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Discarded headstones linked to plan to lay Nanaimo graveyard flat

Nanaimo city staff members believe broken headstones discovered near Nanaimo Municipal Cemetery were part of an effort to lay the graveyard flat about 50 years ago.

A city investigation is continuing into the story behind broken and discarded gravestones and stone blocks found on civic property near the Bowen Road cemetery.

But city staff members believe they have a good idea of what took place, according to Geoff Goodall, city director of engineering and public works, who says there was a program to change an ‘upright cemetery’ to a ‘flat cemetery,’ it involved a federal grant and appears to have been done through the 1960s.

Conversations with people who were around at the time indicate headstones were upright, he said, and apparently families were given the opportunity to replace their headstone with a flat one, and if not, there was a concrete replacement. He said existing stones were removed from the sites to the side of the cemetery.

“We are still trying to gather information,” said Goodall, who added that it would be nice to know how the process worked and how families were notified. “It’s complicated because it was quite a long time ago and it’s hard to find reports that were done at the time, but we do have some documentation and then I’ve been able to gather some information from former employees of the city at the time.”

The investigation was triggered in late May after resident Patrick Squire showed Nanaimo city council pictures of discarded markers just outside the 139-year-old cemetery, some engraved with names. The stones were lying together among brambles. There were also stone blocks peeking out from beneath overgrowth in other areas of the city property.

Goodall said there has been exploratory clearing on the cemetery site where city employees have cut paths into blackberries to determine if there are stones and have found some that look like they were part of monuments.

He said the next step will be to go to council with an update. There is no specific timeline attached to the investigation.

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