During the 25 years she has lived near Pioneer Cemetery off Herd Road, Annette Hughes has enjoyed countless walks to the peaceful site — the final resting place of some of the area’s earliest settlers and members of celebrated families.
On one of those walks earlier this month, she was shocked and dismayed to find that 14 headstones in the cemetery had been vandalized. Some had been broken or tipped over, and others even ripped out of the ground. A pitchfork was left lying on one grave, and a torn jacket was found at the gate to the Hughes’s barn.
“It just boggles the mind,” Hughes said. “It looked like they did it just to have their kicks.”
Hughes discovered the vandalism on June 3. She said she had last visited the cemetery on May 29. This isn’t the first time there has been damage in the cemetery, but it is the worst such occasion in Hughes’s memory.
“It has happened once before, but it was only one stone,” she said.
Located at the end of Pioneer Road, off Herd Road, Pioneer Cemetery is restricted to families who were living in the Cowichan Valley prior to 1900 and their direct blood descendants. Many of the markers date back to the 19th century. According to Hughes, many of the names on the headstones are shared with roads in the Maple Bay area.
The isolated location is not unfamiliar to police, said Hughes, who has cleaned up garbage including beer cans and condoms discarded at the site in the past.
“That laneway attracts a lot of ruffians, if you will,” she said.
The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have opened an investigation into the desecration.
“A lack of respect for those who have gone before us is inexcusable,” Cpl. Krista Hobday said. “The lives lived by those resting here deserve the respect we are able to afford them during our lifetime.”
Maintenance of the cemetery falls under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of North Cowichan, who had just cut the grass in the days before the vandalism. Director of parks and recreation Ernie Mansueti called it “a disappointing and senseless act.”
“The first thing is the impact for the families,” he said. “It’s emotional for them to hear that a loved one’s grave has been vandalized. And it’s an expense to taxpayers that is not needed.”
No estimate on the cost of the damage has been made yet, and Mansueti said it could take some time to repair the grave markers, as heavy machinery will be required to move them.
Anyone with information about the vandalism in Pioneer Cemetery should contact the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP at 250-748-5522 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).