The Islands: Cemetery: Wolfe Island Cemetery Article 1996

Wolfe Island Newspaper Article

Article that was in the church newspaper when they were restoring the old cemetery on Wolfe Island. The paper is dated October-November 1996.

By Margaret Knott

WOLFE ISLAND-Restoring abondoned heritage cemeteries is a labour of love for stone mason David Nourry of Battersea and his biblically named brothers Peter, Paul and John. "But it is also a labour of love for the people who ask us to come," he ways. "Whether congregations or individual families, they raise the funds to pay for the work. While Heritage Canada favours and encourages restorations, they can provide little advice and no money."

The Nourry brothers have been working at WOLFE ISLAND'S FIRST ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY, invisible from the road and located west of Sacred Heart of Mary Church and its old rectory. Like the church itself, the cemetery is on land donated by Mary McRae, widow of an island doctor who was an early settler from Glengarry. (The McRae monument clearly dominates the old cemetery.)

It is not clear when the first burial took place. During a Heritage Canada study done in 1976, a broken stone suggested 1847 as the earliest burial. (That was the year regular steam ferry service began between Kingston and Wolfe Island. Prior to that, when a priest came to the island he did so by small boat or by crossing the ice.) The oldest complete memorial found then was that of THOMAS PHAIR (1853). The earliest birth date engraved was that of lewis mosier (1774-1868).

The stones offer a weath of genealogical data. Islanders buried in the old cemetery came from virtually every county in Ireland, from England, Scotland, Glengarry, France and probably Quebec. Many young women died in childbirth, there are also markers for many children and infants.

How did the old cemetery fall into such neglect as the Nourry brothers found? It is said the site was abandoned because of a rock ledge close to the surface. Island storytellers suggest that a pastor took it upon himself to begin moving stones from the old cemetery to the new one, more accessiible to the church. (The current cemetery, located across the highway from the new (1916) church, was dedicated in 1935.) Some say stones were moved to make froom for a garden. Whatever the truth, some parishoners tried in small ways to maintain the graves of their ancestors, but finally grazing cattle and horses knocked down fences and monuments, and broken stones became overgrown with trees and bushes.

In an earlier attempt to clear it, stones were piled along the fence lines. Later the Township Council saw to it that the headsones were gathered and arranged against a mound of stone, making it possible to maintain the land without further damage to the stones, even though it was now impossible to relocate the stones to their rightful places.

When Wayne Grant became chair of Sacred Heart's Cemetery Committee, he won agreement for a major restoration of the old cemetery. The Nourry brothers won the contract based on the fine work they had done after the Island's Anglican cemetery was vandalized. David Nourry says his 'clan' tries to do one cemetery a year. "I love the stone. I love the work. It's like stepping back in time and rediscovering history through the thoughts of those who buried their loved ones" (as expressed on the eptaphs).

How does one restore a heritage cemetery in a state of such neglect?

Some 122 stones have been repaired, cleaned of embedded fungus, mounted on individual concrete bases, and placed in four rows. Each base is set into a gravel-filled hole 16 inches deep. Then if the stone is pushed by vandals or cattle, in all likelihood the whole thing will simply fall over (easy to remount), rather than breaking at the base.

No one knows how many more stones may have been overgrown and now lie beneath the surface. Others are beyond repair. Some must wait for repairs at another economic time. In the meantime, a sense of excitement about the restoration has been building in the community and culminated in a recent ceremony.

Fr. John Appelman, Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish and an ardent genealogist, will officiate at a re-dedication service in the old cemetery on Sunday, November 3 a 2:00 pm. "We owe it to our ancestors, "he says. "To bury the dead and to care for their graves is one of the works of mercy. While this cemetery is a burial place for dear ones, in the truest sense it is also an historic site, the burial place of grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom came to Canada as immigrants and were among Wolfe Island's pioneers."

Some of the names on the oldest stones bear the names of families who are still on WOLFE ISLAND; MCALISTER, MOSIER, DOYLE, BOISVERT (now GREENWOOD), MCRAE, STALEY, AND LARUSH, for example. Over the decades, descendants of many of those Island pioneers have returned to the mainland and may be found all over the diocese and across the country-ANDRE'S, COMPEAUS AND CAMPEAUS, TURCOTTES, LALONDES, MACDONALDS AND FERGUSONS to name just a few. As Fr. Appelman said at the rededication, "It is important for as many people as possible to know what is happening here."

David Nourry is delighted with the response of the people. "We do the work on a contract, but this (reaction) makes it all worthwhile."

Although the ground looks a little raw around the newly set-up stones, the Cemetery Committe has plans for some landscaping with bushes, plants, etc. Assistance from the community for this planting would be welcomed. So would financial contributions towareds the restoration from parishioners, the Island community, or those descendants now living in other parishes.

Thanks Sharon!!

The Islands: Cemetery: Wolfe Island Article 1996
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