Two brothers believe a parish priest ordered to knock down the grave markers in a former Catholic cemetery in Timmins, Ont. almost 60 years ago. Photo/Wikimedia Commons []

Timmins diocese investigates cemetery mystery

  • July 2, 2015

TIMMINS, Ont. - Alex Cande and his brother Marcel Mandeville are stirring up trouble and searching for the graves of their dead ancestors.

Cande believes in 1957 or ’58 a bulldozer, under orders from a parish priest, knocked down the grave markers of about 60 people in a formerly Catholic cemetery in Connaught, about halfway between Timmins and Iroquois Falls. He’s asking the diocese to rent a ground-penetrating X-ray machine to locate the bodies, so he and his brother can erect a monument to their grandparents, aunts and uncles buried there.

“It’s been 58 years, okay? I’m livening this thing up,” 64-year-old Cande told The Catholic Register.

Cande is one of 21 children his mother bore, 14 of them still alive. He’s reached an age when his heritage and family history have become important to him and his 70-year-old brother.

“We’re averaging up in age, but before we die we want our ancestors to be found for us to leave a legacy to our grandchildren,” Cande said.

Timmins Bishop Serge Poitras wants to be respectful of Cande’s memories and his family, but the story strikes him as pretty weird.

“He was speaking about the bulldozer, but for me it’s crazy,” said Poitras.

The diocese is making a thorough search of its records, but so far has found nothing pertinent to the transfer of the cemetery to the town of Iroquois Falls or any reference to a bulldozer rampaging through the grounds.

“There’s something wrong there. We have no proof. We are looking and have found nothing yet,” said Poitras. “It’s not easy. We don’t have staff. We’re not in Toronto.”

The town of Iroquois Falls has been the licensed operator of the cemetery since 2013. The town also has found no record of an application to bulldoze a section of the cemetery, according to a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services which licenses cemeteries.

Bulldozing a cemetery would be illegal now and then.

The desecration came to light in 1959 when one of Cande’s sisters died.

“My dad went to bury her there and there were no markers in the old cemetery,” he said.

Poitras’ first concern is to find the truth of what happened. Church law and tradition requires that he care for the sacred ground and sacred memories of families with members in cemeteries, he said.

“We have to check every file. Until now, we’ve found nothing for this area,” he said.

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