Friday, August 18, 2017

History of cemeteries in a secular age

Congregations dwindle, and churches close all over.  In the cities they sometimes turn into condos. In rural areas they may re-emerge as private homes or retail outlets or community halls.

But the cemeteries beside them endure. Who takes care of them when the congregations are gone?

In Cornwall, Ontario, recently, the problem was handed over to a backhoe and a dumptruck, and tombstones dating back to the 1830s ended up as rubble.

Turns out there actually is an agency for these matters, the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, and it is not pleased with the Presbyterian church that ordered the demolition.
That’s the law. When you’re buried, you’re buried in perpetuity…forever. The cemetery has to be responsible for the care and maintenance of a grave site.
As it happens, a large crowd of my ancestral in-laws are buried in a rural Catholic cemetery in western,Ontario. The church, like many others in that diocese, is long closed, but upkeep for the many little graveyards like it is apparently a serious ongoing burden for the diocese. Perpetuity does not come cheap.

Meanwhile, Cornwall historian and friend of this blog Stuart Manson has to take it personally:
He says his fourth great-grandfather, James Gillie, was and is probably still buried there.
“Our family has no knowledge about his body being disinterred and moved like some apparently were. So, from our perspective, he still lies still there in that cemetery although he’s probably rolling in his grave right now,” Manson said.
Photo creditThe Cornwall Newswatch -- which seems to do a pretty good job covering local news, in an era when local news outlets are about as endangered as local cemeteries.
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