As one drives through the rural districts of Ontario the local cemetery is not an infrequent sight. Oftener than not the appearance represents the extreme of shabbiness and neglect. Fences, unpainted and in various stages of growth of decay, plots overgrown with long grass, weeds and bushed, and grave-stones falling or ready to fall are the most conspicuous features. Though the grounds are often well situated and the natural location beautiful, the condition in which they are maintained is frequently a disgrace to the community.
A correspondent refers to his subject in a personal letter to the editor from which we make the following quotation, --
“Will you make the subject of the Neglected rural burying Ground the theme for one of your seasonable talks to the plain people. This topic is one of my worries. Three generations of our family lied buried out there, at ----- cemetery in Thurlow and the state of the place is a crime and a disgrace. I go there every chance I get and have sent enough money to buy the place twice over, but I can accomplish nothing. Can any appeal be made to rural sentiment to help? There are dozens of such neglected spots and their condition is a sin and a shame.”
We do not see any reason why these district burial places should not be established and maintained on business principles just the same as the district school, the co-operative cheese-factory and the rural church.
Here is a plan that seems practical enough which was outlined by a correspondent of one of our weekly farm journals, -----
This cemetery did not suffer from what might be termed wilful neglect, but the nearest relatives being in other districts, and the farmers of the community being busy and expected to look after the graves of their own departed loved ones, did not give the attention needed to keep these graves in good condition. Some, too, who were buried there had no relatives anywhere to care for their graves. Many old-style, high-top grave markers were toppling over and some were already lying on the ground. Grass and weeds so completely covered the grounds that the use of a lawn mower was impossible.
There seemed to be only one solution of the problem and that was to place the care of these grounds upon a business basis. With this in views, a meeting was called, a committee appointed and a board of trustees chosen. The board of trustees consisted of five members, and privilege given for the choosing of a new member as one trustee would go out of office or move away. This board consisted of public-spirited men who were willing to give some of their time gratis to the work of improving the old cemetery. The heavy labor, of course, was paid for, but much time was donated by these generous men. The first act of the board was to procure the names of all people interested in the work and those having relatives buried there. These people were solicited to give toward a fund that was to be put on interest and the income of this used in keeping up the cemetery. The fund itself was not to be used, only the income from it. No lots were sold but it was understood that donations were welcomed, and by giving a donation to his fund, a lot would be reserved for the donor. All people solicited were favourable to his arrangement and many were very liberal in their donation. Those living at a distance were very willing to enter into a plan that would insure the care of graves of their relatives, and of their own graves when they were laid in the same resting place.
The cemetery was plotted and a careful record made of all lots, new fences were put up, the graves all levelled and low places filled, so that the grass could be mowed with a lawn mower. A man was hired to care for the cemetery, mow the grass and trim around trees and markers. The grass was mowed once a week. An ordinance was passed forbidding the planting of shrubs or flowers that would interfere with the mower’s work. Cut flowers were allowable. In a short time we had a beautifully kept cemetery, plain but neat in every detail.
After all this work was done, a tent was purchased for use over the open grave during the time of burial in cold and rainy weather. This was much appreciated by those who buried their friends in this cemetery.
Particularly here in this Bay of Quinte section the final resting places of the mortal remains of our fathers and forefathers should be hallowed ground. They it was who reserved the British heritage inn this great Canadian northland and sacrificed friends, possessions and comfortable homes in order that they might preserve unstained their ideals of national honor.
The heroes and heroines who suffered slaved and starved in order that they might establish homes for themselves and their children in what was then an unknown and forbidding wilderness – to see their graves weed strewn and headstones toppled over is indeed a “crime and a disgrace.”
We may show disrespect, but we cannot bring dishonor to the heroic dead. Their record of devotion, fealty and sacrifice is immortal. But we can and do dishonor ourselves when we permit their tombs to bear mute evidence to every passer-by of cold, brutal disregard and forgetfulness. The God’s acre in which repose the remains of our immortal dead should become shrines to recall noble memories and to inspire the oncoming generations to emulate the splendid deeds of the heroic founders of this great Canadian commonwealth.
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew tree’s shade
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.
Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!
Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure,
Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the Poor.
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Await alike th’ inevitable hour: --
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.
Can storied win or animated lust,
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull, cold ear of Death?
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire,
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d
Or waked to ecstasy the diving lyre:
But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er unroll
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage
And froze the genial current of the soul
Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Some village Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute, inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood.
Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes.