fades to black we set off on the tour under the ethereal glow of lantern lights that bob and weave through the darkness as we walk. The lanterns create an atmosphere for some unique photography and coax us back to a time before electric lights. Alan Melanson who gives the tour is a wonderful host, a knowledgeable historian, and seasoned storyteller. Decked out in Victorian funeral attire he tells us about the the traditions surrounding his outfit like the eighteen inch wide band of black silk that adorns his black top hat called a “Weeper” given to members of the funeral procession as a gift from the host. The tour lasts for about an hour, and there is not a minute that is not entertaining, and informative. Alan tells of the people who are buried there intertwined with stories of Annapolis Royal and the soldiers garrisoned at the Fort. When you look at the tombstones, each with different symbols and art adorning them, Alan explains the variety and significance of the stones, the artists who carved them, mixed with funny stories that bring the graveyard alive.
So, if you decide to visit Annapolis Royal, make sure you plan on staying the night and take a candlelight tour of one of Canada’s oldest English graveyards. If you drop by Fort Anne National Historic Site at 9:30pm Alan Melanson, will ensure the tour is a memorable evening. You’ll be glad you did.