Old Protestant Burying Grounds (Elm Ave Cemetery) - A Project of PEIGS - History

Old Protestant Burying Grounds (Elm Ave Cemetery) History


Visitors Since Jan. 14, 1999 !
The Old Protestant Burying Grounds (Elm Avenue Cemetery) is one of Prince Edward Island's oldest and most historic Cemeteries. Located on the old "Elm Avenue" portion of University Avenue in downtown Charlottetown, it has been the site of burials of many faiths, and the final resting place of many prominent P.E.I. citizens.

Throughout much of its history, it has been plagued by poor maintenance, and currently a major effort is being made to bring about not only a one time restoration, but to fully restore the site with continuing upkeep to preserve the cemetery for the future.

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The following history of the Old Protestant Burying Grounds, is written by Miss Orlo Jones CG(C), a lady well known and respected by both on and off Island researchers for her many years of service as genealogist for the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation early in the year of 2000. While now out-of-date, we will still present it here as a reminder of how far the restoration of this cemetrery has come in a relatively short time. Orlo took a number of courses in genealogy from Brigham Young University, and was a charter member of the Genealogical Institute of the Maritimes. She retired from the PEIMHF on July 31, 1988, and still maintains an active interest in Prince Edward Island's history and genealogy. Our thanks to Orlo, not only for this history, but also for the many years of her life she has devoted to the Island, the preservation of its heritage, and to helping those researching their families.

Charlotte Parish Cemetery or
Old Protestant Burying Grounds (Elm Ave Cemetery)

A small cemetery on one of Charlottetown's busiest streets is said by some to contain more history per square foot than any other part of P.E.I., yet it is neglected and overgrown, with a diminishing number of intact gravestones each year.

We know that an earlier Protestant burial ground did exist to serve the military establishment, and others that lived during the earliest years of our history. By now no records remain, and no one knows the site of where it once was, although Lorne Callbeck believed it was "in the block now contained by Queen, Richmond, Pownal, and Grafton streets." He also stated that this first burial ground was neglected after the "new" one opened on Elm Ave., which we now know as a portion of University Avenue. Eventually, buildings were erected on the site of that early cemetery, and it was forgotten.

When Samuel Holland was appointed by King George III to survey British North America, he started in 1764 by surveying the Island of St. John, which he divided into 3 counties, and each of these into parishes of 100,000 acres. Each parish had a designated town site, as well as land set aside for a church, and glebe for the support of the clergy. In Queen's County, the parish was named Charlotte Parish, and the town Charlotte Town, after Charlotte, consort of King George III. Of course, the church was to be the "Established Church", which was the "Church of England", however, the earliest St. Paul's church could not be consecrated because it was used by Protestants of all denominations, as was the Old Protestant Burying Grounds.

This site of land was deeded to St. Paul's Anglican Church on October 11, 1826, and consecrated on October 15, 1826 by the Right Reverend John Inglis, the third Anglican Bishop of Nova Scotia (who had been given episcopal jurisdiction in Prince Edward Island by his Letters Patent from the crown the year before), and was for the use of all protestants. This was understandable, since there were only 150 families in the whole Island when Governor Patterson arrived in 1770, and most of these were in three pockets - Malpeque/Darnley, Georgetown, and the St. Andrews/Tracadie area. Charlottetown consisted of only 2 houses. By 1788 the number had grown to 40, and by 1830, the total had exploded to 350!

It is said that the first burial was Isabella, wife of George Bell, Sgt. Of the 21st Grenadiers, who died 11 Aug. 1779 at the age of 24. Benjamin Bremner, author of "Memories of Long Ago", wrote that there were other burials in the cemetery before the land was formally granted to the Anglican Church; and the transcription of gravestones in 1947 confirms this.

The first resident Anglican clergy, Rev. Theophilus Desbrisay arrived in 1775 to find there was neither a church, nor a place for him to live. He was the only resident Protestant clergy here for approximately 20 years, and he served all Protestants and some Roman Catholics, as well.

We have no accurate records of all the burials here before its closure by law 1 Jan., 1874. According to Lorne Callbeck in "My Island, My People", [PEIMHF, 1979, pages 99 - 104] the last burial was for Mrs. Archibald MacNeill in the sepulchure in Dec. 1872. A photocopy of an undated and unidentified list of burials in Charlotte Parish is on file, but there is no knowing whether or not it was complete, nor knowing the time frame it was supposed to cover. The first transcription of the gravestones in this century was done in 1947 by Elsie Cambridge, a descendant of Col. John Hamilton Gray, who recorded a total of 597 stones at that time; however, even at that date many graves had no markers, and one of these was a plot outlined by iron bars with stone pillars at the corners.

It is thought that there are 3 underground vaults, as well. One is said to hold the remains of a famous shipbuilder of Charlottetown, as well as 3 other family members.

Please see the biographies page for biographies of some of the many people known to be buried here.

From the names listed there, we can readily see what a treasure trove the Old Protestant Burying Grounds is. It is a demographer's, social studies student's, historian's or genealogists "jack pot". Here, we can study the dates and places of emigration, the numbers of young children who died at various ages, the number of women who died young - some in childbirth, and others from illnesses for which no miracle drugs existed, such as whooping cough, pneumonia, tuberculosis, diptheria, scarlet fever, and even measles. We may also learn of the many who contributed so much to our beginnings and culture.

This small, hallowed plot of land should be declared a historic site where one might go to immerse ones self in our Island's history, and to learn about our own families history.

The Burying Grounds today is a disgrace to visit, and has been for many years. It is overgrown, neglected, a repository for garbage; the dense bushes and overturned stones shelter some of our local derelicts, who scatter their empty bottles and other wastes about. Over the years, some of the backyards of adjoining properties have encroached on its fringes.

Vandals have overturned and broken many of the headstones. Each year, many stones have been destroyed, so it is doubtful if one sixth of the stones described in the 1947 transcript still stand, yet we hear nothing about any arrests of these offenders. Where are our police, our city officials, and our local provincial representatives who should have seen fit many years ago to have this cemetery declared a historic site?

Generally, the excuse given is that it is the property of St. Paul's Anglican Church, so that is the church's responsibility. Let us be fair: St. Paul's was the only Protestant Church for all in the early days, so the clergy from there performed all Christian burials for all denominations across the Island. Therefore, it should be the responsibility of all Protestant churches to help maintain this cemetery in a respectful manner, so that it could be another site tourists to this province could be encouraged to visit. Indeed, in 1904-1905, all Protestant Churches subscribed to its upkeep; however, except for occasional grass cutting little else has been done in the last 90 years.

Something must be done to honor these early settlers and our ancestors who's remains rest here.

Historians, genealogists, Charlottetown officials, parliamentarians, and Island Citizens must all do something to make this forgotten spot a place of beauty, and one that shows our respect to these early settlers. If we do not, the remaining stones will all be gone, and then this spot will be a target for business development, stores, fast foods, laundromats or other commercial buildings. Soon, too, it will be forgotten like the first Protestant Cemetery which was somewhere in downtown Charlottetown, and all our early History will be lost forever. It is up to us!

Orlo Jones, CG(C) 1999

Author: George Wright
Soft Cover, 175 pages with CD
Available At: most Island Bookstores, and mail orders as below
Price: $23.45 plus $3.50 shipping and handling
Report by: George Wright

Who Departed This Life Spanning several acres - and in existence during four centuries - the cemetery known as the Old Protestant Burying Ground is prominently located behind a wrought iron fence on University Avenue in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. It is the final resting ground for up to 4.000 souls who were interred between the late 1700's and 1873. The Burying Ground had withstood the ravages of time - and vandalism - but in recent years great efforts have been made to restore the grounds, offering respect to those departed colonial pioneers who established the city and the province.

"Who Departed This Life" chronicles the Burying Ground from its creation to its closure and subsequent restoration efforts, culminating in its Millenium restoration (1999-2004). Included in the book is a list of the remaining tombstones, as well as a Cd-Rom listing over 3.200 interments. In celebration of the lives of our forefathers, the book includes approximately 80 short biographies of those interred, along with stories of their families.

Mail orders are welcomed with a shipping and handling charge of $3.50. Cheques ( $23.45 per book) with orders should be sent to The Old Protestant Burying Ground (OPBG) c/o 205 Mt. Edward Rd., Charlottetown, PE., C1A 5T1. U. S. orders are welcome. Please remit the above amounts in US funds.



The following events are history now, but are left here, so you can follow the progress of the Cemetery restoration from the beginning:

Update 9: Jul 17, 2003!

2002 Memorial Service, July 30th, 2002 at 7.00 PM

The annual memorial service will be held July 30th 7.00 PM. The Guest Speaker will be the Rev. Ian Glass, with special Music by Flora Ann Whitty and Friends. There will be presentations to retiring Directors, history and updates of the Cemetery, and afterwards tours and information for descendants. All welcome

Update 8: Jul 17, 2002!

2002 Memorial Service, July 31st, 2002 at 7.00 PM

Special Music: Gloryland Express, a local southern Gospel group and Maida Rogerson and Joan and Leith Thompson ( The guest speaker is in the process of being changed as Rev. Bob Lockhart who was scheduled is ill, will pass on a replacement in a day or two) There will also be a cemetery history and tours.

Update 7: Jul 02, 2001!

Old Protestant Burying Grounds Evening Tours 2001

Most Islanders and especially Charlottonians do not know the origin of the name for Wright’s Bridge and Wright’s Creek in the former East Royalty just beyond the outskirts of the former Town of Parkdale. These were in fact named for the Wright Family more especially the Honourable George Wright who in the early 1800’s served as Administrator of the Province on five different occasions. This post was conferred on him, when the English appointed governor was absent, or when there was no Governor and would be equivalent to today’s position of Premier, Executive Council and Lieutenant Governor all rolled into one. George Wright was married to Phebe Cambridge, daughter of John Cambridge, the leading entrepreneur of early colonial Prince Edward Island. In addition to his government duties, the family established the first brewery on Prince Edward Island and operated a grist mill serving the farmers of the area. This was powered by the milldam fed by Wright’s Creek, which is still in existence. The family operated Belmont Farm on the outskirts of the City and built the beautiful Belmont House, which is now an apartment house. In addition, George Wright was Surveyor General of Prince Edward Island and an Officer of the Militia.

As the initial program to better acquaint citizens with the history hidden in the Old Protestant Burying Ground, the Burying Ground Committee is organizing a number of summer evening Cemetery tours. On the first tour to be held July 11th at 7.00 PM, Hon. George Wright’s great-great grandson, also George Wright will conduct a tour around the gravesites of the Hon. George Wright and that of several other families with which the Wrights were associated. These families include the Cambridges, Breckens, Hodgsons, DesBrisays and others.

All citizens and tourists are cordially invited to attend this and following tours, which are free of charge. Donations towards the upkeep of this sacred and historic area of Old Charlottetown are always appreciated.

The next scheduled tour will be July 25th, when Eleanor Vass will follow the career of Governor Ready. The Annual Memorial Service will be held on Sunday August 12th.

Update 7: Aug 14, 2000!

Memorial and Rededication Service Held

Over 250 people attended the Memorial and Rededication Service at the Old Protestant Burying Ground on University Avenue, Sunday afternoon. Mayor George MacDonald, MLA Wes MacAleer and MP George Proud brought greetings from their respective governments, and Mr. Proud, as well from the Millennium Bureau of Canada which has accepted and is supporting the graveyard restoration as an official Millennium Project.

Chairman for the afternoon, was John Ives, a director of the Committee restoring the graveyard.

Members of clergy and laity of several Charlottetown churches offered prayers and read the lessons.

Rev. Dr. Gordon Matheson, Chair of the Restoration committee conducted the Rededication Service and delivered the message emphasizing the constancy of the Christian religion, and noting how often various clergy for over 200 years would have stood at open graves in this burying ground, reciting very similar funeral services little changed today.

The choir consisted of members of several Charlottetown churches. A trio of Maida Rogerson, Leith and Joan Thompson sang the Island Hymn. Tom Burke was Piper and Shirley Wright, Cellist provided a number of selections during offering.

The history of the Burying Ground was given by George Wright, another director of the Committee. The Cemetery first laid out in 1784 was in use until 1873, when it was declared closed by an Act of the Legislature of the day. It is believed to have been used by all faiths initially. It was not officially consecrated as Protestant Cemetery until 1826. It was at this same time that the first Roman Catholic Cemetery was opened on St. Peters Road opposite what is now Fair Isle Ford. This St. Peter’s Rd. Cemetery was later transferred to St. Peter’s Anglican Church, when a Roman Catholic Cemetery opened on Longworth Ave.

The earliest stone remaining dates from 1789 and honors Isabella Bell, wife of Sgt. George Bell of the Grenadiers, then garrisoned in Charlottetown. Her death at 24 years of age, is of similar age to that of many deaths occurring in the early days of the Island., when many, many women died of childbirth. There are also many children buried there, when survival though childhood could not be taken for granted.

There are many names in the burying ground which we now recognize only as street names, including Weymouth, DesBrisay, Longworth, Haviland, Bayfield and Alley. The list of those interred includes practically all the people recognized as the founders of Prince Edward Island.

Mr. Wright reviewed the work which as been accomplished to date, emphasizing much remains to be done, including the establishment of a trust fund to insure that the cemetery is cared for in the future. Many times in the past, there have been short bursts of activity to restore the burying ground, only to see these efforts come to an end and cemetery reverting to its uncared for condition with the ensuing vandalism.

The cemetery is seen as oasis in the busy city, an almost park like area, which is already drawing an increasing number of visitors, tourists and Islanders alike.

After the main service, Catherine Hennessy gave a short outline of the history of Chief Justice Jarvis, at the site of the recently restored Jarvis sarcophagi and also of Benjamin Chappell at his nearby grave site.

Update 6: Jul 08, 2000!

2000 Memorial and Rededication Service

Progress continues in the cleanup, preservation and restoration of the Old Protestant Burying Ground. Side fencing has been completed and the erection of the ornamental Iron fence along University Ave. began July 26th.

We have uncovered approximately a dozen stones or pieces which can be identified, some of which have been buried for over 50 years.

Mapping of all stones along with a finding aid is just about completed.

A re-dedication service is planned for August 13th at 2.30 PM. Descendants are especially invited. We will have a desk to register descendants and obtain information from them beginning at 1.00 PM. There will be folks on hand before and after the service to assist in finding stones and other information.

Now for the bad news, we have suffered two break ins to our toolhouse and have lost a total of four lawn movers and one gas powered trimmer. This is very disconcerting for those of us who have worked so hard on the project. If any local folks have any lawn mowers which they are not using, and which might be donated, we would be most appreciative.

Hope to see a great turn out on August 13th and I hope our visitors will be pleased with what they see.

Update 5: May 24, 2000!

May 24th, 2000

Due to continued and forecasted cold weather for the coming weekend, the Old Protestant Burying Ground Committee wishes to advise that it is postponing the Memorial Service planned for the cemetery on May 28th.

Instead the Memorial Service will be combined with the Rededication Service planned for later this summer. The combined service is now scheduled for August 13th. As a number of out of province descendants are expected for this service, the date selected, which is the Sunday during Old Home Week, should provide a great opportunity for visiting and resident descendants and all interested to view the continuing improvements to this historic part of Prince Edward Island history and show their respect for our Colonial forefathers who established the colony later to become our Province.

Update 4: May 08, 2000!

2000 Memorial Service

The Annual Memorial Service for the Old Protestant Burying Ground has been [postphoned as mentioned in the release above till Sunday, Aug. 13th at 2.30 PM, at the cemetery, University Avenue, Charlottetown. Rev. Dr. Michael Caveney of the Kirk of St. James Presbyterian will be guest speaker. The Kirk Choir and the PEI Regimental Band will be performing. There will be a history of the cemetery given. After the service there will be tours of the cemetery and location of various graves will be identified for those interested. An offering to support the restoration will be received. For information contact George Wright, Treasurer at

Rededication Service

A rededication service is being planned for Sunday August 13th, when it is hoped that the major restoration will be complete including the ornamental iron fence along University Ave. More information later.

Update 3: Sept. 13, 1999!

Work is continuing after the major clean up and stone straightening of the past summer. A very appropriate iron fence is being donated for the front of the cemetery, and the repair of the two sarcophagi will be started in the near future.

The massive job of contacting descendants will be ongoing this fall and winter, and we welcome and need the submissions of names and addresses of such descendants.

We were extremely pleased to be one of the recipients of the first awards of Provincial Millenium Committee. We hope to have good news from the Federal Millenium Program sometime this month (September).

Cataloguing the existing stones with descriptions, inscriptions and pictures of every exisiting stone is about 50% completed.

Probing the entire area of the Cemetery has begun, looking for stones or pieces thereof which have become buried over the years. The count of stones is reduced to about 275 from over 500 in 1947. Vandalism and the ravages of time have not been kind to the cemetery.

We finally have a very professional brochure available, which we want to distribute as widely as possible. Single or multiple copies of the brochure(s)are available. Donation forms are included. We are now a registered charity, and tax receipts good in USA and Canada will be issued for all receipts of $10.00 or more.

For information and brochures, please contact:


c/o 205 Mt Edward Rd
Charlottetown, PE.,
C1A 5T1.

email your requests to George Wright,


Download brochure in .PDF format (Must have free Acrobat Reader):

Page 1
Page 2
Donor Form

Note: Should you have difficulty displaying the above files in your browser with the Adobe Reader, before downloading, right click on the link to the PDF file, then chose "Save Link As" in Netscape, or "Save Target As" in IE and AOL, from the pop up menu. When saved, go to "File/Open Page", select the newly saved file, and click "Open". It will then open properly. It may also be opened by finding the saved file in Windows Explorer, and double clicking on it.

Information on the Acrobat Reader - Includes download link!

See the Old Protestant Burying Grounds Biographies on our Biographies Page!

View the tombstones of the Old Protestant Burying Grounds on our Photos Page !

Presented by the Prince Edward Island Genealogical Society, ©1999.
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12/17/2005 8:34:22 AM