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BEHIND THE SCENES: A march that wasn't, but Russell won't give up

Niagara-On-The-Lake Local reporter Mike Balsom takes us behind the scenes

James Russell's efforts to uncover buried headstones at the Negro Burial Ground in Niagara-on-the-Lake faced disappointment as only a few people showed up for the planned march from the burial site to the Court House on Father's Day. Russell, a former photojournalist, became invested in unearthing the headstones after discovering the burial site during a work trip. Ground penetrating radar revealed 28 graves and 19 buried headstones, leading to a quote of $59,000 for their restoration. Russell hoped the march would urge the town to take immediate action and restore the site, emphasizing the need to reveal the names and stories of those buried there.

Accompanied by his wife, Marilyn, and son, James, Russell was joined by Desmond Brown, Alice Abbott, and Felix Abbott, who had driven from Toronto to support the cause. Russell's contention is that the headstones were buried rather than moved, as a town employee had allegedly told him. The Friends of the Forgotten, a local citizen group, is also supporting the restoration of the cemetery, with the town endorsing them as the official fundraisers for the site. The town council voted unanimously to support their work, highlighting the commitment to honoring the buried individuals and preserving heritage in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Despite the low turnout for the march, Russell remains determined and plans to contact all 124 MPPs to outline the Negro Burial Ground Project. He intends to establish a non-profit organization called the Canadian Unmarked Graves Project, focused on educating and lobbying cemetery owners about the importance of maintaining their properties according to regulations. Russell's letter states that the first campaign will be restoring the 19 headstones of Black freedom-seekers buried in Niagara-on-the-Lake's Negro Burial Ground.

Video Summary:

James Russell's efforts to unearth buried headstones in the Negro Burial Ground in Niagara-on-the-Lake have faced setbacks. His hunger strike and planned rally, expecting 500 attendees, received minimal turnout. However, another organization called Friends of the Forgotten has been working with the town to raise funds for an archaeological assessment, with stage one already completed. While Russell has made claims that town employees buried the headstones, there is no concrete evidence to support this.

Despite the divide between Russell and Friends of the Forgotten, town council and the organization are collaborating to raise funds for the next stage of the project, aiming to gather $50,000. The fundraising page of Friends of the Forgotten is linked to the town's website. Russell's initial actions, including funding ground-penetrating radar, played a crucial role in initiating the process.

Although Russell's hunger strike and rally did not yield the expected results, efforts are ongoing to uncover the truth and restore the burial ground. The town and Friends of the Forgotten are now focused on fundraising for the next stage of the project, while Russell pursues other avenues, including contacting MPPs and planning a non-profit organization dedicated to unmarked graves.