Family members upset with treatment of mementos at Hillaton Cemetery

Kirk Starratt
Published on July 26, 2014

An upset family member says the removal of mementos from graves at the Hillaton Cemetery has “opened up the grieving process again” and they want someone held accountable.

Dorothy (nee Rogers) Sweet of South Alton, acting as a spokeswoman for concerned families, has many relatives buried in the cemetery. She said she visited the cemetery about a month ago to replace the flowers. Her vases were gone and solar lights were missing from her brother’s grave.

Sweet said people used to be allowed to leave personal mementos on the graves but regulations were changed at the annual general meeting of the Burgess Hillaton Cemetery Society this spring. Society members agreed that nothing was to be left on the ground at the cemetery, but no public notice was given and nothing was posted at the site.

Since the cemetery society was incorporated about two years ago, people had been allowed to leave mementos by graves and the caretaker took time to mow and trim around them, she said.

Sweet said most missing items were found in a pile at the top of the hill near a ‘no dumping’ sign.

Photos, a metal cross, a wooden stake with a lady’s name and plot number and even some saddle displays from the tops of headstones were discarded in the pile, she said.

Items are now being stolen from the pile and there are “a lot of very upset people,” she said.

“They want someone to be held accountable,” Sweet said.

A group has been established on Facebook called Concerns About the Hillaton Cemetery. As of July 24, there were 331 members and many photos and comments posted. A meeting has been set for Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Canning Lions Hall for upset family members to express their concerns to the cemetery society.


Cemetery society responds

Burgess Hillaton Cemetery Society president Glenn Ells said post-tropical storm Arthur, blew items around the cemetery grounds and, in most instances, it wasn’t clear where they belonged. The caretaker, society vice-president Ken Borden, cleaned up the grounds and put the items in a pile, along with some other mementos. The society had voted at their May general meeting to post a new set of regulations, but Ells said the caretaker took action before the new rules were posted.

It wasn’t a “smooth way to handle it,” Ells said.

“He hasn’t posted the regulations yet. They’re being posted today,” Ells said July 23, describing the situation as “unfortunate.”

Ells said there are regulations at the cemetery posted since 2000 that state no glass or hard plastic items can be placed where it would impede mowing.

He has received calls from families concerning the situation and found out former caretakers had given at least one family permission to place extra items in front of graves. He said he would like it if lot owners would make the society aware of any agreements made in the past.

“The board and caretaker are both learning what the lot owners want,” Ells said.

Ells is asking people with concerns to list them so they can sit down in the meeting with the society board and caretaker to work through them. He suggests lot owners should notify the caretaker if they plan to place something on a grave. If the item interferes with regular maintenance, the lot owners can take care of maintenance around it.

Ells said one problem with cemeteries in general is that, because of lower returns on investment, perpetual funds set up years ago to provide funding for care are no longer adequate.

The former caretakers gave notice around the time local United Church congregations amalgamated that they were unable to continue and a new caretaker was hired.

Ells said he asked the transition committee around the time of the United Church amalgamation what would become of the graveyards. Ells didn’t want to see the cemeteries administered from outside the area, so the Burgess Hillaton Cemetery Society was incorporated to look after them. The society recently received the land titles from the church.