Keith Elliott spends many quiet summer days walking through Nova Scotia cemeteries with a small white brush in hand, looking for headstones in need of repair.
A stone carver by trade, Elliott knows the signs of wear on the grave markers, some of which date back several centuries. He uses a gentle mixture of water and non-ionic soap to brush away any biological material.
The goal, he says, is simply to care for the oft-overlooked relics of the past. This summer, he expects to have repaired and cleaned as many as 80 headstones in Cumberland County.
“It’s better than to see the stones fall to the ground and be forgotten. The stone definitely won’t last forever but why not take as good care of them as we can while they’re here?” Elliott told CTV Atlantic.
In some cases, headstones are delivered to Elliott for some special care. He recently received a number of stones from Joggins, N.S., many of which were cracked and no longer legible.
“The family basically rescued them from falling into the ocean and stored them for a while, and now they’d like to find a new home for them and they’re not sure what the next step is,” he said.
Elliott isn’t able to save the headstones, but he says he can help prolong their lifetimes.
Churches and local charities pay for the restorations, but Elliott does it on his own time, too. The work is important for preserving the region’s history, said Harvey Gullon of the North Cumberland Historical Society.
“It’s very important that we keep them up to date. The stones and the cemetery book, the documentation, for anybody that’s doing research,” Gullon said.
Working from cemeteries may seem unconventional, but Elliott insists the arrangement doesn’t scare him.
“I find it very peaceful working in a cemetery, I don’t get spooked out or unsettled by it. I find it’s very quiet, nobody complains. It’s nice work.”
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Dan MacIntosh