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John Fowles: Saving the Cemeteries of West Bolton

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medium_blunt.2.jpg--June 2, 2008

John Fowles, a resident of West Bolton in the Eastern Townships, wants to preserve and restore the Fuller, Blunt and Last Wayside cemeteries. These burial grounds, which are on privately-owned land in West Bolton, have been abandoned and are at risk of disappearing altogether.

“I am starting a petition to have at least the Fuller Cemetery, and hopefully the Blunt and Last Wayside cemeteries as well, designated as a heritage sites,” says Fowles.

The 72 year-old Fowles, who emigrated from England to Canada in 1964, is a retired orthopedic surgeon and educator. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2004 for his outstanding contribution to medicine in Montreal, Afghanistan, Uganda and Tunisia. He moved to West Bolton in 2000 where he has developed a second and third career as a professional painter and amateur historian.

As a history buff, Fowles is working diligently to have the abandoned cemeteries designated as municipal heritage sites, as allowed for under the Cultural Property Act of Quebec. This Act permits municipalities, not only to pass regulations to safeguard heritage sites, but also to implement measures to encourage their preservation

“The three cemeteries have historic significance because they hold the remains of some of the earliest settlers of European origin,” says Fowles. “The Fullers, for instance, are descendents of Ralph Fuller and his wife, Elizabeth Elliott, who emigrated from England to Massachusetts in 1617 – three years before the arrival of the Mayflower.

medium_fuller.1.jpg“It would be a fitting tribute to the people, who came before us, if we were to protect their last resting place, maintaining and preserving it as part of the heritage of West Bolton and the Eastern Townships. “These are some of the men, women and children who cleared the land and farmed it, worked in the mills and built roads, schools and churches. It is they, who have made it possible for us to live, work and play here, and enjoy this beautiful part of Quebec.”

The Fuller Cemetery comprises 33 headstones and stands on a lightly wooded knoll, off Rte. 243, between the towns of Knowlton and South Bolton. Immediately behind the cemetery looms an ever-expanding gravel pit.

Not far away, off a dirt road, called Bailey Road, lies the Blunt Cemetery. This cemetery consists of about 30 headstones, which includes the headstone of Matilda Blunt, wife of George W. Knowlton. According to the Brome County Historical Society (BCHS), George Knowlton was the first cousin of Paul Holland Knowlton, the founder of Knowlton. This burial ground also lies precariously close – a mere 20 meters – from the edge of a massive sand and gravel pit.

A little further north, off Stukely Road, is the Last Wayside Cemetery, also known as the ‘ Davis Family Burial Place.’ This little burial ground, containing up to ten known headstones, was once opened and cleared, according to the BCHS. Now there is no walking path to the cemetery. In addition, BCHS records indicate that some of the stones were moved from the original burial site to enlarge a gravel pit.

Many of the headstones, in all three cemeteries, have been toppled, broken, or are concealed by debris and vegetation. “Our ancestors of 200 years ago would not have known that the gravel in which they were buried would be more important than their cemetery heritage,” says Fowles.

If you wish to help in the preservation and the restoration of the abandoned cemeteries in West Bolton, or if you have information about the families buried there, call John Fowles at 450-243-5772, e-mail: johnfowles.art@xplornet.com, or call the BCHS at 450-243-6782, e-mail: bchs@endirect.qc.ca.