A piece of a headstone being restored at Christ Church in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. (Supplied photo)Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on Sep 09, 2022 at 12:01

By Jan Murphy, Local Journalism Initiative

The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte are nearing completion of the restoration of grave stones damaged decades ago at Christ Church in Tyendinaga Territory.

“In the 1960s, some of the marble gravestones were broken and smashed deliberately,” Chief R. Donald Maracle said in an interview in his office in Tyendinaga Territory.

Over the years, the broken pieces were relocated several times, eventually ending up covered in overgrown earth, until a $150,000 restoration project began the process of repairing not only the broken stones, but a tomb and other parts at the historical site.

“The Christ Church, when it was built, was a church for the Mohawk people as well as a lot of the United Empire Loyalists who lived in the area came there because there were not very many Anglican churches at that time,” the chief said. “So a lot of (UEL people) were buried there as well, so some of those stones (belonged) to non-native United Empire Loyalists, as well as Mohawk people.”

Thanks to an $18,000 grant from My Main Street Community Activator program, combined with funding from Bay of Quinte Marketing, the Anglican Diocese of Ontario, Aboriginal Labour Force Development Circle and some private donations, the stones have been painstakingly being pieced back together and soon will be returned to their original burial site.

“It’s a community project,” Chief Maracle said, “an example of restoring heritage and some of the early history in the community. Some of these people buried there were born in the late 1700s.”

The process of piecing the centuries old stones is no simple project, Chief Maracle said.

“They’ll put the pieces together, they’ll use epoxy to cement the different pieces together and they’ll put a metal bracket on the side and then put them back where they should go. Some of them we do know where they go, some of them we don’t. There are still a lot of the bases for those stones that came out of there. They’ll have to measure the width and thickness of the stone and match it up to the base. It’s a painstaking exercise.”

Acknowledging that it took a long time to get to restoring the stones, Chief Maracle said it was something he’s known for a long time that had to be done.

“It was disrespectful to our Mohawk ancestors and to the other people who are buried there to have those gravestones in that type of shamble.”

Since the restoration project began, there have been family members emerge who believe their ancestors’ stones to be among those damaged decades ago.

“One of our police officers believes that some of (the broken stones) might be (from the graves) of his relatives,” Chief Maracle said, adding that recently someone from Burnt Rapids showed up at church believing an ancestor’s grave to be among the damaged. “I’m sure that we’ll hear more from people who might have relatives buried there.”

Anyone with information about the location of the graves can contact Chief Maracle at 613-396-3424.

This item reprinted with permission from   Belleville Intelligencer   Toronto, Ontario
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