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Preserving a place of local history

The “Old Walled Cemetery” at St. Boniface Parish in Maryhill is the second-oldest in the region, and under the tender care of two men recognized for all the work they do tending to the place.

Groundskeeper Earl Haid looks after the site, while Ronald Schmuck has spent years restoring old tombstones and monuments there.

Haid has been tending the grounds since 2009 when, after retiring from his job as a truck driver, he was asked by Fr. Ron Voisin, now retired himself, to take on those duties.

For Haid, the job comes with unexpected benefits. “I get satisfaction from the fresh air and the beauty of this place,” he said.

Haid’s wife Joan nominated the cemetery for a people’s choice award, which led to this year’s diamond award. 

Living in Maryhill for half a century, Haid knew many of people who now lay six feet below the tombstones he so diligently maintains. The upkeep and maintenance Haid put into the lot allows the area to feel more welcoming than your typical cemetery. He recalls that near the beginning of the pandemic, a couple from the GTA went on a day trip to escape the chaos of isolation and followed the church’s steeple and found themselves at the graveyard. They asked the groundskeeper if they could have a picnic in the lot since it felt like a park.

The lot also has seen many restoration projects from members of the community have taken part in. The tasks can be viewed at Mount Forest resident Ronald Schmuck’s website, which has been documenting the project’s process since it started in 2018.

Schmuck’s relationship with the cemetery dates back decades. “Our families came [the area] actually in 1854-5.  Bernhardt Schmuck had 13 kids, and his first son had another 13 or 14, so they were raising kids there on the farm – so right there is 26 or so. And so you can see how they intermarried all through the Maryhill area. There, it’d be harder to find somebody that isn’t related through than the other way, if you know what I mean, he said of the family’s history in the area.

“So, my dad and I used to go over when I was a kid. That’s sort of the homestead, the cemetery, the old walled cemetery. So I’d go over with my dad back in the ’70s and ’80s.

He passed away in the ’90s, and I just kept on doing what we did, just go straighten tombstones and putting crosses back up,” said Schmuck .

Schmuck  has spent much of his free time restoring iron crosses and scrolls, originally of his own accord but more recently with the cemetery board’s blessing. He notes that the work saw him butt heads with the groundskeeper who didn’t always support the project but still holds a certain level of respect for him.

He had no idea that the project was up for a diamond award or that he had won it until Maryhill resident Diane Strickler let him know.

“It’s nice to see some recognition. You know, I’ve worked away at this alone – there’s been no help at all, financially or otherwise. But I wouldn’t want financial help. It’s my pleasure to be able to do it. You know, I felt I owe it to my ancestors. But I seem to be the only one that has that feeling,” said Schmuck,  noting that others have begun helping out with the project over the past six or seven months, including the likes of Diane Strickler, her husband and cousins who’ve been out alongside Haid placing Canadian flags at the graves of veterans in both the old and new sections of the graveyard.

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