Neglected

Posted by on December 6, 2011 at 11:31 pm.

Hugh Heal clears brush and branches from Kellar pioneer cemetery on Mosquito Lane in North Marysburgh

Hugh Heal is demanding the County’s respect for the dead. Heal, who served on the County’s cemetery board for ten years, recently pulled his name from board, now called the Cemetery Advisory Committee, frustrated, because it was ineffective.

“They had no authority, they had no power, and they had no actual responsibilities,” said Heal. He has been suggesting for years that the group, which currently changes over with each new municipal council, alter not only its setup, but its status. “They need a long-term, permanent type cemeteries board. Not something on an annual basis or that lives and dies with council, but they need something that’s ongoing.”

Commissioner of Recreation, Parks and Culture Barry Braun agrees. He say the new advisory committee, which met for the first time on June 29, will be bringing a terms of reference to the committee of the whole on Thursday,Aug. 11 which, if approved, could give them more power.

Still, Braun says there are restrictions. Austerity measures in the County have come down especially hard on the Recreation, Parks and Culture Department, and all components are suffering. Taking over abandoned cemeteries is a responsibility of the County, if the matter is brought to light. But with 40 pioneer cemeteries already in the County’s charge and a lengthy legal process to assume any more, the municipality would prefer to avoid it.

“I’m not sure if we want to go around and look for more. Some of them are being looked after… many of the cemeteries are four or five headstones in the middle of somebody’s field,” said Braun. “We’re finding that with many of these cemeteries the legal process to assume them is very onerous. Salem cemetery is an example of a cemetery we’ve been trying to assume for two years now, and it’s very complicated.”

Not good enough, says Heal. He and Ian Reilly, both with the Seventh Town Historical Society, mapped out most of the County’s more than 100 cemeteries, many of which are pioneer burial grounds and hold the County’s history and heritage.

The County may be responsible for maintaining those grounds, but with fallen trees, out of control shrubbery and local vandals, Heal says all they’re doing is sending around a mower.

“I’m not sure they all are being mowed,” said Heal.“I was in one the other day that hasn’t been mowed for at least five years… trees in there are as tall as I am, where it’s supposed to have been mowed.”

Heal has been repairing stones at some of the cemeteries, putting together broken grave markers, and charging the County just barely the cost for the materials he uses. In his work he’s come across cemeteries that have all but disappeared.

A family burial ground at McFaul road and County Road 1, was noted in a 1960s audit of cemeteries, but when Heal found it, only one stone was left, lying face-down in the dirt, in a patch of trees.

A family that came in from the Ottawa area to find the burial site of their ancestors was frustrated to see nothing but brush where the gravestones should have stood.

There are dozens of small burial grounds all over the County. When the loyalists received plots of land from the Crown, each family reserved a piece of their plot, referred to as God’s half-acre, to bury their dead.

“Almost every family that settled here had a grave plot,” Said Heal. “They looked after it. Most of them have disappeared because they were wood. Some were fieldstones, but most of them were wood.And when the families died or moved on, most of them disappeared.”

As towns and communities formed, small churches would open cemeteries on or near the church grounds for their congregations. But those churches closed, and their burial grounds were also abandoned.

Now, Heal says, it’s the responsibility of the municipality to see those pioneer cemeteries that are known and remain intact are looked after so that they too don’t disappear.

Heal contends that those pioneer cemeteries that are being neglected are part of the County’s heritage. And without care, they will eventually disappear.

“It’s just one little step after another,” said Heal. “And if you let it delay long enough, then there’s nothing left.”

The new advisory committee will also be asking council to recognize Heal’s work repairing gravestones during Thursday’s meeting.

Above: Heal takes broken stones to his home to scrub them of lichen and dirt and do what he can to repair them before returning them to their resting places.

Leave a Reply