St. Matthew’s Cemetery desecrated

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Photo: Pierre Little
An open grave on the grounds of St. Matthew’s Cemetery — one of many instances of the site’s disrepair. Profane graffiti mars the wall of the adjacent church and a passer-by was recently witnessed urinating on the grounds.

Last week, the newspaper received troubling news from a former Quebec City resident on some activities he witnessed on vacation in the city. While visiting St. Matthew’s Church and Cemetery, he observed shocking things, like grave-opening by vandals, anti-Anglo graffiti on tombstones and public urination on the walls of the historic church.

I took it upon myself to go directly to the cemetery to verify the reports. More on that below, but first some background on St. Matthew’s Church and Cemetery.

St. Matthew’s Cemetery is on St. Jean Street and is an historic English heritage site donated to the city of Quebec by the Anglican Diocese.

The church itself is now a city library and is an exceptional space; however there are issues of concern relating to the cemetery that date back to the early 1980s.

For many years there have been ongoing discussions with the city of Quebec to restore the cemetery in a way that would preserve this important aspect of the city’s English heritage, and befit such a historic landmark.

From my personal investigation, there is an open grave in the middle of the cemetery in plain view of everyone who seemed to be enjoying their lunch hour in the sunshine. Dog feces litters the park and the grounds sparkled with a particular shinning metal left over from crushed cans of a popular malt-flavoured drink ...

When I showed up, the city cleanup worker had just arrived for the day.

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Photo: Hans Raffelt

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Photo: Hans Raffelt

He began what looked like the cleanup of garbage bags full of leaves from last fall. When asked who is responsible for cleaning the graffiti off of the tombstones, his answer was surprising. “We are only responsible for cleaning the grounds,” he said. “We are not responsible for graffiti or restoration. There is a heritage group responsible for that.” When I pressed him for the name of the heritage group, he did not know.

Longtime advocate for St. Matthew’s Cemetery Jane MacCauley said, “There is supposed to be a plan in place for the restoration. It was completed in 2007. But I am uncertain as to the status of that plan. The neighbourhood council, Conseil de Quartier, is a consultant on the plan but unsure as to what was decided.”

There were reports in the early 1980s, before the city upgraded the cemetery with the current retaining wall and metal fence, of patrons from the local bars leaving drunk and vandalizing the cemetery.

There were even reports of drunk patrons running around the streets of St. Jean with bones dug up from the cemetery.
We were able to reach David Mendel, a local tour operator here in Quebec City, who is actively involved with the committee to restore the cemetery.

When we mentioned the current state of the cemetery, he said, “I was not aware of the extent of the vandalism and the grave disturbances going on and certainly unaware that there was an open grave in the centre of the cemetery and this is of great concern.”

When asked what he thought needed to be done, he said, “I am confident the city is making a good effort in getting the right plan in place; however, we should not be complacent in providing proper maintenance and supervision along with security while we are waiting for the proper plan to be decided and work to be started on the restoration of the cemetery grounds.

“I would think it would be proper and feasible for the city to consider video cameras on site with video surveillance notices posted around the cemetery,” Mendel continued. “This would seem a very small investment in preventative measures while the community waits for the full restoration project to begin.”

Since the care of the cemetery has been a long and arduous problem over the last 25 years, some people feel it is time for a two-step approach.

First secure and maintain, then restore.

 [Related Story July 29, 2009 Edition]

When I was younger, maybe 7 years old, my parents told me about the cemetery’s problems when we were walking by it. They mentioned the crypts being broken in, graves being dug up, etc. My mother told me about a party that local vandals had in the largest crypt that was broken in also.

I'm going to be 19... this has obviously been going on for too long. Why hasn't the government done anything to stop this? When I try to think of an answer, I constantly come to the conclusion that the Quebec government simply does not care about the English-speaking community in their city; or, they care too much about the English that are supposedly trying to "annihilate" the French culture.
Is that a reason to let vandals soil the historical image of the city? Is that a reason to let criminals run free? Government is willing to hand out fines to harmless kids gathering over the underground parking lot near the Parliament, but they will not control the disgusting animals that defile our ancestors’ resting place.

I think it is about time for the community to join and fight what is happening to our cultural landmark.