When Winnipeg resident James MacDonald came to see his father’s headstone in the Hillcrest Cemetery in Weyburn, he was concerned to see how many fellow veterans headstones were discoloured with moss or lichen with the lettering crumbling and difficult to read in many cases.
He noted that he had been watching the TV coverage for the centennial of the start of the First World War in Belgium in 1914, images of the war cemeteries showed clean headstones that are easy to read.
In a letter to the Review, MacDonald said, “I visited the military section of the Weyburn cemetery on Aug. 2. My father, Thomas MacDonald M.M., is interred there. His headstone and all others are gradually being covered with moss and other growth, and some are illegible.”
He asked if there is any group that might take on the task of keeping veterans’ headstones clean; in answer, the president of the Weyburn branch of the Royal Canadian Legion said that he agreed, this is something they should be taking on.
“There have been times in the past when we’ve gone out there to do a work bee, although not recently,” said Moser.
“I really think it should be our initiative,” he added, suggesting maybe the Legion needs to sit down with the Parks staff and discuss what could be done at the cemetery for veterans’ markers.
Moser noted that they also need to have good information about what kind of cleaning materials they would need, and this includes knowing exactly what kind of stone is involved before attempting any cleaning.
Katelyn Struthers of the City of Weyburn’s Parks department said their crews care for the grounds and do the installation of monuments, but their care thereafter is up to the family, or in this case, either the Legion or Veterans’ Affairs.
The Legion does have some concern about the commemorative cairn that is located at Hillcrest, as some cracks have appeared, and they are looking into what might be done to fix it.
The cairn is used for whenever special services are held there, such as for Decoration Day each year.
The City of Weyburn has information posted on their website in regard to Hillcrest Cemetery, entitled “Headstone restoration and cleaning”, in which the city provides hints and suggestions on using cleaners, but adds, “The City of Weyburn takes no responsibility nor personally guarantees any (cleaning agent) will work on your stone. Proceed with caution when cleaning your headstone.”
The notice did not make mention of headstones which were not placed by a family, but were placed to mark the final resting place of war veterans.
Tips for cleaning a headstone include starting off with the least aggressive form of cleaning, by rinsing with clean water, and if that doesn’t work on its own, only then moving on to cleansers made for dealing with carved stone.
The first point made on the list of tips for cleaning the stone was is to evaluate the condition of the headstone, with the recommendation not to attempt any cleaning “if the surface exhibits any cracks, flaking, scaling or eroding granular services.”