Mon. Aug 15th, 2022

It was in late January that vandals scratched Mackenzie King’s face so hard on an information panel at the former prime minister’s last resting place in Toronto that a federal body decided that the panel should be replaced.

For more than two decades, the memorial panel did not receive a renewal, as did others at the prime minister’s graves, which were monitored by federal officials.

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However, these officials rethink what the panels have to say and reflect how the country views its past, especially in the face of historical mistreatment of indigenous peoples.

Inevitably, experts say it will cause tension over how to mark these sites.

The posters are among a number of topics that Parks Canada and Canada’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board will have to deal with in the coming years at the 16 burial sites, the details of which are described in inspection reports released to The Canadian Press under Access to the Information Act.

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The program was first launched in 1999 in the hope of preventing the last resting places of prime ministers from being irreparably damaged.

All but one of the graves are in Canada-RB Bennett is buried in a church in Mickelham, UK, a town of 600 people about an hour’s train ride south-west of London. His sarcophagus needs repairs of cracks and fractures, not to mention a good cleaning of moss.


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During its more than 20 years of existence, the program has spent about $ 1 million on inspections, repairs, memorial plaques and flagpoles at burial sites. 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 it has to do with the addition last year of John Turner’s grave site in Toronto. The documents say an awareness panel was to be installed in the fall; Parker Canada will only say that “planning continues” for a memorial service.

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New panels are to be installed at each remaining burial site that would identify the term of office of the former Prime Minister and the reasons why they and the graves have national historical significance.

Cecilia Morgan, a social and cultural historian from the University of Toronto, said the usual suspense surrounding memorials can be exacerbated when the focus is on a historical figure who has gained greater symbolism in the minds of the public and whose actions or achievements is cast under a more critical light.

“Memorial services are so often challenged,” said Morgan, who studies memorial history in Canada.

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

Parks Canada in an email said the wording of the renewed plaques would “recognize the huge changes in historical understanding” and “reflect on the past in the context of the present.”

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

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She cited Sir John A. Macdonald as an example: He contributed as the country’s first prime minister, but was also the author of the state-funded, church-run housing school system, in which native children were torn from their families and subjected to widespread sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

Any wording, she said, should make everyone guardian and witness these realities and work to ensure that the negative never happens again.

“It will not be easy. It will be very uncomfortable, ”said Wesley-Esquimaux, president of Truth and Reconciliation at Lakehead University.

“But I think you can not come to reconciliation or better relationships without having that conversation and without acknowledging the kind of things that have happened because people made decisions that had a very tragic impact.”

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Apart from the plaques, the burial site inspection reports also mark problems with rust from metal bands seeping through rocks at several graves and writing on markers that disappear on others due to the elements and years of problematic maintenance.


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The largest work order is displayed at Pierre Trudeau’s last resting place.

The gray stone, concrete and brick mausoleum has been hit by rising freeze-thaw cycles during the winter months, and heavier and heavier rainfall has become more frequent, causing federal inspectors to chalk up to climate change.

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The tile roof and flashing are well beyond their service life and cannot prevent water from seeping in, requiring a complete replacement. Parts of the exterior wall must be carefully separated to repair water damage, including a load-bearing wall at the crypt of the former prime minister.

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The inspection report for 2020 requires that the work start no later than the autumn. Parks Canada said it is developing a work plan that includes “detailed studies (there) are planning and design work to be followed.”

Parks Canada said more severe weather-related climate change has affected tombstones, sarcophagi and mausoleums it oversees. The agency added that it has increased the frequency of inspections in hopes of better “recognizing and mitigating damage or deterioration caused by climate change and a number of other factors.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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