Butler’s Burial Ground is in terrible shape, and needs to be restored, preserved and properly maintained immediately.
The alternative, says local Bill Hamilton, is that it will be lost forever.
Hamilton and Shirley Stark, tour guides with Ghostwalks, were doing research on John Butler and his role in the American Revolutionary War when they visited the site.
“He trained his Rangers, who consisted of Loyalists and Natives, to successfully defeat the northern states. If they hadn’t, there would be no Canada,” Hamilton said at Monday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting in the town council chamber.
Butler selected the first 16 settlers to start a new town on this land, originally called Butlersburg, Hamilton reminded councillors.
“His bravery, loyalty and compassion made him a hero to the British Empire, the Loyalists, Natives, slaves and families who had lost everything, and all Canadians.”
Hamilton and Stark are hoping the Town can help them have the site restored, although the property is owned by Parks Canada. Staff at the federal agency said they are unable to include the burial site as one of their restoration projects, because it’s not a designated National Historic Site.
“Cemeteries are rarely found to be worthy of this designation and this process takes years to complete,” said Hamilton, explaining why that wasn’t a practical option.
This site will not survive the years necessary for it to be designated, and it will continue to deteriorate under the maintenance plan of its current owner, he said.
Some of the gravestones are already illegible, some are getting more difficult to decipher, “and some are actually disappearing into the ground.”
The vault on the site has deteriorated so badly that Ron Dale, former superintendent of Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites and a resident of NOTL, has filled it with loose material to preserve it.
The stones and vault need to be restored, with a memorial, such as a cairn, to commemorate those buried at the site, Hamilton said.
“After a year of extensive research we have been able to determine that over 30 friends and family members also chose this to be their final resting place.”
Butler’s Burial Ground is one of the most important sites in this town, predating the first burial in St. Mark’s cemetery, and is the final resting place of the town’s founder, he added.
“Visitors who aren’t familiar with this man can’t avoid seeing his name all over town, on trees, subdivisions, B&Bs, plaques, barracks and even a pub commemorating his name,” he said.
“It just doesn’t make sense that the actual man’s grave site is in such a decrepit state.”
An international Butler organization will be visiting town from Ireland in 2020, he said, with members planning to celebrate their famous relative. “We should be honoured to have this international hero buried in our town and his grave site should reflect the most respect. Instead, it’s an utter disgrace,” he said, and will only get worse.
“This isn’t a question of should it be done, it’s a question of who’s going to do it.”
Butler’s Burial Ground should be the pride of this town, “but in its current condition, it is the shame of this town.’
In response, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she’s sympathetic to the issue, and has had discussions about it since January. Council supported the Butler Homestead in restoring and rebuilding that site, she said, making a motion to create a committee with Hamilton, which she and Coun. Gary Burroughs will be part of, along with parks and recreation manager Kevin Turcotte, and interim CAO Sheldon Randall.
She said a representative of Parks Canada should be invited to participate, and the Parks Commission’s School of Horticulture and Willowbank’s School of Restoration Arts could be asked to be part of the solution.