QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2009-01 > 1231804279
Subject: [Q-R] Foundation tends old cemeteries,WEST AMHERST, NOVA SCOTIA
Date: Mon, 12 Jan 2009 18:51:19 EST
Foundation tends old cemeteries
WEST AMHERST, NOVA SCOTIA — Paul Mahaney kneels beside a fallen headstone,
pauses, then runs his hands across its broken base.
"This isn’t vandalism," the administrator of the W.B. Wells Heritage
Foundation said Friday, lifting his eyes to survey the rest of the Old Burying
All around him in this cemetery, established in 1790, he sees tombstones that
are off-kilter. Some have fallen, some look like they could fall at any
moment, and others are covered in lichens.
"This is just Mother Nature doing what she does to old cemeteries, and it’s
the kind of damage that we help repair," Mr. Mahaney said of the Wells
foundation. "Our goal is to help preserve and maintain cemeteries like this one
throughout Cumberland County."
The foundation was formed following the death of William Black Wells in 1984
at age 84. Mr. Wells, known as the Blueberry King, made a fortune in the
In his later years, he developed an interest in the condition of seven
cemeteries where his family members were buried.
Once he had repaired the graves of his relatives, Mr. Wells turned his
attention to fixing the other graves in those cemeteries. It became his hobby.
When he died, he left $700,000 in his will for a foundation that would
"provide for the restoration, maintenance and general improvement of cemeteries
and burial grounds . . . within the County of Cumberland."
Since then, Mr. Mahaney and other members of the foundation have carried out
his wishes. Through their steerage, the foundation has provided grants to 110
of the county’s 300 burial grounds.
The grants have been as much as $47,000 and as little as $500. They have
helped cemeteries, run by charitable organizations, clean, level and repair
headstones, build access roads and fencing, and buy more land.
"We don’t do day-to-day maintenance like mowing," Mr. Mahaney said. "That is
conducted by the group that operates the cemetery."
The foundation has also helped to shore up the banks of the St. Thomas More
Cemetery in Pugwash after it was damaged in hurricane Juan and assisted groups
with the legal work required to set up non-profit boards to operate a
cemetery. In addition, the foundation holds workshops every five years that bring
together experts in cemetery maintenance and those who do the daily upkeep.
"The largest cemetery we’ve provided assistance to would have been the one
here in Amherst, the smallest would be to a cemetery in Northport that only has
three stones," Mr. Mahaney said.
One of the most important projects the foundation has helped was one run by
the Cumberland County Museum. The foundation gave the museum a $160,000 grant
to record the information on, and location of, every headstone in every
cemetery in Cumberland County.
"That was an important project, because there does come a time when Mother
Nature erases the information on a headstone," Mr. Mahaney said. "By recording
it, we will always know who was buried where."
The foundation reached the $1-million mark in grants handed out when it gave
$4,200 to St. Brigid’s Cemetery in Parrsboro this year. Half of that grant
was used to clean and straighten headstones, the other half to erect a monument
recognizing the location of a previously unmarked Mi’kmaq burial ground.
It is the second time the foundation has helped to recognize unmarked graves.
Previously, it erected a marker in the Old Burying Ground to note the graves
"We are open to help any non-profit group that is taking care of a cemetery,"
Mr. Mahaney said as he walked through the Old Burying Ground. "We don’t care
what race or religion they are. If we can help, we will.
"I’ll be back here tomorrow with an expert who will help us fix the
headstones here. It will be our first step towards spending another million dollars
and in continuing to meet Mr. Wells’s last wish."
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