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Meeting with Hon. John Gerretsen to talk cemetery preservation

Bob Crawford
OGS Secretary

On Thurs., the 2nd June, Diane Clendenan, Marjorie Stuart both members of OGS and OHS, Rob Leverty, Executive Director of OHS and I attended a lengthy meeting with the Hon. John Gerretsen, MPP for Kingston and the Islands and Minister of Consumer Services, and Jim Brownell, MPP for Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry. The Cemeteries Regulation Unit is a section of  the Ministry of Consumer Services.

The object of this meeting was to discuss with the Minister the number of unregistered cemeteries that exist in Ontario. Exhaustive work by Diane and Marjorie, with the help of members of OGS and OHS, has identified more than 1500 cemeteries that are not included in the government’s list of approximately 5,000 registered cemeteries. As such they are not protected by the Cemeteries Act and OGS and OHS do not have any “standing” to be notified and defend the cemetery from any attempt to disturb it as they do with registered cemeteries. This leaves those cemeteries open to being damaged by someone, either inadvertently or otherwise, without people learning about the incident. With registration comes the advantage that any activity will result in a public announcement and, at the very least, could lead to an open hearing where people can express their opinion on the subject.

 We presented the Minister with the list of unregistered cemeteries during the meeting. We reviewed the history of the original list of registered cemeteries. When the Cemeteries Act was originally enacted, OGS provided a list of cemeteries that were known to us at the time. The government took that list and used it as their source of information. They proclaimed that those cemeteries that were listed were now registered under the Cemeteries Act. At no time did OGS indicate that the list that was provided was complete. It was merely a list of the number of cemeteries known at the time. Since that time, many more cemeteries have been identified by OGS members. They were not automatically added to the list of registered cemeteries as the original ones were. Now we have a large number of cemeteries that are known but not officially recognized. OGS and OHS would like to see these cemeteries added to the government list so that they will have the protection of the Cemeteries Act. Various attempts to get this done have met with no success. In addition, we want it noted that the list is still not complete. We consider the list a dynamic document (i.e. a work in progress) and as such there will probably be additions to our list as years go by.

The Minister expressed concern with the number of cemeteries that we had identified. He is personally very concerned with the preservation of heritage locations in the province. He questioned us extensively until he felt that he understood what we were requesting. Once he satisfied himself that he understood the issue, he stated that he will review this list and meet with his people to see what can be done to add these unregistered cemeteries to the government list.

We felt that this meeting was very beneficial to our goals of protecting these very valuable heritage assets in Ontario. We thank the Minister for providing us with this opportunity to present our issue. Hopefully we will receive encouraging news in the near future.

We still need the assistance of all OGS and OHS members to protect cemeteries in Ontario. You are our eyes and ears around the province. If you hear or see any indication of a cemetery being disturbed in any way, please contact the offices of either the OGS or the OHS and let us know. We need to know exactly where the cemetery is located and what appears to be happening at the location. This will help us decide what action we should be taking. Depending on the circumstance, we may need to make an official complaint or may just need to initiate an unofficial communication to the government body in charge to rectify the situation. In addition, you can contact the local municipal authorities to ensure that they are aware of the situation. Without your help we cannot do the job that is required.

On a slightly different issue; Bill 126, Inactive Cemeteries Protection Act, 2010, has died due to the Legislature being prorogued on the 1st June. So, unfortunately, the impressive amount of work that you have done to promote the passage of this bill has come to an end. Mr. Brownell has announced that he will not be running in the upcoming provincial election this year so he will not be bringing another bill forward on this issue. We will have to see if we can find another champion in the legislature to work in our stead once the new government is in place.

 Picture (L to R): Rob Leverty, Diane Clendenan, Hon. John Gerretsen, Marjorie Stuart, Jim Brownell, Bob Crawford The Hon.
John Gerretsen is accepting the list of unregistered cemeteries from Marjorie Stuart and Diane Clendenan.

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