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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Letter: Removal headstones from Black burial ground a sad chapter in NOTL’s past
Letter to the editor. File

Dear editor:

Sadly, Kevin McCabe’s letter to the editor, “Some Black cemetery gravestones were taken by locals” (The Lake Report, Nov. 3), is probably true.

My parents’ property, at 226 Mary St., where the RBC plaza sits today, backed onto the northeast side of what was then called the Negro Burial Ground.  

The burial ground was never maintained. Dominated by large thorn bushes throughout, a few scrub trees and interspersed with many gravestones, it was the neighbourhood playground.  

There were a good number of gravestones when I was a kid playing there through the late 1940s to mid ’50s. 

At least two large stones were totally hidden to the casual observer, sequestered deep inside a space encircled by  thorn bushes. 

Of particular note, at the very back of the graveyard, was a quite large plinth atop which stood a three or four foot tall, narrow pyramid. I remember seeing engraving on the front of the plinth. 

Gone now, it would have taken considerable effort to remove it.

As Mr. McCabe notes, the gravestones seemed to disappear over the years. 

In the mid-1960s, with what I know was good intent, my mother had me gather up the few remaining six or eight stones and assemble them at the base of a walnut tree on our property. 

I remember her trying to find a home for them before they were all gone. For some reason, the museum turned her down. 

Unfortunately, at just this time, both my mother and father became seriously ill, and their property was sold. What became of the stones, I do not know.

I do know what happened to many of the earlier stones. Before my parents acquired 226 Mary St., many grave stones had been used as fill when pouring the cement basement of the house. 

You could see their shapes through the concrete where they lay as the colouration of the floor was somewhat lighter. Headstones were also used in at least two of the basement window frames to form the windowsill. 

One was used in the window where coal was dumped into the basement, probably to help with wear from the coal.

In the 1970s, I remember seeing an inverted gravestone in front of the hearth of a fireplace in town. 

As Mr. McCabe notes, there certainly were rumours that gravestones were being used throughout the town for other purposes. 

It was also rumoured that this was on the initiative of a local person known for his restoration skills. My experience of seeing a headstone being used in this manner fits well with Mr. McCabe’s story of them being used as “flagstones for patios and walkways.”

This was an insensitive degradation of a people, their religion and their culture especially for a town which had historically prided itself on the treatment of Black people.

Terry Boulton
NOTL