A City of Duncan official was alerted to a displaced tombstone and is now returning it to its rightful resting place. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)

Column: Mysterious tombstone headed home

It was a mystery as to how the old stone arrived in Duncan

There’s been a story that’s intrigued me for months. The one about the seemingly random tombstone found in Duncan that originated in Port Hope, Ontario.

The update is this: the grave-marker is headed back to Ontario after spending an undetermined amount of time here in Duncan.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about I’ll recap: In early October 2017 Duncan bylaw officer Garry Kerr was alerted to a displaced gravestone while attending to a bylaw matter near Queen Margaret’s School. The weathered stone was inscribed with the following:

“Beloved son of Jesse and Sarah E. Broadbent

Died April 8 1905, age 3 years 9 months.”

On the back side of the stone it read: “FATHER”.

SEE RELATED: Lost tombstone: City of Duncan officials look for rightful resting place

SEE RELATED: Tombstone mystery solved, one question remains

It was a mystery as to how the old stone arrived in Duncan but it is was believed to have been there at least a few weeks. Could have been years though. Nobody seems to know.

Kerr set out to find out where it actually belonged and in doing so unravelled a pretty interesting story.

After coming up dry with the local cemeteries, Kerr approached the newspaper to spread the word. The result was a call from a local historian who’d hopped on the internet and done a little research.

“Unbelievably, the little boy… drowned in 1905, he was buried in a cemetery in Port Hope, Ontario,” Kerr related.

John William James Broadbent was born July 10, 1901 and died April 8, 1905.

“It’s absolutely confirmed that that is where this headstone came from,” Kerr said. “We’ve been in contact with the cemetery.”

The bylaw officer said the cemetery staff in Ontario explained to him that it looked as though the young child was Sarah and Jesse Broadbent’s firstborn and quite a few other children were born into the family thereafter.

“Being that it was a family plot, it looks like this small marker was taken away and replaced with a larger marker with other names on it,” Kerr said.

Apparently that happens quite frequently when people in a large family with a group plot die.

But how on earth did it get to Duncan?

“That’s the one thing I have absolutely no idea about,” Kerr said.

Given it was inscribed with “Father” on the back, Kerr speculates the marker may have been recycled, as was common to do 100 years ago. That may be a clue as to how it ended up on this side of the country. Surely there would have been a use for it a little closer to Port Hope though?

Let’s say there wasn’t and it was shipped out here for re-use. If so, whose grave was it marking? Had it been stolen and dumped? Did it belong somewhere else in the Valley or is there something hidden in the bush where it was found?

“I doubt we’ll ever know,” Kerr said. “It’s kind of an amazing story.”

It’s one I may always have questions about.

Kerr is pleased to report, though, that the headstone is headed back east where it will return to the family from which it came.

“We had made contact with one of the family members…and we packaged it up and it’s been sent back,” Kerr confirmed. “At this point they weren’t really sure what they were going to do with it but they certainly wanted to get it back.”


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