TORONTO — A Hamilton church says it's hoping to move hundreds of centuries-old graves in order to make way for modern-day condo dwellers.
Christ's Church Cathedral, more commonly known as Cathedral Place, says its current parking lot was built over top a 19th-century graveyard containing the remains of hundreds of former parishioners.
Church officials don't know how the parking lot came to be built over the graves, but say they want to address the issue as part of a revitalization project.
Cathedral Place has applied to build a mixed residential and retail complex near the existing church and says it would like to take advantage of the potential construction to excavate and relocate the old graves.
Rev. Bill Mous says lazy past protocols meant the remains were not treated with the respect they deserved.
We would make sure that those remains are moved to a more dignified location, as was the intention in the late 19th century.Rev. Bill Mous
He says the church would like to address that issue if it is able to secure the land and permissions needed for the building project.
"We would make sure that those remains are moved to a more dignified location, as was the intention in the late 19th century," Mous said in a telephone interview.
Mous said the graveyard was first established in 1837 to hold the burial plots of people attending Cathedral Place, though the church went by a different name at that time.
About 763 people were eventually laid to rest there, he said, but construction of a larger cemetery in Hamilton made it advisable to relocate the remains.
He said some of the graves were moved accordingly, but hundreds of others were not. He said it's unknown exactly how many historical graves are currently entombed beneath the space that can currently accommodate a few dozen parked cars.
A handful of monuments behind the church are now the primary evidence that the graveyard ever existed.
The church itself is a stone building designated as a cathedral in the late 19th century and viewed as a local site of historical significance.
Mous said the revitalization project is part of an ambitious facelift for the church, which is an active player in the city's Anglican community.
Project to cost millions
The church submitted a proposal to city council outlining its vision of a multi-million-dollar investment in a multi-story building involving both residential and retail spaces.
"This project will sustain and enhance the incredible community ministries that happen through Christ's Church Cathedral while protecting the valuable heritage of the property," the proposal reads, adding that it would allow the church to keep running a local day care that currently serves about 85 children.
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The proposal makes no mention of the archaeological aspect of the project, but instead simply asks the city to consider lowering the purchase price of a municipal parking lot adjacent to the cathedral. Mous said that additional lot would help the church realize its vision for the new construction.
The city is set to decide on the application next month.
Moving graves is 'a first consideration'
After that, Mous said, relocating the buried graves would be a top priority before any construction gets underway.
"We would certainly be committed to unearthing and transferring any remains present before the project went ahead," he said. "That's a first consideration."
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