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Photo by Richard Leitner

Photo by Richard Leitner

The city says the marker for Private John Winfield of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was replaced shortly after he was buried in 1987.

City boss blames vandals, others for tossed tombstones

Beach activist’s photos cast doubt on explanation

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

A city boss says he “blew a gasket” when he learned veterans’ tombstones had been dumped over a bluff at Woodland Cemetery, but is suggesting vandals or private companies are to blame.

Tennessee Propedo, manager of parks and cemeteries, said he’d fire any worker “on the spot” for violating a protocol with Veterans Affairs Canada that requires broken or replaced tombstones to be crushed to remove all identifiable features.

The broken soldiers’ tombstones were discovered by a reporter and Hamilton Beach activist Jim Howlett during an April 5 visit to the cemetery.

They were mixed in with a pile of remnant civilian markers that was in plain view just over the bluff’s edge in an area that has been cleared for more gravesites.

Speaking at Woodland on April 9, Propedo said cemetery workers retrieved the remnants for proper disposal as soon as they were made aware of the situation.

He said the markers were easier to see because the hillside is relatively bare of plants and leaves at this time of year.

“My personal opinion – I can’t be a hundred per cent certain – it’s probably acts of vandalism,” he said, suggesting a private company may also have tossed one of the markers bearing a full name and rank.

“We were not aware of it. I don’t think my staff typically go down there, on the side of the escarpment.”

Propedo’s explanation seems at odds with a slide-show presentation Howlett made to Hamilton Conservation Authority directors on April 3.

Howlett, who is the authority’s vice-chair, said he saw a front-end loader pushing trees and other debris over the edge, and one of his pictures showed the area in question, with the gravestone rubble clearly visible.

“It’s probably been going on for, I bet, 80 years or some big number like that,” he said of dumping over the bluff.

While some of the broken markers had partial names and ranks, two identified the veterans.

Private John Winfield served with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and died on Jan. 22, 1987 at age 58.

Michael Klecman served with the Merchant Navy, but the dates of his birth and death weren’t visible because his marker was broken in half.

Crystabelle Fobler, superintendent of cemeteries, said Winfield’s tombstone was replaced in 1987 and Klecman’s in 2000 – the year he died.

She said it’s not unusual to replace initial markers soon after burial with standard ones.

In Klecman’s case, she said, his new marker is at Mount Hamilton cemetery on Rymal Road and was paid for by the Last Post Fund, which tries to ensure soldiers of limited means get a dignified burial.

As for the discarded tree cuttings and other organic wastes that prompted Howlett’s initial concerns about potentially illegal dumping, Propedo said staff has been instructed to stop the practice.

But he said large concrete slabs were dumped years ago, at a time when the prevailing view was that they would stop erosion.

Propedo said they actually accelerate erosion, but there are no plans to retrieve them or the slew of discarded baskets, plastic flowers and other funeral refuse over the bluff because of the safety risks.

“If you’re rappelling down there, you need certain specific training,” he said.

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