A misunderstanding of what Vauxhall council was asking for at an April meeting led to a petition being passed around town about work in the local cemetery.
To try to dispell the misunderstanding, council met with several representatives from the Vauxhall Cemetery Committee during their regular meeting on May 16.
“I don’t want to downplay anything that’s going on there, you know. We’ve definitely seen the improvements, especially after the flood that Vauxhall got hit with,” said Margaret Plumtree, Vauxhall mayor, adding the last time they had talked was in early April at the cemetery.
“One of the things we were talking about was getting the rest of those headstones/tombstones repaired, so they were laying flat…and we mentioning that we would like to see that happen before the progression of the rest of the cemetery ribbons, just because we want to make sure it’s all nice and neat.”
The Cemetery Committee was working on installing cement ribbons – basically, a strip of concrete that runs the length of a grave row in the cemetery, with spaces for the headstones to rest on. This would ensure that the headstones remain upright and suffer less damage from sitting right in the ground. The committee has placed ribbons in all but the last two rows.
At their last meeting, council had asked the committee to repair the damaged headstones before they move on with the rest of the ribbon installation. However, the committee had believed that council was ordering them to stop working, and began circulating a petition around town protesting the action, leading to another meeting in council chambers to discuss everyone’s concerns.
After a trip to the cemetery earlier that day, administration reported 10 headstones need replacing. Councillor Richard Phillips made a trip to the cemetery that same day, and also reported a total of nine damaged headstones.
“There is a large number of the ones who have been damaged that are still sitting there in a damaged state, and that was our concern, we wanted to see the damaged one repaired,” said Richard Phillips. “There is nine that are severely damaged, that are really nasty looking, there are a couple of others that are tolerable. I’m absolutely, 100 per cent confident in my account.”
The committee has been contacting the families of the deceased for the headstone replacement and of those families, there is only two they haven’t heard back from.
“There are only two headstones that need to be contacted (heard from). The rest are all committed to, and I have letters with commitments to that,” said Kathie Friesen, secretary for the committee. “The ones in rows one and two have all been replaced.”
“That was one of our biggest concerns, is just making use we were (getting them replaced), before we move on to digging up anymore,” said Plumtree. “Just because, as has been learned, there’s damage that occurs when they get dug up. So we just wanted to be sure we take care of that properly.”
Everyone in the committee is on board with doing the work and getting it done. However, when asked directly by council, while the majority of the committee agrees with the petition, committee president Karen Phillips does not, with some suggesting it was due to a potential conflict of interest, as she agrees with council that it does not look good to have damaged headstones in the cemetery as a result of the work that’s being done.
Some councillors viewed the committee’s petition as offensive, since in their eyes, the petition contained incorrect information.
“I would suggest, that before people sign a petition, they should be given photographs of what they’re doing, and they should be given the right numbers, because as I recall, your petition said that there were four headstones,” said Richard Phillips. “I could be wrong, but perhaps you could read the petition to us. But you gave erroneous information in your petition you put out there, and I find it deeply offensive. Giving erroneous information in a petition that you’re putting out there for people to sign is just very offensive.”
“There was only four at the time. All the others were pending,” said Friesen. “But why, as a cemetery committee, do we have to (stop doing the ribbons), when most of them (headstones), have been agreed upon that the families have to do it?”
“Everything you did up to last year was beautiful and good. Last year’s stuff – as you look at it currently – I for one would say was that an improvement we did last year? No, because the concrete ribbons are fine, but you now got nine headstones that have been destroyed, that are perched precariously on the concrete, that look terrible. So it’s not an improvement yet, I trust that it will be, eventually, but it’s not yet,” said Richard Phillips.
“So improve the mess that was made last year, before you carry on. Because it would be a shame, if all four of those older rows wound up looking like those two do today. It’s been several months; they still look terrible, so we’re just saying fix it. If the families are committed to doing it, get it done. The ones that aren’t committed to doing it, do it yourselves. But fix the mess that’s there before you carry on.”
The committee wanted to have an idea of when they could resume work on the concrete ribbons, since it takes time to order the headstones. Plumtree then jumped in, saying that the two groups have the same goal here; having a beautiful cemetery. But, since people tend to come and go from councils and committees, council would like the headstones to be fixed before more work is done, since “they could stay that way for 30, 40 50 years.”
This was met with a bit of disbelief from the committee, and Friesen was quick to assure council that, due to an anonymous donor, they do have funds to repair the headstones, should they not hear from the families.
“I’m thinking in a month, if they don’t come through, then we can contact him,” said Friesen.
“We’re not after people that said they’re going to replace it and do it because that is not right. And as a committee, we don’t want to set precedence, on starting to replace headstones, ‘cause that’s not what we’re there for.”
In the last two rows that have not received the cement ribbon, all tombstones that needed to be replaced have been, and are waiting for the ribbon to go in.
Friesen raised the issue of cemetery plot three, when work done by the town had to be fixed by the cemetery committee. Richard replied that the mess was largely due to a concrete mixer truck coming in and doing work, and that mess was repaired, before reiterating that it is his opinion that the committee see to the repair of the damaged headstones before they move onto the final ribbons.
However, sometimes it is not as simple as contacting the next of kin. Especially for the older graves, it can take time to track someone, who can take responsibility for the headstone, down.
“There is one gentleman, I called 12 people, probably three hours I spent on finding this. Finally, I found some friends that knew him when he was younger,” said Friesen. “I’m not saying that is a pat on my back, I’m not saying that, that’s my job. But, you know, we did a lot of work, so we could get this done by the springtime. We worked hard… and we really tried.”
“Don’t get us wrong in any way, that we don’t appreciate the work that’s been done,” said Plumtree. “Definitely a great improvement, the trees, everything. We just don’t want to go, I guess, in a way to say it, kind of back in time, right? You’ve done all the work, you’ve fundraised and made all that money with grants and that to put those cement ribbons in, and all the other rows have looked just fine with it. It’s just these last two, that have been done, because it’s an older section it didn’t work out.”
All of council is behind repairing the headstones before moving on to installing the final ribbons, although the committee still wants to know why they should stop work on the ribbons in the meantime, when they had permission from council to do so. Plumtree replied that the process “had stopped working”.
For better communication, councillor Martin Kondor suggested that they put a notice up informing people that they were doing this at this plan date.
“With our pool, we got a perfect example. Everybody raised money, it worked the same way. We had to delay it, delay it for a few years, and it worked out great, it’s looking awesome. I have no doubt the cemetery is going to be the same way, it’s going to look awesome,” said Kondor.
“Life would be perfect if it went bang, bang, bang. No hiccups. But obviously, everybody here is in the same boat I am – you had hiccups, and you want it fixed. But nothing runs smoothly, unfortunately, it doesn’t.”
The cemetery committee argued that the town doesn’t have faith in them to get it done, and wanted to know what they are doing to tell everyone who paid to have the headstones on a cement post. The new headstones are pillow headstones, designed to sit in the ribbons. The older headstones could sit on the cement, and the committee plans on getting either a frame built around them so they are secured and look nice, or getting the cement for the ribbon poured around them. But that still remains the question of, for the two headstones they are waiting on reply for, if they do not hear back, will they be at a standstill forever?
“If you had no contact and they are obviously wrecked, you could buy a couple of (headstones) like you did so nicely for the unmarked graves, put those there and it will be entirely satisfactory,” said Richard. “It’s just a shame to have these badly damaged memorials sitting. If it was our families, we wouldn’t want that. It doesn’t look good.”
“Nobody said this is going to be forever,” said Kondor. “If you can’t get in contact with them, do what you got to do to fix it and make it look good.”
Out of the damaged headstones, the committee says that five have been bought by the families and are on their way, two wanted to wait until they saved up enough money for the replacements and two they are waiting to hear back from.
Council asked the committee to talk to their contractor and see if they can do the ribboning and fix the headstones at the same time, and get back to council with the information on the headstone commitments.