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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Town promises it will attempt to save Butler’s Burial Ground
Butler's Burial Ground, located at the west end of Butler Street, needs to be designated as a national historic site, some NOTL residents say. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

The Town of NOTL is establishing a committee to examine ways to preserve Butler’s Burial Ground, a key historic site that has become overgrown and deteriorated.

The move comes after councillors were told last week that if something is not done soon the site will be lost.

Bill Hamilton, who provides ghost tours in Old Town, and Shirley Stark, a shopkeeper at The Ghost Walks, addressed Niagara-on-the-Lake council last week to ask for support in restoring the site.

The cemetery, located at the west end of Butler Street, is a resting place of Lt.-Col. John Butler, one of the founders of Upper Canada.

Butler played a major role in local history and was among 14 other national war heroes who were honoured in 2006 at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa. Butler’s Rangers also fought for the British in the American Revolution and there are several places in town – from a hotel to a sports bar – that were named after Butler.

The gravestones are sinking into the ground and the property, owned by Parks Canada, needs to be designated as a national historic site in order for restoration work to take place, the residents said. A nomination can be submitted to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the issue is important enough to form a committee, including herself, Coun. Gary Burroughs, Hamilton and Stark as well as acting chief administrative officer Sheldon Randall and the town’s manager of parks and recreation, Kevin Turcotte.

They plan to start discussions with different community partners, such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Parks Canada, Willowbank School and the Commission School of Horticulture, on how to restore and preserve the site.

With the help of a Canada 150 grant, the Town of NOTL built a $76,000 pedestrian bridge to provide safe access to the burial ground in 2017.

“A beautiful bridge leading to what? Nothing,” Hamilton told The Lake Report. “An embarrassment.”

The residents appeared before council wondering if the town could build a bridge on the Parks Canada property, then it would be able to help to restore the site, Stark added.

The site is part of Parks Canada’s maintenance schedule but the federal agency doesn’t have any plans for restoring the site, said spokesperson Rae Kingdon.

“Parks Canada conducts routine inspections of the site, and undertakes additional maintenance work when required,” Kingdon said in an email response to The Lake Report. “For example, this spring, a landscaping company was hired to remove overgrown vegetation and poison ivy to improve the safety of the site.”

In 1967, Niagara Parks, which owned the site at the time, created new stones for the graves and installed markers to capture the inscriptions.

Ron Dale of Parks Canada also covered the vault with shale to protect it from vandalism and further deterioration.

Without Butler, there would be no Canada, residents said, so it’s a “no-brainer” the site should be preserved.

When the international Butler Clan comes from Ireland to visit NOTL next summer, they will want to see the burial site of their famous relative, Hamilton said.

“How wonderful it’ll be to bring them into this. And say, ‘Yeah, here he is. Somewhere,’ ” he said.

Since Hamilton and Stark brought attention to the issue at an open house held by Parks Canada in 2018, the cemetery’s deterioration has worsened, Stark said.

When asked to confirm if Parks Canada wasn’t aware of its ownership until after the public consultation, Kingdon said the agency “has been responsible for the administration and active maintenance of the site since 1979.”

If that’s what the owners can do, it’s not enough, Stark said, adding it’s not a witch-hunt and they’re not trying to blame anyone. But “this has to be preserved, so who can do it?”

Stark said she gets “bombarded” with people coming into the shop and wanting to know more about Butler, his Rangers and where they are buried.

“It’s just amazing, the historical attention (to it),” she said.

At the Sept. 9 meeting, Hamilton and Stark asked for town’s support and endorsement in campaigning for site preservation and also suggested the Willowbank School of Restoration Arts and the Niagara Parks Commission’s School of Horticulture look into restoration projects on the site.