by J. René Roy
PORT AUX BASQUES – The care and maintenance of local cemeteries is not always as simple as one might think. The sheer number of local graveyards poses a few challenges for their caretakers and administrators.
Rev. Joan Allen of St. James Anglican Church oversees seven locations, and says they have a caretaker who works the Barachois Hills location ‘very well’. In addition, that same caretaker tends to the High Street location (Old Anglican cemetery across from the Marine Atlantic overpass) approximately twice a year, tending mostly to the mowing of the graveyard.
“And if theres anything else that needs to be done, and it’s brought to our attention, and this caretaker can take care of it, we will do it “, adds Allen.
Sometimes it’s not just the grass that needs care either. Rev. Allen cites a recent example.
“Someone called from Halifax and the headstones were down and one was cracked off. But they’re not our responsibility, they are the responsibility of the family members. So all I did was call the funeral home, because they do have a guy who goes around and fixes them.”
Notes Allen, “They don’t charge a lot unless theres a lot of work or a big fix.”
Given that the terrain of the Southwest coast is often tilted, even toppled headstones can be a frequent issue. The old Anglican cemetery has several markers that have fallen down over the years, and without family members to take care of them, they all too often are simply left as they are.
“This lady, she had two headstones, they had both fallen over, and they both got fixed,” shares Allen.
Maurice Collins of the Salvation Army says that they currently tend to one cemetery along the highway and one in East End Channel on Lillington Avenue.
“We do have a summer student who maintains the cemeteries all the time,” says Collins.
The student is hired through a government grant program to allow them to take care of the properties. Collins adds that the older cemetery has very few graves remaining.
“Most have been moved up to the new cemetery.”
He admits that not much maintenance has been done in the Lillington Avenue cemetery this summer due to a lack of resources. With an aging population in the church, just finding volunteers to help out can be another challenge.
Rev. Allen says the maintenance of the St. James Anglican cemeteries is not funded through grants at all, and says that the Anglican church hasn’t received a Government grant in several years.
“Its primarily through donations or memoriams,” states Allen.
She adds that the personal items left at graves can be an issue when it comes to maintenance as the caretaker must move each item, then clear the site, and replace the items back as best he can.
“He hasn’t got time to move everything and put it back. If you are going to put something there, you have to be responsible for making sure that the grass stays cut.”
Joan Chiasson is with the United Church. Their cemetery maintenance this summer was supported by an AMPLIFY 2020 grant which provides up to $3000 for projects by young adults. Chiasson shared via email that at their cemetery on the TransCanada Highway this year, they, “added landscaping, a parking lot and a cremation burial site,” as well as 11 benches donated in memory of loved ones.
Referring to the old cemetery near Sharks Cove, Chiasson wrote, “This cemetery was in very poor condition being overgrown by brush and weeds.”
They also found that a lot of the headstones had been knocked down over the years.
Their church hired an employee, Jared Butt, who “did a wonderful job in cutting the brush, mostly with hand clippers, to find many hidden headstones and family plots. He also reopened the pathways so one can now walk through the cemetery.”
Chiasson says she is looking at this as year one of a three year project.
“The United Church’s goal is to bring the cemetery back to a place where relatives can go and remember their loved ones from many years ago,” notes Chaisson. “There is quite a bit of history hidden under all the brush and weeds.”