NOTL resident George Webber and chief administrative officer Marnie Cluckie stood before town council last Tuesday night to introduce the Friends of the Forgotten and seek councillors’ support.
Webber’s group is focused on improving and bringing attention to NOTL’s inactive cemeteries — starting with the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground.
The town maintains one active cemetery and 11 inactive cemeteries, Cluckie told council.
Taking care of these sites is hard for municipalities with little funding and resources, she explained.
The town partnered with West Lincoln and the Town of Lincoln in 2022 to ask the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to press the provincial government to help smaller, rural municipalities fund inactive cemeteries.
It’s difficult for municipalities to “bear the cost of the abandoned cemeteries and that can become a burden to already-overburdened taxpayers,” Cluckie said.
“Fortunately for us, we have some passionate individuals in the town who are dedicated residents and volunteers who want to make a difference,” she said.
Webber and the Friends of the Forgotten have been working with the town to bring this project to life throughout the past year and March 21 was the first time the group made a presentation to council.
The project started with the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground, formerly known as the Negro Burial Ground, on Mississagua Street near Mary Street.
“We want to transform the current unremarkable state of that site into something we can all take pride in,” said Webber.
Members of the Friends of the Forgotten are doing extensive research to find out who is buried there.
They have the names of about 15 people whose graves might be on the property.
“We want to honour the parishioners, both white and Black, who are currently buried at the site,” Webber said.
The group has raised more than $5,000, enough to conduct a stage one archeological assessment on the grounds.
The money is being collected through the town and everything has been done with the town’s approval.
The current focus is on the Black burial ground, however, Webber explained the group’s mission has grown.
Its members want to offer respect, care and attention to all of the inactive cemeteries in NOTL.
“Why should we only pay attention to one site when there are 11 sites in town that need attention?” he said.
“When we look at all of them, we improve our entire community,” he added.
Webber asked council for support of the Friends of the Forgotten in principle and be invited back to share the archeological report when it’s completed.
Council unanimously supported Webber’s requests, meaning the group can begin publicly fundraising.
Webber told The Lake Report the team will be coming up with a fundraising plan as well as looking for lead donors and volunteer grant writers.
“We want to be a template, we want to be a leader, we want to be a role model for others who may want to develop the other sites within our town,” Webber said.