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Niagara Falls
Saturday, June 22, 2024
New plaque unveiled at Black burial ground; fundraising for archeological dig gears up
Town councillors, staff and residents unveil the new plaque at the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground. Ryan Boisvert
George Webber with the new plaque at the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground. Ryan Boisvert
Juliet Dunn, left, and Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa at the Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground. Ryan Boisvert

The Niagara Baptist Church Burial Ground officially has a new plaque.

On Tuesday afternoon councillors, staff and residents met at the Mississaugua Street property for a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“I’m excited that it’s getting recognized, as it should be,” said Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa.

The town also unveiled a new plaque on Tuesday at Rye Heritage Park on Rye Street.

The new plaque was installed at the burial ground in place of the old one, which carried the cemetery’s former name, the Negro Burial Ground.

The Ontario Heritage Trust paid for the new plaque and installed it at the end of July.

“The town is grateful to the Ontario Heritage Trust for the provincial plaque program and the work they have done to expand the narrative about our heritage,” Marnie Cluckie, the town’s chief administrative officer, said in an email to The Lake Report.

It was one of four plaques announced in 2022.

Each plaque costs about $11,500, Dawson Bridger from the Ontario Heritage Trust said in an email to The Lake Report.

The majority of the cost is from manufacturing, around $7,000, and research, he said.

“These particular plaques are important for not only Niagara-on-the-Lake, but for the broader province as well. Ontario’s deep and important Black history has long been overlooked,” he said.

Natasha Henry and Adrienne Shadd, two prominent Black historians, wrote the plaque’s descriptions and conducted the research for the background papers.

“The importance of changing the name, from my perspective, is we want to keep up with the times. We want to ensure that we don’t offend anyone who walks by,” said George Webber, chair of the Friends of the Forgotten.

His group is dedicated to restoring and memorializing the cemetery, which is the resting place for several  Canadian settlers.

A previous ground penetrating radar examination showed there might be 28 graves and 19 headstones buried on the property.

The Friends of the Forgotten’s long-term goal is to unearth and restore the headstones. However, no decisions can be made until the stage two and three archeological assessments are completed.

“The stage two assessment will include test pit surveys to identify archeological features and document archeological materials. Stage three will map and recover any headstones and confirm the location of all interments,” Webber said in a news release.

The cost is estimated at $60,000 — money the committee needs in the bank before the town will secure an archeological firm to do the work.

Webber is reaching out to the community for donors to help with the project.

“We would like organizations, foundations and interested community members to become official sponsors for this important historical work by donating $5,000 for the assessments,” said Webber.

“We also encourage any and all residents to lend their support with whatever they can afford. Everyone will be recognized on our website,” he added.

He’s hoping to raise the money by year-end. Anyone looking to get involved can go to Friendsoftheforgotten.ca/.

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