Nanaimo city employees are investigating after broken and discarded gravestones were revealed near the Nanaimo Municipal Cemetery.
City staff members are looking into why and when gravestones and stone blocks were left behind a civic building at the Bowen Road cemetery, after a citizen showed pictures of discarded markers.
The markers, some engraved with names, lie together among brambles just outside the stone fence surrounding the 139-year-old cemetery. Stone blocks also peek out from beneath overgrowth in other areas of the city property.
Patrick Squire, a Nanaimo resident, said he first saw a pile of gravestones about eight years ago, and although shocked, it was a headline in the News Bulletin that prompted him to do something about it. The article read ‘Cemetery safeguards secrets,’ and acted like the cemetery is protecting things, said Squire, who cleared the overgrowth from the headstones and brought the issue to a committee of the whole meeting Monday.
He alleged a city practice for decades of stripping out monuments, edging stones and headstones and dumping them and he believes there are tons of them buried on the city’s property. He wants the stones resurrected and given the respect they deserve.
Councillors, who saw photos of discarded headstones, called it disturbing, sad and a travesty and directed staff to immediately retrieve discarded headstones.
Council also directed staff to store headstones in a safe location and work to identify, restore and determine their rightful place.
Coun. Bill Bestwick, who made the motion to immediately retrieve the stones, said it’s the right thing to do so that the headstones are not vandalized or someone sees something of value.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said he hopes council gets information back from city staff on the background to the situation and options to correct it.
“With all due respect and I appreciate Mr. Squire’s information and I do want to act on it, we are right now just responding to the information he has presented,” he said.
An investigation has already begun, according to Geoff Goodall, the city’s director of engineering and public works. He said one theory is that in the 1960s council decided to lay the cemetery flat. Ads were put in the paper and the city made efforts to contact families. Most stones were laid flat and the curbing and some of the leftover materials were used to build the fence that exists around the cemetery today, Goodall said. Another belief is that the headstones Squire found are ones that were replaced.
Because they don’t have staff members who worked in the 1960s, staff are trying to reach out to people who know the history about what happened.
Goodall said staff are “extremely respectful and conscientious” and would never do something that was disrespectful to somebody in the cemetery.