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Simon Fraser's gravesite gets extreme makeover

March 20, 2008

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By Marianne Meadahl

Famed explorer and this university’s namesake Simon Fraser can rest a little easier (or at least his admirers can) now that his gravesite is no longer deteriorating.

The restoration of the cemetery where Fraser is buried became a three-year labour of love for a small group of historical buffs in St. Andrews West, Ont.

Maureen McAlear of the Cornwall Township Historical Society says the group approached SFU early in its quest for help to restore the community’s cemetery. The university donated $2,500 to the restoration project, and Yosef Wosk and chancellor Brandt Louie each made personal donations.

The historical society later secured two grants totaling $150,000 from the Ontario government. The funds also helped restore the stone fence surrounding the cemetery, which had crumbled due to weather and road salt.

The foundation of Fraser’s headstone was replaced in November. The group also put a new foundation under the headstone of Fraser’s wife’s parents, Allan and Isabella MacDonell, next to Fraser’s own plot. And they erected a stone monument to commemorate the restoration work.

"The bulk of the work was completed just before the first snow came," says McAlear. "We had such an accumulation of snow soon after that we’ve been unable since to see the fruits of our labor."

While digging the hole in front of Fraser’s stone, workers uncovered another old headstone belonging to Archibald McLellan, a partner of the Northwest Company. "There is a McLellan plot adjacent to Fraser’s so we assume that it was originally in place nearby and somehow became buried," says McAlear.

"Roadways went through the village on at least two occasions over the years and it is said that some graves were disturbed or moved at that time."

With the work now complete, the community will turn its attention to celebrating the explorer’s bicentennial in June. McAlear adds, "I think that Simon Fraser would be amazed that people separated by such great distance could be brought together just because of his name and his deeds."

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