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.
A CEMETERY RESTORED IS HERITAGE RENEWED
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
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
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.
The Islands: Cemetery: Wolfe Island Article 1996
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