Grave of Robert Johnston, brother of William Johnston, Pefferlaw’s founder.

By: Daryl Urquhart

What’s in a memory? What’s the point of Remembrance Day? Why do we honour the accomplishments of people long dead? How do we feel the impact of history?

In my experience, after 66 years of a life full of meaningful moments, I have found that when remembering something or someone from the distant past, it is always immensely more impactful if the memory, or in many cases, new revelation and understanding, is physically connected to the actual location in which it took place.

Feeling the intensity of the battle of Culloden in Scotland would be impossible without standing on the moor where the English mowed down the Scottish clansmen, wiping out their way of life. Understanding the colossal carnage and sorrow of the battle at Vimy Ridge would not be possible without standing among the graves, honouring the fallen.

For any historically significant event or person (family), location is everything. Otherwise, it might as well be just a story no different from fiction.

For the town of Pefferlaw, the Johnston family cemetery is historically significant. Newcomers and current residents all benefit from the history it represents and the pioneers’ efforts laying there, without whom the town, enjoyed today, might not exist.

The Johnston cemetery site is prominent on the streetscape of Pefferlaw, acting as a constant reminder of the legacy. It proudly displays heritage and perspective of longevity, which gives meaning to living there.

I sit on the board of the St. George’s Church Cemetery in Jackson’s Point. In that capacity, I have the privilege to participate in the preservation of historically significant gravesites. I can’t help wondering how absurd it would seem to be if we decided to move Stephen Leacock, Mazo De La Roche, Alfred Chapman, or indeed the Sibbald family from their “final resting place”?

Not only as an affront to historical significance would it seem absurd, but because when they were laid to rest, they likely knew where that site would be and that they would actually be “at rest” for all time. It is also likely that such words as “final resting place” would have been uttered by the family, loved ones, and the faith’s local pastor or minister.

These are not just words. They are the commitment of the living to honour the dead and respect their memory so that their lives and accomplishments are not forgotten. Also so that we can connect with them, standing before them, their bodies beneath the ground upon which we stand, and in which they understood they would always be.

Why have graveyards at all if we cannot trust that they will eternally protect our remains and memory? What’s in a memory? It is nothing more than a story if we don’t preserve it and honour our reverence.

I urge all concerned to consider the irreverence of moving the Johnston Cemetery as an assault, perhaps even a crime against the integrity of our moral responsibility and our commitment to upholding promises of the past.

Editor’s Note: Email Ontario’s Burial Registrar (nancy.watkins@ontario.ca) with
your comments re: the Johnston Family Cemetery during the 45-day public comment period, which ends March 10

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