Cataraqui Cemetery and those laid to rest there were the victims of massive vandalization overnight. Sometime between Wednesday, Oct. 27 and Thursday, October 28, 2021, over one hundred tombstones were desecrated with spray paint.
“It isn’t something I expected to wake up to this morning,” said Cataraqui Cemetery General Manager, Craig Boals, in an interview this afternoon. “I’m still trying to find my words for it. It is just senseless. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
“You know when the Sir John A. Macdonald statue was having some red paint thrown on it and stuff like that, at least we understood why — the red paint had symbolism. But this? Yeah, this is just senseless. I’m still lost for the word,” said Boals, who feels deep remorse for families affected. “It’s sad. It’s senseless, it’s disrespectful. You could go open Webster’s dictionary and pick out every negative word and it applies, and it’s just sickening.”
Boals discussed the issue from the perspective of his position and that of the cemetery.
“Being in the business, these are the days that you say you know are coming: ‘Someday this will happen. I hope it doesn’t,’” he expressed. “And then, when it finally happens, you still can’t fathom how to deal with it.”
Boals said he is already fielding calls from families inquiring about the safety of their family plots and, if damaged, asking about the time frame for repairs. He wants to make sure that as many people as possible hear that the damage was done in the section of Cataraqui Cemetery known as “Old H,” so that not all 14,000 families who have connections to the old cemetery need be upset.
Complicating matters, the section of the cemetery that was vandalized borders on two properties: One owned and operated by Cataraqui Cemetery and Funeral Services, and the other owned by the adjacent Anglican church, Christ Church Cataraqui, on Sydenham Road.
“We’re still doing a count on them, I counted about 30 to 40 or so on the Cataraqui Cemetery side of the boundary, and about 78 to 80 that are on the church’s side of the boundary. So they got hit harder than us. Not that that matters, each one is equal,” he said, “One was too many.”
Boals had been in contact with the church and understands the difficulty they will face with clean up.
“We have the equipment to go out for our families that are in our Cemetery to take care of that. They do not,” he said, referring to Christ Church. “They look to me to help them out. So, I’ve given them that assurance we’d get this taken care of and then, of course, then we start counting all the stones and… yeah, this is bigger than we thought.”
Boals is thankful to the owner of Kingston Monuments, and noted, “he’s pledged to send a crew down to give us a hand not necessarily for Cataraqui Cemetery, but least to help that church. So that was a nice of Kingston Monuments to kind of give a little back for so many families who bought monuments from them.”
“And so ideally, we’re going to have at least two crews out there going on it, but you figure three, maybe four hours per headstone and if there are 100 headstones…” Boals continued. “Our biggest fear right now is Mother Nature. When it gets too cold and we can’t do this anymore, some of these things will have to wait till spring. I don’t want to be the one to decide which ones get it and which ones don’t.”
There are many techniques that can be used to clean the stones, depending on the type of stone and its age. Boals said some will require sandblasting, while others might be saved with solvents and cleaners.
Boals pointed out that he knows there are many in Kingston who will feel deeply about what has been done and, “I know the Kingston community’s fantastic for volunteering. And in this case, we’re just asking if it’s your own stone, you’re welcome to clean that one. But we’re asking volunteers to not come forward and help clean the other stones,because sometimes good intentions can do more damage. If you’re not familiar with how to clean it or the techniques to use on it, you may actually chip a part of the stone. Or, some stones should not be done in a certain way because they’re somewhat vulnerable or they’re old. Between us and our friends in the community that we’ve called upon, we’ll tackle those ones in due course and as long as the weather cooperates.”
Kingston Police are investigating the matter and have yet to make a statement to the public. According to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), similar acts of vandalism have taken place at cemeteries throughout Quinte West, however, it is not known if the cases are related.