Gravesites of Canada’s past prime ministers set to receive a revamp

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It was in late January that Mackenzie King’s face was mutilated so badly at an awareness panel by the former prime minister’s final resting place in Toronto that a federal agency decided the panel had to be replaced.

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For more than two decades, the memorial panels did not improve, just like others on the prime minister’s graves overseen by federal officials.

However, those officials are reconsidering what the panel should say and reflect on how the country views its past, especially in light of the historical mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

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Inevitably, experts say, this will lead to tensions about how to mark these sites.

The plaques are among a suite of issues that Parks Canada and the Board of Historic Places and Monuments of Canada have to deal with at 16 graves over the coming years, details of which are outlined in an inspection report released to the Canadian Press under Access. Information Act.

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The program was first introduced in 1999, which was expected to prevent irreparable damage to the final resting places of the prime ministers.

All except one of the graves are in Canada – RB Bennett is buried in a church in Mickelham, UK, a city of 600 people about an hour’s train ride southwest of London. His squid needs repair of cracks and breaks, not to mention a good cleaning of the moss.

In the more than 20 years of its existence, the program has spent nearly $1 million on inspections, repairs, commemorative plaques and flags on graves. Annual spending is based on annual needs, and Parks Canada said it expects average annual spending to increase slightly over the next five years.

Some of that has to do with last year’s addition of John Turner’s grave in Toronto. Documents say an awareness panel was to be set up for this fall; Parks Canada will only say that “plans are in progress” for a commemoration ceremony.

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New panels are set to be installed on each remaining cemetery that will identify the former prime minister’s time in office, and the reasons why they and the tombs hold national historical significance.

Cecilia Morgan, a social and cultural historian at the University of Toronto, said that the general tension that surrounds commemoration can be heightened when the focus is on a historical figure who has taken on a great deal of symbolism in the public’s mind, and whose actions or achievements are one Thrown under the more important light.

“Commemoration is often contested,” said Morgan, who studies the history of commemoration in Canada.

“What I often see is the kind of deep emotional attachment that people have, to the sense of their past and to the symbols that we create from that past that is often concrete in those particular individuals or organizations.”

Parks Canada said in an email that the words on the revamped plaques would “recognize a drastic change in historical understanding” and “reflect the past in the context of the present.”

Cynthia Wesley-Eskimoux, chair of the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, said a diverse panel should debate the words on the plaques to mark the prime minister’s contributions, both positive and negative, to the country’s history.

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He pointed to Sir John A. Macdonald as an example: he contributed as the country’s first prime minister, but was also the author of a government-funded, church-run residential school system, where indigenous children were sent to their families. was separated from. For widespread sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

He said that no word should make everyone a parent and witness to these realities and work to ensure that the negative never happens again.

“It will not be easy. It will be very uncomfortable,” said Wesley-Eskimox, who is also the chair of Truth and Reconciliation at Lakehead University.

“But I think you can’t find reconciliation, or a better relationship, without having that conversation and acknowledging things like that, because people made decisions that had a very sad impact.”

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In addition to plaques, cemetery inspection reports also flagged issues with corrosion from metal ties seeping through the stones on many tombs, and inscriptions on markers that have been exposed to the elements and years of problematic maintenance at others. have disappeared.

The greatest work order appears at the final resting place of Pierre Trudeau.

The mausoleum of gray stone, concrete and brick has taken a beating from increasing freeze-thaw cycles during the winter months, as well as stronger and heavier rains getting more frequent, which federal inspectors have chalked up to climate change.

Sheet metal roofs and flashings extend far beyond their lifespan and may not prevent water from seeping in, requiring complete replacement. Parts of the outer wall needed to be carefully dismantled to repair the water damage, including a load-bearing wall in the former prime minister’s crypt.

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The 2020 inspection report calls for work to begin later this fall. Parks Canada said it is developing an action plan that includes a “detailed investigation[that]is ongoing with the planning and design work to follow.”

Parks Canada said more severe weather related to climate change had affected the gravestone, sarcophagi and mausoleum’s care. The agency said it has increased the frequency of inspections in hopes of “better identifying and mitigating damage or degradation caused by climate change and many other factors.”

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