Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Pye River Cemetery still eyed for tourism – MoBay mayor

Published:Saturday | May 25, 2024 | 12:12 AMChristopher Thomas/Gleaner Writer
Volunteers engage in a cleaning-up and beautification exercise at the Pye River Cemetery in Bogue, Montego Bay, St James, for the parish’s Labour Day 2024 project on Thursday.
Volunteers engage in a cleaning-up and beautification exercise at the Pye River Cemetery in Bogue, Montego Bay, St James, for the parish’s Labour Day 2024 project on Thursday.

WESTERN BUREAU:

Montego Bay Mayor Richard Vernon says that discussions are underway to transform the Pye River Cemetery in the Second City into a potential tourist attraction, even amid plans to formally close the decades-old burial ground due to a dwindling number of burial spaces.

Vernon made the declaration on Thursday during a cleaning exercise at the Pye River Cemetery for St James’ National Labour Day 2024 parish project, under the theme ‘Ramp Up Di Access … Show That You Care’.

“We have been having the conversation for some time, but in terms of doing the feasibility study, we have not done that, and we would have to do that over, perhaps, the next six months or so, and to also look at the costing to implement the project ... . Once it is favourable and sensible as a move, then we will do the sensible thing, which is to make it an attraction site,” said Vernon.

“We are exploring the idea, but to do that, we have to put in certain infrastructure, for example, a proper roadway. We have to create a point of focus within the cemetery, perhaps something that will tell the history of the cemetery, as it has a rich history, and also to highlight the persons who were laid to rest here,” Vernon added. “Several other things will have to be put into place, such as security, to ensure that we can convert it for economic benefits and to enhance the tourism product as a place of interest in Montego Bay. But it is an idea that we are exploring, and it is not an impossible one.”

The Pye River Cemetery, which was opened in 1896, is one of 15 cemeteries in St James, 13 of which are still open. It has served as the resting place for several famous Jamaicans over the years, including national footballer Steve ‘Shorty’ Malcolm, jurist Sir Henry Isaac Close Brown, and members of Montego Bay’s influential Kerr-Jarrett family.

Lack of maintenance

However, the facility has been in a dilapidated state for several years, being one of several cemeteries across Jamaica which have suffered from lack of maintenance.

Vernon noted that while public access to the Pye River Cemetery has been restricted due to the dwindling number of available burial plots, personnel will be put in place to ensure its upkeep.

“In terms of maintaining it going forward, we will be assigning dedicated persons for that. We are working on it to be gazetted and then we will have the official closing of the cemetery, but nonetheless, we have to facilitate persons who have secured their spot many years ago, as there are still sections of the cemetery that families paid for, and there are also sections that we designated for pauper burial,” said Vernon.

“For now, the larger part of the public access is closed, and we just have to continue maintenance, and we are dedicated to doing that. Pye River Cemetery has a rich history, and it was important for us to come out and clean up the space,” Vernon added.

In the meantime, the idea of the Pye River Cemetery being a tourist attraction has found favour with the Reverend Godfrey Francis, chairman of the St James Ministers’ Fraternal, who believed the cemetery’s historical value could be a major draw for visitors to Montego Bay.

“The cemetery will be greatly benefited if, as the mayor suggested, there are tourist attractions as it relates to cemeteries in some cities. If we can pursue that here, we would really do well. For example, former footballer ‘Shorty’ Malcolm is buried right here, close to the roadway, in the cemetery, and persons of historical significance are buried in this cemetery, so it’s a perfect tourist attraction and it is something to be pursued,” said Francis.

christopher.thomas@gleanerjm.com