It’s considered sacred ground.
It’s where the War of 1812’s bloodiest fight took place as more than 1,600 soldiers lost their lives when American soldiers tried to advance into Canada.
But the Drummond Hill Cemetery is also an area where prostitutes, drug users and vandals congregate.
It’s posing a threat to one of this country’s nationally recognized heritage sites, home of the 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
“Because it is off of the main road, we do have a lot of the youth come through,” says Mark Richardson, cemetery services administrator with the City of Niagara Falls.
“We deal with vandalism on a regular basis. We deal with drug use on a regular basis, prostitution and we also have a number of people that, on occasion, will sleep here in the evening.”
He says students recently went into the washroom and tore the partition off the wall.
Gravestones are often desecrated and broken.
“We find needles regularly and we also find crack pipes and tinfoil wrappers,” says Richardson.
“We have a few regulars that the police are aware of. They’re not only the heavy drug users, but they’re also the prostitutes. They’ll use this because it’s difficult for the police to have quick access to. They use the cover of the trees or the cover of the buildings or the monuments to do their business.”
It’s a problem that has been going on for years.
The city plans to meet with police and school officials this week to discuss the issue.
He believes it’s important the public understands what goes on at the cemetery and how hard city officials work to ensure the site integral to the development of Canada and the United States is maintained.
The city hires a contractor to care for the cemetery 40 hours a week, he says.
“They are responsible for the maintenance of the grass and the general upkeep of the pathways, the monuments, the washroom building in the summer.”
Another contractor is hired to restore monuments at all the city’s cemeteries.
“We spend upwards of just over $15,000 a year on restoration of our monuments — monuments that have been vandalized or monuments that have just fallen over with age.”
Richardson says the city pays “special attention” to Drummond Hill because of its historical significance.
“We’re now having a security crew come through on a nightly basis … to try and curb the unwanted use.”
He says city staff go to site to clean up and deal with “some of the more sensitive issues,” including raising monuments.
Drummond Hill is a semi-active cemetery, says Richardson. It’s the final resting place of several prominent figures such as Laura Secord. The city no longer accepts full-body burials, but still inters cremated remains.
In the past, people have called for floodlights to be installed at the cemetery to act as a deterrent to vandalism. Richardson says the value of installing security cameras will be evaluated.
City historian Sherman Zavitz says it’s “very upsetting” how some people treat a national historic site.
“It’s a site we should have a great deal of reverence for in this city,” he says.
Zavitz says he hopes the city’s ongoing efforts to curtail the problem works.
“I don’t know whether security cameras would be of value there, maybe some lighting,” he says. “It’s good to know there is a security firm that checks in on the property.”
Richardson says the city is in the difficult position of trying to attract visitors for the right reasons and discourage others for the wrong reasons.
“It is a very fine balance and obviously one of the goals I think collectively that the city is working on is promoting this area in general.”
He says the city has found that opening up a location, which was done at Fairview and Lundy’s Lane cemeteries to act also as a “functional green space,” has kept some of the shady activity away.
The city has a long-term master plan to integrate some of Main and Ferry sts.’ prominent sites, including the cemetery, Fralick’s Tavern and Redmond Heights.
“We’re working very closely with the landscape architects and with the museums to make sure that everything is going to look spectacular,” says Richardson, adding plans are intended to increase the hundreds of tourists that visit the cemetery yearly.
He says the city is working with the Lundy’s Lane Historical Society to erect plaques indicating the significance of the cemetery and prominent people buried there.
The city plans to build a commemorative park next door on land currently housing the former Battlefield Public School.
Earlier this year, city council rezoned the four-acre property to allow for a 30-unit apartment building, parking for a nearby funeral home and a two-acre park dedicated to the battle.
City staff has already removed the fence that divided the cemetery and school lands and plans to create a connecting pathway.
“We encourage walkers to come through this cemetery — cyclists, tourist groups or local groups,” says Richardson.
“For the most part, the unwanted use, the people that participate in the unwanted use, they don’t want to be seen, so if we have more people flooding through Drummond Hill Cemetery, through the Main and Ferry area in general, it’s really going to detract from the drug use and the prostitution.”
By The Numbers
$18,000: Annual maintenance cost.
$15,000: Annual cemetery restoration costs.
$400: Weekly security cost at Drummond Hill Cemetery.
Here is a list of some prominent people buried at Drummond Hill Cemetery:
Laura and James Secord: The War of 1812 drastically impacted the lives of this husband-and-wife couple. James was a veteran of the war, while Laura is revered for her lengthy and exhausting walk to take word of an impending American attack to a British general, which resulted in a British victory. James died in 1841 and Laura died in 1868.
Austin Morse: Morse went into business on Main St. in 1826. He crafted coffins. The business, carried on by a number of generations of the Morse family, evolved into providing complete funeral service. Still on the same site and now owned by the Morgan family, Morse and Son is the oldest funeral home in Canada. He died in 1874.
Burr Plato: Escaped slavery in the southern Underground Railroad to reach freedom in Canada in 1856. He was elected as a councillor for the Village of Niagara Falls in 1886. He was reelected a number of times, quite an accomplishment considering only a handful of blacks were elected to public office during the 19th century. He died in 1905.
James Morden: Morden was principal of Barker St. School (the now closed Battlefield Public School) from 1897 to 1917 and Falls View School (now Cavendish Manor on Dunn St.) from 1917 to 1941. He served as a Stamford Township councillor for many years and was elected reeve of the township in 1943 (Stamford amalgamated with Niagara Falls in 1963). He died in 1944.
Albert Nicholas Myer: Myer was principal of Stamford from 1908 until his retirement in 1933. In 1957, the Stamford District Board of Education named their new secondary school on O’Neil St. in his honour. He died in 1963.