On day one of a work bee at Maple Ridge Cemetery, 50 headstones and plaques were scoured clean.
Day two, despite the invasion of mosquitoes, another 25 were scrubbed.
Now, a local heritage group is planning for a third visit to the community’s graveyard one evening next month, in hopes of making a bigger dent on their headstone project, said Abby Lizee, community engagement coordinator for the museum.
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“Headstone preservation went really well this year,” she said.
“We had seven to 10 people per visit with a focus on the graves in Maple Ridge Cemetery’s oldest section. After talking to some of the participants, who were sad that we only do this once a year, we have added another date, [Thursday] Aug. 18 from 5 to 8 p.m.”
Next time out, she said the team will focus on graves in one of the children’s sections.
It’s a “very worthwhile and satisfying volunteer event,” said Ann Fantin, who has been volunteering for three years and was grateful for the chance to participate in the most recent cleaning session.
She described Maple Ridge Cemetery as a fine example of a rural cemetery that dates back to the mid 1870s.
“Many prominent citizens are buried at this cemetery,” Fantin noted. “You will see unique monuments and headstones, nice plots, pathways and beautiful majestic trees, very peaceful for a leisurely walk. It’s like another world.”
Fantin isn’t the only one speaking highly of the experience. Carson Banman loves being part of retaining local heritage.
“I had a great time outdoors, helping to not only clean the headstones but to assist in preserving the part of history this cemetery tells for the future residents of Maple Ridge. I also felt a great satisfaction in doing it, simply because you are coming across a headstone that needs cleaning and making it look good as new again,” said Banman.
“Truth be told I’m considering coming back again in August simply because I had that much fun,” he said, noting he loved the headstone preservation program because of what he learned, as well.
“While I was cleaning the giant stone structure with the Japanese writing on it I learned that it may be an old memorial to those who died in a failed coup in Japan back in 1936. This, to me, was very interesting and is a real testimony to the history that can be found in the cemetery.”
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Like Fantin, Fred Keating heard about the project three years ago. He learned about it during a cemetery tour, but the July cleaning spree was the first time that didn’t conflict with his work schedule.
“It was on one of [the] incredibly informative cemetery tours, several years ago, that I was made aware of the community legacy and history on display on this quiet site,” he recalled.
So, armed with buckets, brushes, rags, and bug spray, he turned out at the reason preservation event for a 9 a.m. start. As he went to work, Keating said he was astonished by what more he discovered.
”’Gone but not forgotten’ reads a stone scroll attached to the sculpture of an angled upright log (also carved from stone) some two metres tall. The gentleman buried there was born in 1818,” he recounted.
”The elements have not been kind to some of the older monuments. A little bit of elbow grease, a damp soft-bristled brush, and the wipe of a wet rag quite quickly reveals the art and craft of the stonemason who also may well be resting in peace in another corner of the grounds,” Keating went on.
“The discovery in overgrown grass of an infant’s flat marker indicating she died on the day she was born, gives one pause. And appreciation for these families from the last two centuries. I worked for the better part of an hour on the obelisk marker of the Carr family plot populated by family members from various generations. And I will be returning to spend more time trimming around the markers, removing moss and washing the nameplates of our friends, neighbours, and strangers.”
For Keating, it was a privilege “to spend a little time on hallowed and historic ground.”
He vows to be back.
The numbers of headstones cleaned during these work bees all depends on the size of the markers and work needed, explained Lizee.
“Some volunteers cleaned only a few, while others were able to do more,” she said, noting how they let participants choose headstones that speak to them and allow them to clean as many as they wish.
“We are once again looking for locals who value historical preservation to help with the important task of cleaning and maintaining the headstones in our cemeteries,” Lizee concluded.
Those interested in participating in the next cleaning session on Aug. 18 can register through Eventbrite or email the museum at email@example.com.
To learn more about these efforts, people can also go online to the museum website.
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