Mohawk cemetery restoration underway in Tyendinaga

The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte (MBQ) have finally begun restoration of grave markers that were damaged in an incident of vandalism over 50 years ago at Christ Church in Tyendinaga Territory.

A volunteer uses bottled water to reveal the etchings on a broken gravestone. Submitted photo.

According to Chief Donald Maracle, no one was ever held responsible for the destruction of numerous grave markers.

“It may have been kids playing, no one knows,” he said.

But in the years since the incident at Christ Church, Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal of the Mohawk, the pieces of limestone and marble grave markers were collected into a pile off to the side to keep them together until something could be done. Since that time, the pile has been moved multiple times and records before the 1990s were spotty at best.

Thus, the MBQ began a heritage project this year to finally do right by the ancestors buried there.

“It is important to show our respect to those who have gone before us,” Maracle expressed.

The project to complete the repairs was made possible through an $18,000 grant from the My Main Street Community Activator program, along with funding from Bay of Quinte Marketing, the Anglican Diocese of Ontario, Aboriginal Labour Force Development Circle, and other  private donors. 

“In May [2022], 27 community volunteers held a cemetery clean-up to rake the leaves and tidy up the graves,” Chief Maracle explained, “and now, this summer, 13 volunteers have worked on the broken stones.”  Maracle extended his sincere thanks on behalf of the Council to the many volunteers, and stated, “it really shows what a strong community spirit we have here.” 

The volunteer workers are sorting and putting the pieces together, which Maracle noted is “a lot like a giant jigsaw puzzle.” Then, contractor Graham Quick of Quick & Sons was hired to restore the markers and place them in their proper former positions later this month.

“It’s a lot like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” said Chief Donald Maracle of the stone restoration project. Submitted photo.

This, too, proves to be a difficult task due to lost records.

“Some we are able to determine the base of the marker where it was broken off, but others are too damaged,” explained Maracle.

He is hoping that families will contact the Council if they have any record or memory of who has been buried in which plot.

“Sometimes, stones might have the same name, so it would be helpful if people could contact us and let us know who is where.”

Otherwise, they will do their best to use measurements to approximate the location of each grave.

Christ Church, Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal of the Mohawk, is of great historical significance to the Mohawk people and to the colonial history of Canada – it is one of only six Royal chapels outside the United Kingdom, and one of two in Canada (the other is Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks near Brantford, Ontario).  It was designated a National Historic Site in 1995 and still hosts a congregation for worship and fellowship every Sunday morning, in addition to being an open space for special events, tours, and concerts.

According to the minutes of a July 1995 meeting of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada minutes, the church is intimately linked with the establishment of the Mohawk peoples in Ontario; as one of two Royal Chapels in Ontario, it represents the historic alliance between the British Crown and the Mohawk, peoples as well as the Crown’s historic and ongoing contribution to Canada.

“This handsome church attests to the remarkable historic alliance of the Mohawk people with the Crown. Loyal Mohawks, who sacrificed much in their support of the British cause, came here after the American Revolution. They built a log church nearby, which Christ Church replaced in 1843,” the historic plaque outside the church reads.

“Royal gifts over the years have honoured this extraordinary relationship and, in 1904, King Edward VII conferred the title, ‘His Majesty’s Chapel.’ This Gothic Revival church was severely damaged by fire in 1906. Restored at Mohawk expense, the chapel stands today as a symbol of their enduring regard for the Crown.”

The church’s prominent location on a rise of land overlooking the Bay of Quinte, chosen by the community itself, symbolizes its power for the Mohawk.

“The burial site was used there long before even the wooden church was built, which means some of our very first Mohawk settlers and United Empire Loyalists are interred there,” Maracle explained.

Anyone with more information about the location of the graves is invited to contact Chief Maracle at 613-396-3424 or Research Assistant Steven Lindsay-Maracle at [email protected] or 613-396-3424 ext. 115 to help with replacing the monuments.

One thought on “Mohawk cemetery restoration underway in Tyendinaga

  • Why was it not investigated. Fix it. Fix it right and take good care of it!

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