Jeff Green | Sep 15, 2005
Feature Article - September 15, 2005
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Witching Graves: the glamorous life of a township Councillor
by Jeff Green
When North Frontenac Township Councillor Dave Smith took over responsibility for the growing number of cemeteries that are now managed by the township, one of the first issues to be grappled with was locating grave sites.
In some cases, headstones have fallen over or been lost altogether; and many graves never had headstones and are not included in any existing cemetery plans or drawings.
A few months ago, Smith brought a brochure to Council for a machine that could identify the location of graves. The machine was available for rent, and Smith was considering trying it out.
A couple of council meetings later, Dave Smith told Council, “I can find the grave sites myself, don’t ask me how, but it’s not a problem.”
It turns out that Dave Smith had contacted the manager at the Cataraqui cemetery near Kingston who told him that graves can be witched in much the same way that well drillers witch the location of water.
Instead of using a forked piece of wood, Smith took two of his steel welding rods and tried it out.
“I tried it at first where I knew there was a gravesite, and as soon as I walked over the grave the front of the rods moved towards each other. When I was sure it was working I moved on to unmarked parts of the cemetery and began finding graves,” Smith said.
Dave Smith also uses a heavier gauge steel rod, which he can push through the earth until it hits something solid. It turns out that most of the caskets, at least at the Dempsey cemetery on Marble Lake road, weren’t buried more than 18 inches under the surface.
Finding graves is only the beginning of the process of mapping out cemeteries in order to determine where new plots can be sold.
Dave Smith and North Frontenac Township Clerk/Planner Brenda DeFosse have spent a few half- day stretches marking off grave sites, determining areas that need to have brush removed in order to reveal more sites, and going over old records.
Defosse hopes to solicit help from a school shop class to build crosses to mark the unmarked gravesites that are found. Tombstones that have sunk into the ground will have to be pulled up to the surface as well.
The township is continually accumulating more cemeteries as churches and cemetery boards turn them over, and the provincial government would like to see accurate records established and kept up.
For Defosse and Smith, it all adds up to a long-term project for the township which might take a decade or longer to complete.
When asked if this kind of work is in the job description of township clerk or a township councillor, Defosse and Smith both said, “It is now!”