The vandalism of gravestones is a baffling crime that seems to have hit many area cemeteries in the last year.
It can leave friends and family of the deceased heartbroken and angry, adding to the pain of the original loss. On top of that, many graves no longer have a living connection; this is the case for the majority of the monuments desecrated in Violet, Ontario in April 2022, some of which predate Confederation.
Recently, however, volunteers undertook the enormous task of restoring the damage done to nearly 20 headstones, including four large family monuments, in Violet Cemetery.
Fifteen-year-old Joe Vanberkel, who first reported the crime in a Facebook post in April, said that he, his father John Vanberkel, cousin Jack Vanberkel, and grandfather Bill Vanberkel raised 12 of the damaged stones on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.
The three generations of Vanberkels worked with a backhoe, rope, chain, and lots of muscle and determination to right the stones, he said.
According to Joe, two other groups had fixed their own family stones, while Douglas Aylesworth and others had done other restoration work to some of the more ancient monuments.
Joe Vanberkel has a great interest in history and genealogy. He explained why he wanted to work to restore the monuments: “I think it’s important to remember the people that have died hundreds of years [ago], because if we don’t preserve and remember them they will be forgotten… if we don’t clean and preserve the stones, we won’t know who’s there.”
Vanberkel explained that many of the gravestones are old and worn to the point that the carving on them is illegible. “There’s probably 100 people buried in Violet Cemetery, and we don’t know who they are. All of the old records were burnt in the church fire of 1953. All of those people were forgotten. If we don’t remember them, then they’re gone forever, and unknown to the world.”
“The [Violet] cemetery is considered semi-abandoned; in 150 to 200 years it might be abandoned… 100 years after that it could be just a forest,” he surmised.
Unless future generations take the same interest Vanberkel has in preserving our collective memories, he may be right.
“They say you die twice,” Vanberkel observed, “once when your heart stops and again when your name is spoken for the last time. In 300 years you may be forgotten yourself.”