A unique visitation is happening this Sunday at the Canadian Museum of History.

52 caskets will be on display for the public except those inside the caskets died nearly two centuries ago.

The remains of Bytown's earliest settlers were discovered along Queen Street, during the construction of the LRT. They had been buried at what was then Barrack Hill Cemetery near Queen and Elgin.

Inside a large room at the Canadian Museum of History, the site of 52 little black caskets is a bit eerie.  The caskets, made by city of Ottawa carpenters, will hold the remains of some of the earliest settlers of Ottawa's Bytown.

“The little tiny boxes are for the babies, the bigger boxes are for the adults,” explains Dr. Janet Young, the Museum’s Physical Anthropology Curator.

There are 52 boxes but the remains of a minimum of 79 individuals, 19 “in situ” bodies and the scattered remains of many others, all of whom had lived and died in the area during the early 1800's; their bones leaving evidence of the hardships they had endured.

“These scars remain on their remains,” says Dr. Young, “and we can tell from them they had a hard life from beginning to end.”

The remains were unearthed a few years ago during the construction of the LRT along Queen Street.

Archives show a cemetery there once at the corner of Bytown's Barrack Hill, where canal workers and their families were buried, where, in the 1800's, the young city was being developed around it.

The problem though is that Bytown grew during the 1820’s and ’30, the cemetery suddenly was in the middle of the city and residents started complaining about smells coming from the site, “floating vapors”, the Bytown Gazette reported in 1843. So some of the bodies were moved to the newly established Sandy Hill Cenetery, now known as the Macdonald Gardens Park, but not all. 

Ottawa archivist Paul Henry says many diseases ravaged those early settlers, who had little money and few if any relatives in Canada.

“We had two cholera epidemics that wiped out entire families,” explains Henry, “so there would be no one left to take care of the ancestors’ remains.  So if they didn't get moved, it appears they were just left there.”

But no more.  The city is holding a public visitation this Sunday, September 24th  in the Resource Room of the Canadian Museum of History where these 52 caskets will be on display before they find their final resting place.

Ben Mortimer is the archaeologist who helped unearth the remains at the Barrack Hill Cemetery.

“It’s great to see closure coming,” says Mortimer, who is with the Paterson Group, “That was part of my involvement in this, bringing all the parties together and ensuring these people are respected in the way they would have been back in the day as well.”

The visitation is between 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday.  They will be re-interred at the Beechwood Cemetery, the National Cemetery of Canada, during a private ceremony in October.