---City grants heritage status to Aylmer’s Bellevue Cemetery
After more than a year of efforts to protect one of the region’s longest-existing graveyards, Gatineau has officially granted a heritage citation to Aylmer’s Bellevue Cemetery. Adopted by the Municipal Council on October 5, City spokesperson Marie-Michèle told the Aylmer Bulletin that the heritage status designation has the effect of preserving and enhancing the characteristic elements of Bellevue Cemetery, notably by proposing criteria for the conservation of heritage values and by allowing municipal council to impose conditions for the realization of such projects – under the city’s Cultural Heritage Act.
Located on 1030 chemin d’Aylmer, the Bellevue Cemetery – formerly known as the Conroy Cemetery and the Cemetery of the West - stands on 10 acres of land at the intersection of chemin Allen. Stating that the cemetery’s heritage status designation was attributed to the site’s historical value, Barrette said that the oldest section of the cemetery – the second oldest burial ground in Gatineau – was built in the early 1800s.
Emphasizing its place in the community’s establishment, she added that many of Aylmer’s pioneering families, including the Conroys, the McConnells, and the Olmsteads are buried at Bellevue. “The fact that several monuments identify the birthplace outside of Canada of many of the deceased is a reminder that the region was developed by many immigrants from England, Ireland, and Scotland, among other places,” Barrette explained. “The presence of several large family plots testifies to the fact that it was then common practice to bury several members of the same family in the same place and to erect an iron fence around the perimeter of the plot.” She continued stating that the cemetery was also of heritage interest for its artistic value, notably based on the careful ornamentation of several monuments, such as that of Robert and Charlotte Anna Conroy, and the presence of several wrought iron fences – testifying the skills of the blacksmiths at the time.
Originally privately managed, the cemetery has been operated by three local protestant churches – Aylmer United Church, Christ Church Aylmer, and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church - now known as the Bellevue Cemetery Company, for the past seven decades.
Reminding that Bellevue has burials dating back to 1812 - after St. James Cemetery on boulevard Alexandre-Taché in Hull, Bellevue Cemetery Company President Dorothy Bender told the Aylmer Bulletin that she remains very concerned about its long-term protection from future development projects. “Many original settlers to this area are buried in Bellevue, and being granted Heritage Status will help to maintain our history,” Bender said, noting that she hopes the status completely prevents upcoming development projects from impacting the site. “I’m not 100 per cent sure it’s going to provide full protection because I think the city of Gatineau is making changes to accommodate its [growing population] … my concern is that the cemetery remains as is.”
But grateful for the people who helped the file progress to this point, Bender said obtaining heritage status wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of local resident, Bellevue plot owner and volunteer Françoise Houle who initiated the process to request it from the city last year.
Submitting the heritage status application last November, Houle told the Aylmer Bulletin that she felt grateful that the city was able to grant her wish within a year of asking, and that the cemetery is set to remain beautiful for many years to come. “For Aylmer, it’s a great source of pride, because there aren’t a lot of protected properties,” Houle said. Calling the heritage citation great news for herself, the cemetery, and the community at large, she emphasized that protecting such a long-dating piece of Aylmer’s history was of paramount importance. With her husband René buried at Bellevue in 2009, Houle said protection was also very personally motivating, making its heritage status even more rewardingly approved.
She continued stating that the main characteristic that makes Bellevue special is that it’s designed as a garden cemetery, making it look particularly visually-appealing – thanks to its dedicated team of volunteers doing the gardening. The cemetery is closed during the winter, Houle said they plas to commemorate its heritage status designation with special celebration for the community next June.
Reminding that the graveyard is where some of Aylmer’s most significant settlers are buried, outgoing Deschênes district councillor Mike Duggan told the Aylmer Bulletin that the site’s historical value made obtaining its heritage status imperative, and that he’s happy it finally got approved. Stating that local construction company Brigil is undertaking massive development projects south and east of the cemetery, and pointing to rumours that the multi-billion tramway in the plans may be built on chemin d’Aylmer, Duggan said it was necessary to get it officially designated as a heritage site to protect its perimeter. “I wanted to get a citation because it has a heritage stone wall around it,” Duggan said, stating that the status should greatly deter developers from planning big projects that affect the area and implementing a buffer zone to separate the cemetery from newly-built infrastructures. “This is for whoever is going to do a big fancy project, they need to give this area respect.”