WOLFVILLE, NS – It’s been three days since 14 headstone pillars were found toppled at Wolfville’s Willowbank Cemetery and people are feeling angry.
Cemetery manager Chris Fuller spotted the damage done Nov. 23 and immediately called Kings District RCMP. The investigation is ongoing.
The cemetery has been busy with people driving and walking through to assess the damage for themselves – people like Rob Elderkin, whose great-great-grandmother Annie Elderkin’s gravestone pillar is now broken.
“When I first heard about this, I really hoped hers wouldn’t be among those damaged, but it’s among the worst. It’s so sad – why would someone do this?” he asked.
Elderkin visited Annie’s gravesite Nov. 24, and retrieved a broken piece of her pillar that had fallen down the hill.
He placed the pillar beside her gravestone, tidying up the damage as best he could.
This isn’t the first time Annie’s grave has been vandalized. The pillar’s top piece was broken off several years ago in a separate incident.
“It’s just despicable that people would do something like this. What’s the point? It’s just pointless,” he said.
Elderkin hopes to maybe see a group of community people come together and see what they can do to fix the stones.
“Who knows, we could maybe fix this ourselves if we got enough people together,” he said.
A ‘thoughtless form of mischief’
Constable Kelli Gaudet with Kings District RCMP said these types of investigations rely almost entirely on members of the public coming forward with information to either RCMP or anonymously to Crime Stoppers.
If the RCMP were to arrest and charge anyone for the vandalism, the charge would fall within the mischief category, which is a Criminal Code charge.
Gaudet confirmed the severity of a mischief charge is decided by a Judge who hears each case separately and would decide on a penalty based on the details of that particular case.
Interviews with nearby residents and owners would also happen, though Gaudet said most information still normally comes from tips.
“People will be frustrated by the person(s) only receiving a mischief charge. That’s not surprising,” said Gaudet.
“This is so disrespectful – it’s a very thoughtless form of mischief, and it’s upsetting. What is the reason for someone to do this? There is none.”
Financial and historical implications
Krystal Tanner is the curator at Wolfville’s Randall House Museum, and among the foremost figures promoting heritage in the town.
She felt sickened and angry when learning of the news the gravestone pillars had been thrown over.
Her grandmother Helen Tanner is not among those whose gravesites have been vandalized.
“I feel a selfish sense of relief. I can’t imagine what the families of the others will go through when they learn they’ve been vandalized,” she said.
She sees the damages impacting Wolfville not only financially, but also historically.
“Maybe these will be fixed, but for people to ignore the heritage at this property in such a blatant way – well, that makes me very angry,” she said.
A slight sense of optimism
Cemetery manager Chris Fuller has a renewed sense of optimism after a day of meetings with community members and heritage groups, some wondering about the cemetery and the graves and others thinking about how to address the damage.
“I’m feeling more optimistic. People are reaching out, and it’s a good feeling,” he said.
Fuller does not know the amount fixing damages would cost for sure, and doesn’t want to speculate. Dipping into cemetery reserves is not viable, he said, since it would drain the already limited funds used to keep Willowbank the serene green space it’s known to be.
The thought of why this happened is still a troubling one.
“I’m still at a loss emotionally but with so many reaching out, things are looking up. It’s a good feeling,” said Fuller.