Society should embrace the treasures found within cemetery gates

Perhaps nowhere is the storied history of Prince Edward County’s past more prominent than the rolling hills of the Glenwood Cemetery. The site at the southern edge of Picton is the final resting place for close to 15,000 people, from pioneer times to present day. Sadly, someone saw fit last week to topple close to 200 stones over the course of a couple hours. It was an incredibly sad moment.

The vandals who caused this desecration caused untold hardships for many numerous families from near and far. They also undid hours of hard work a volunteer board, cemetery workers, and other community members have spent to ensure the sacred burial grounds were a fitting place to remember or to walk, read, or otherwise pass leisure hours. Sadly, that hasn’t always been the case at Glenwood over the years, so the harm stings so much more.

While it has been heartening to see the community rally around Glenwood, there’s also a sad realization that all the hours and money spent to right this wrong could be used another way — though, for many affected, there’s no price to high to honour the people who are the reason we’re here today. Undoubtedly, though, they’d rather see those efforts and those hundreds of thousands of dollars going into health care, to youth activities, or even to beautify Glenwood in other ways for generations to enjoy and to pay tribute.

Likely, the reason someone put so much effort into toppling monuments may never be known and that might be just as well. In the meantime, while there is attention around the Glenwood Cemetery, this is as good a time as any to teach the population about the stories inside and treasures found inside the gates.

Much can be learned by spending an afternoon at Glenwood accompanied by a historian.Those fortunate enough to join the likes of the late Al Capon or Peter Lockyer on a walking tour through the cemetery could learn about the lives of the people memorialized there. There’s tales of settlers, soldiers, and a who’s who of the canning industry that defined this county for years. Even their knowledge of the symbols on the monuments themselves can offer enrichment that translates to a broader understanding of architecture, faith, and history that can be applied to other areas in life and other parts of the world. As restoration efforts progress, it will be a good time for more of these tours to take place.

As a society, we should be teaching our youth that cemeteries aren’t foreboding and scary places, but rather very valuable links to our past. It might be prudent to make visits a regular part of school curricula and to encourage more independent research on those who occupied this land before. It’s important to develop that understanding, particularly in the digital age with the global, instant culture that dominates the present.

With attention focused on the immediate need at Glenwood, we must also remember that across Prince Edward County and elsewhere, there are many grave sites in need of maintenance, just to deal with the effects of age and weather and, typically, there are few hands to do the work. If appreciation for burial grounds can be instilled in more people from a young age, perhaps there will be the manpower and the resources to ensure more memorials stand the test of time and become a source of civic pride, just as Glenwood has become.

-Adam Bramburger