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Saturday, September 30, 2023
Historian wants Black burial ground memorial to focus on NOTL’s history
Rochelle Bush makes her case that the town’s plans for the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground should honour only the history of Niagara-on-the-Lake. (EVAN LOREE)

Rochelle Bush is happy to hear that any memorial erected at the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground will be strictly focused on Niagara-on-the-Lake history.  

When Bush, a St. Catharines historian, presented to council last Tuesday she was under the impression that a proposed relief memorial would represent not just NOTL history, but also Barbados’ history. 

She found that unacceptable since she feels that only NOTL history should be remembered at the cemetery.

But after speaking to council she learned that the town and the Friends of the Forgotten, a committee dedicated to restoring the burial site, does not plan on using this specific memorial. 

That’s something she wasn’t aware of prior to her going to council. 

“I know there’s plans for a memorial, but I did not know that one was rejected,” she said. 

George Webber, head of the committee, told The Lake Report that if a memorial were to be erected on the burial site, it would be a memorial with the names of those who are buried there and those who contributed to the project.

“I’m happy now that all the focus will be on a memorial that concentrates on Black history in Niagara and nowhere else,” Bush told The Lake Report. 

Webber said plans at the burial site also include the next two stages of archeological assessment – stages two and three – and the restoration of the buried headstones.

If the headstones are in good shape, they’ll be replaced properly, he said.

“If they are not, that discussion is going to have to be, ‘How do we replace them?’” he said. 

He said stage two could be started in a matter of weeks.

The proposed memorial in question was part of a small exploratory grant Brock University professor Lissa Paul received from the university. 

Paul is also on the Friends of the Forgotten committee. 

After she helped digitize fugitive slave ads found in the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, she felt inspired to start a project in Niagara. 

The memorial proposed for the burial ground had nothing to do with Barbados, she said.

Bush’s concern stemmed from a piece of information on the project’s website that mentioned creating “memorials to enslaved individuals from both Niagara and Barbados.” 

However, Paul realized this specific part of the website was wrong and that’s where people were getting confused. 

It’s since been corrected to take out any mention of Barbados.

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