Complaint filed over monument destruction

In this Monday, Aug. 14, 2017 supplied photo, workers level a historical monument at the corner of Sixth Street East and Sydney Street in Cornwall, Ont. (Supplied via Newswatch Group)

CORNWALL – A complaint has been filed with the Ontario regulatory body overseeing burials and cemeteries regarding this week’s levelling for an ancestral monument.

The complaint was filed with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) by local resident and historian Stuart Manson.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Manson says he heard from the BAO this morning (Wednesday) and the agency is taking the complaint “very seriously.”

“They immediately sent a manager to Cornwall – he’s still there – and he’s meeting with the church over multiple meetings. So, I was very pleased to see that they were taking it very seriously,” he said.

While the circa 1832 monument can’t be brought back, Manson wants to see those responsible held accountable for their actions.

The church has since apologized for a lack of public consultation and for public misunderstanding for what it had done.

“It seems like such an egregious course of action that the church took,” he said. “The legislation is there to prevent desecration of cemeteries. It takes someone to complain for the Bereavement Authority of Ontario to take action and investigate, so I thought it was only proper that the complaint be lodged and let the process take its course.”

Manson says he and his family were “absolutely shocked” when a dump truck and loaders moved in on the monument at Sixth Street East and Sydney Street Monday morning.

“My family was absolutely devastated that, without any kind of public consultation, that a church of all entities, who should be aware of the sacredness of that space, to send in a wrecking crew…is just baffling,” Manson said.

He appreciates the safety and liability concerns cited by St. John’s Presbyterian Church for taking down the crumbling monument.

But, he says, the church should have had more consultation with the community before taking such a “drastic action”.

Manson also has an ancestral connection to the monument. He says his fourth great-grandfather, James Gillie, was and is probably still buried there.

“Our family has no knowledge about his body being disinterred and moved like some apparently were. So, from our perspective, he still lies still there in that cemetery although he’s probably rolling in his grave right now,” Manson said.

In addition to the liability and safety concerns, Nick Cox of St. John’s Presbyterian Church told Seaway News that many of the stones were no longer legible.

But Manson says the “facts don’t bear that out.” He says, while many historians know the harsh climate does wear tombstones, there are pictures in several media reports showing some of the tombstones were clearly legible.

“These stones are works of art. They are not just religious, sacred items. But they are artistic items and cultural resources that must be respected to a greater degree than how they were in this case.”

“The people buried there deserve better. Members of the community in general deserve better and certainly the descendants of those buried there deserve better as well.”