A tribute to Nova Scotia’s lost cemeteries

Author digs up abandoned boneyards in The Dead Die Twice




SaltWire Network



It’s with good reason writer and photographer Steve Skafte calls himself “an ardent explorer of misplaced memories.” After all, not only has he been able to turn his fascination for photographing abandoned houses and roads into a career, he has just released a sought-after book dedicated to documenting some of the province’s most compelling forgotten cemeteries. New in bookstores, The Dead Die Twice features a full-colour collection of photo essays from a year spent exploring the province and uncovering the stones and stories long erased from the minds of the living. “It’s funny, I always found it interesting exploring around here when I was growing up,” explained Skafte about his passion for photographing forgotten areas. “But it wasn’t until I got a camera that I thought about going off in the woods on my own.” That happened when the Bridgetown-based artist turned 19. Skafte would soon take that camera and set out on a bike trip through New Brunswick, Maine and New Hampshire, taking pictures of things like abandoned roads and houses along the way. Shortly after returning home, he realized he didn’t need to travel anywhere to find such amazing scenery to capture on film — there was plenty right here in Nova Scotia. Right then, Skafte knew what he wanted to do: create a website and post a brand new photo in an online journal every day for an entire year. “I think it was a month or two into it, I was pretty sure that not only would I do a year but I was never going to stop,” says Skafte, who still retains his daily journal on the social media platform, Tumblr. After years of capturing Nova Scotia’s forgotten roads and residences, he turned his curiosity towards burial grounds and discovered a gold mine. “I started looking in the general areas and started finding them one by one,” recalls Skafte. “Sometimes people would tell me where one was because they knew it because they had the house just down the road.” Within a month, he says he found 50 abandoned cemeteries in Annapolis County alone before expanding his search to other counties such as Cumberland and Colchester. Before long, he had such an array of fascinating forgotten stories and enticed a publisher to put together The Dead Die Twice as a tribute to Nova Scotia’s long lost marked burial grounds. “When it comes to just burials, that’s just endless,” says Skafte, who notes he restricted his book to marked graveyards and cemeteries. “We are only talking about ones that have at least one stone with anything legible on it - those are the ones I focus on.” One of the most notable burial grounds Skafte reveals is the Ray Family Burial Ground. At this Annapolis County site, the gravestones of young children are hidden away under the crawl space of a house in Cornwallis. Apparently, the parents buried the children in the yard but when a west wing was added years later, the graves were never relocated. “It was an odd decision because they could have just paid for another plot and put the stones right next to the parents,” says Skafte, noting the parents’ markers are located in a nearby cemetery. “I can’t imagine that there are many situations where that’s ever happened.” For more information on The Dead Die Twice, visit: www.nimbus.ca/store/the-dead-die-twice