29 November 2011

Unregistered Cemeteries in Ontario

For more than thirty years, The Ontario Genealogical Society has been recording the inscriptions in all of Ontario's cemeteries. OGS volunteers have endeavoured to identify all marked, unmarked and abandoned cemeteries in the province. We have discovered that many of these cemeteries are not considered to exist by the government and bureaucrats despite having been used for several generations.

Many cemeteries are no longer used and have been forgotten. Early cemeteries were probably not well documented and all the visible signs may have disappeared. In some cases, people have turned a blind eye, and burial sites have been paved over to become parking lots.

Under current Ontario regulations, when a site with human remains is identified, it is checked against the list of “Approved” cemeteries held by the Registrar of the Cemeteries Regulation Unit. If the location is not on the list, or cannot be identified as one of the cemeteries on the list, the Registrar would declare it an “Unapproved” cemetery. Then he publishes a notice in the local paper calling on any descendants to come forward and provide opinions on what should be done. After that time period, the Registrar decides what to do with the site. He might require a full archaeological survey (at the owner’s expense) to determine the extent of the burial site and then it is within the Registrar’s authority, if he wishes, to proclaim it a Registered Cemetery and require the owner to apply for a license to own a cemetery. The registrar’s other option is to order the archaeological survey and then the owner must remove all the human remains to a registered cemetery in the vicinity. Then the owner has to find a cemetery that will accept the remains and pay for it all to happen. The costs that I have heard run to about $1000. per burial for the whole process. When human remains are discovered in other countries, it is often the government looks after the work and the costs. The Ontario system really discourages anyone from reporting the discovery of old remains on their property.

During our project, OGS has discovered numerous unregistered cemeteries. However, the Province is not willing to add these cemeteries to the official list unless OGS provides more details. The OGS website at http://www.ogs.on.ca/services/unreg_cemeteries.php has the list of known unregistered cemeteries in each county but we need to verify the location of the burial sites by a municipal address for the front gate of the location (i.e. the “fire” code number for the rural areas) and/or GPS coordinates. Local people should have the best knowledge about near-by cemeteries. If the list for your area is incomplete, submit any missing locations to be added to the list. We know that it is a large job but it won’t get done unless we get out and do it. Otherwise, the Registrar may overlook the sites in your area. Then when someone disturbs the cemetery, it will not have any protection under the law and OGS will have no standing to complain. Those of you who cannot check on the unregistered cemeteries should still be canvassing your MPPs to tell them that the cemetery registration should be done before any more are damaged.

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