'A heartbreaker': Black settlement burial ground vandalized

Vandalism at a historic black Loyalist burial ground near Saint John has left heavy hearts among those who care for it.

All five windows smashed in memorial building at the historic Black Settlement Burial Ground near Saint John.

All five of the windows of this building, commemorating a church which stood in the 1700s, were smashed out. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Vandalism at a historic black Loyalist burial ground near Saint John has left heavy hearts among those who care for it.

The Black Settlement Burial Ground in Willow Grove, N.B., is the final resting place for dozens of black residents in the area. The cemetery was founded in 1831 for many black Loyalists and refugees who came to the area during the War of 1812.

The gravestones are long gone, but several monuments mark the cultural significance of the area. A small memorial building, commemorating the church which stood there in the 1700s, was added to the site in 1982.

Windows smashed out

Ralph Thomas spent Saturday morning sealing up all five of its windows, after someone smashed them out last week.

"It's a heartbreaker," said Thomas, who is the president of PRUDE  (Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education), which champions diversity in Saint John.

Ralph Thomas, who discovered the damage, he doesn't believe it was racially motivated. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Thomas discovered the damage while he was preparing the burial ground for winter.

"Happened to look up and gee whiz, there was a broken window in the front entrance" he said. He soon discovered that all five of the windows had been broken and found stones inside the building.

He said it was a good thing the windows were made of Plexiglas, otherwise the damage could have been worse.

"We were very lucky that way. The inside wasn't damaged at all." Thomas said he'll have to return to board up the windows this week, before they are replaced in the spring.

Neighbours 'very upset'

He also discovered a monument, which had been missing for a month, tossed into a nearby ditch.

Thomas said he doesn't believe the damage was racially motivated, despite the nature of the site.

The gravestones are no longer there, but the Black Settlement Burial Ground is the final resting place of black Loyalists and refugees who came to the area during the War of 1812. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The area is well looked after by those who live nearby, many of whom stopped by to speak to him while he made repairs, he said.

"Four or five people came and stopped by. They were very upset."

Robyn Scott lives next door to the cemetery and said she didn't hear anything out of the ordinary.

"I think it is very unfortunate that whoever did it doesn't have anything better to do with their time," she said. 

'We are hurt by it'

David Peters, a New Brunswick black historian, has also been heavily involved in the cemetery's development.

"It happen. We are hurt by it, yes, it's one of our most historic sites in the province, but it does happen."

Peters said the graveyard has been hit by vandals about three times since it was developed.

He thinks it was likely a kid who doesn't understand the significance of the location that was targeted.

"That is Loyalist land, that is refugee land for the black folks and there's other folks buried in that area as well" said Thomas. "So we have to respect that land, we have to respect that property."