A four-member sub-committee created by the District of Kent’s Parks and Recreation department is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Agassiz’s historic cemetery on Limbert Mountain.
The Kent Municipal Cemetery, or, as it’s better known, the “Old Cemetery” was created soon after the incorporation of the district in 1895. Over the years, the cemetery has been in various states of preservation, at times maintained by the Mountain Institution or community members, at other times overgrown with shrubbery and brush.
Despite being created on a steep hill so it would stay dry, rain and condensation has created erosion in the Old Cemetery – possibly submerging headstones, leaving many of the buried residents in unmarked graves. Unsanctioned trees planted over the years have grown unruly paths of gnarled roots, disturbing the order of the graveyard as it was intended, or at least as it was laid out in the old map.
Old Cemetery Conservation Plan Sub-Committee chair Bev Kennedy says time was running out for preservation. “It’s important to us, as well as the community to preserve our heritage,” she says. “If we don’t do it now, nobody’s going to do it. It’s going to be lost. We’re already losing too much information.”
The sub-committee is creating a comprehensive conservation and preservation strategy to ensure the long-lasting maintenance of buried history.
Kennedy says the group wanted to start by finding out what’s actually going on underground. They needed a “ground penetrating radar survey” to locate graves without headstones and update mapping and identification.
A ground penetration radar (GPR) pushes electromagnetic pulses into the ground. The pulses bounce off objects to provide a reading to the machine’s user – helping them determine what’s below the ground’s surface.
“We had talked about doing it for a while, and normally it’s very, very expensive,” says Kennedy.
But fortunately, historical archaeology Ph.D candidate Sarah Beaulieu has a soft spot for old cemeteries, and her own GPR.
“It all seemed to come together,” Kennedy says. “We didn’t know how we were going to afford it and then we found Sarah.”
For personal research on a WWI internment camp, Beaulieu used a GPR to search for prisoners of war in the camp’s cemetery. Her ongoing cemetery research and personal GPR is the reason she was recommended to help with the project.
“When we finished GPRing and got to the top, of course the final four graves are the Agassiz family,” Beaulieu recalls. “That kind of says it right there. These are some of the founding families of this area.” Beaulieu says history is vital. “We’re teaching history to our children and our children’s children,” she says. “By preserving these cemeteries, that story continues.”
The survey was completed last weekend and Kennedy says they’ll have to wait a few weeks for the final report.
But for those who joined Beaulieu as she covered “every inch of the cemetery” with the GPR, it was clear that there were some burials in unexpected locations. In fact, the group discovered hundreds of unmarked graves.
Kennedy says the ground survey was only step one. “What we want to do next is probe some of these unmarked graves with a steel rod and hopefully, the headstone is there,” she says. “In a lot of cases, it’s just three, four or six inches under the soil. We want to find out who’s in each burial as best as we can.”
“When we started this project I said to the group, ‘If not now, when, and if not us, who?’” Kennedy recalls. “It’s been, really, a labour of love.”