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Too much tender, loving care a grave concern in Canso

CANSO — It’s natural, even laudable, to want to nurse historic graveyards back to life, but sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all.

That’s the message from Canso native Chris Greencorn, a PhD student in history at Queen’s University in Kingston.

“Maintenance is important, and enthusiasm is fantastic, but there’s a lot of wisdom in taking ‘first, do no harm’ as the guiding principle here,” he told The Journal.

“Here,” to be precise, is the Old Canso Cemetery – which goes by many other names – on the church hill, just behind Wilmot Street.

Greencorn recently became concerned while scrolling through Facebook posts by people determined to rectify a ‘tragedy’ and clean and re-erect markers that had fallen over and become ground under.

“That’s actually a bad idea a lot of the time... regardless of how one feels about respecting the dead,” he says. “Cleaning, resetting or repairing stones require caution, since doing any of these can very quickly cause more damage, and permanently... Lichen growth is common on these particular markers, but the soft marble, limestone and sandstone that this era of markers are generally made from, which was great for carving, means they are susceptible to damage from pressure and abrasion or to staining and other adverse effects from solvents.”

Moreover, he says, “Repositioning markers without the proper equipment is both dangerous to volunteers and risks breaking the stone. It’s important to have a restoration and continuing maintenance plan that follows preservation best practices and general health and safety precautions.”

The bottom line, he says, is that “there is nothing inherently wrong with leaving the markers in their present state until those measures can be put in place, in the interest of doing no further damage.”

Bill Macmillan, president of the Canso Historical Society, agrees. “You have to be very careful when you’re working with some of this old stuff. You can’t just go in there and bulldoze your [way] to making things better. You have to approach this very carefully.”

That said, neither Greencorn nor MacMillan see anything wrong with more circumspect approaches to the historic site. In fact, they encourage it.

“So much of what goes on in Canso is completely a volunteer effort, often by very senior members of the community. When they become unable for whatever reason to, for example, clear thick brush from the side of a hill, regular maintenance falls behind and cemeteries become overgrown, naturally. That doesn’t take very long at all ...Clearing the overgrowth on the site is a great first step.”

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal