Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Kristen Pace (and Family)

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Peter Ogilvie first noticed the activity at Canoe Hill Cemetery in the months after the COVID-19 pandemic set in last year, in driving by it on Laurel Road each day.

Newly restored stone steps leading up into the Canoe Hill Cemetery. Credit: Michael Dinan

Perched on a hill off of the east side of Laurel not far from the intersection of Canoe Hill Road, the final resting place of 200-plus New Canaanites—including the town’s (and possibly Connecticut’s) last living slave, Onesimus Comstock—had fallen into disrepair. With little dedicated parking and difficult to access even by foot, given a steep hill and crumbling stone staircase, the .69-acre burial ground was largely covered in weeds and fallen branches, with broken and illegible gravestones scattered about.

Kristen Pace (R) with two of her daughters, Kayleigh and Ashlyn. The family took up a pandemic project in restoring the Canoe Hill Cemetery. Contributed

One day, Ogilvie pulled over to see what was happening in the cemetery, and there met Kristen Pace and her daughters, busy at work.

“She took on this project all by herself and in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of quarantining, and with her daughters out there, did the physical work of cutting down weeds and cleaning up just unbelievable truckloads of crap,” Ogilvie said.

“Then started to dig up sunken gravestones that were under six and 12 inches of dirt, and she and her daughters identified and mapped out the gravestones themselves—they’re online—so it became an IT project, as well,” he added.

Flags are planted by the gravestones of those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Daffodils have sprung up throughout the cemetery grounds. Credit: Michael Dinan

After the Pace family launched the project, northeastern New Canaan resident Chris Schipper—known to many for his involvement with the New Canaan Land Trust, Conservation Commission and Friends of Bristow Bird Sanctuary—also caught wind of what they were doing and pitched in. Soon, Public Works Director Tiger Mann became involved and offered the town’s help with some of the heavier work, such as hauling.

New Canaan Tree Warden Bob Horan identified trees that were dead and needed to be removed, and the town hired professionals to repair some of the broken gravestones, create solid stone steps and spruce up the driveway.

A break in the stone wall connects a small part of Canoe Hill Cemetery with the larger, main section. Credit: Michael Dinan

Asked about Pace and the project, Mann said, “She has been a driving force and the place looks awesome.”

“On her own she just called me and said can you help, and I was like absolutely,” Mann said. 

Pace also launched a neighborhood campaign to raise money for a town Special Projects Fund dedicated to the cemetery’s restoration and upkeep, and quickly received thousands of dollars in donations for the cause, Mann said.

The gravestone of Onesimus Comstock in Canoe Hill Cemetery, located in its northeastern corner. Credit: Michael Dinan

Schipper said the restoration project has made a difference.

“I think part of it is that there is a certain sadness when you see a cemetery that is in a pretty decrepit state, but you know it’s full of history and remarkable stories of people who have just been forgotten, and this was an attempt to honor all those early residents of New Canaan,” he said.

[Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of our “Quiet Heroes” series. We’re accepting nominations for it, see guidelines here.]

8 thoughts on “Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Kristen Pace (and Family)

  1. Kristen Pace and her daughters have done an amazing job cleaning up the Canoe Hill Cemetery! They have spent countless hours in all kinds of weather weeding, pruning and planting. Living next door to the cemetery I am so happy to see it transformed in this way. Thank you!!!!!

  2. It’s articles like this that make you feel good about living in New Canaan.
    We are a community that works together …
    Thank you Kristen and everyone else that contributed

  3. Excellent article. I am so happy you covered it. I worked with her there last week with some other DAR members. Kristen is moving to England and who is going to continue the upkeep?

    Jill Ernst

  4. Also as a neighbor, I observed the amazing progress that Kristen and her daughters made over the past year. The transformation is remarkable and their dedication was unwavering. What a great showing of citizenship! Thank you Kristen, Chris, Tiger and all who supported the project.

  5. Thank you so much for putting this story out there. I hope people will come by and take in all the rich New Canaan history there in the Canoe Hill Cemetery. If anyone would like to be involved in the project (there is still lots to do!), they are welcome to contact me at ksapctmom@gmail.com or 203-253-1881. If they would like to donate to our fund for upkeep and repairing of stone walls and headstones, they can send a check made out to New Canaan Town Hall, Attn: Tiger Mann, 77 Main St., New Canaan, CT 06840. In the memo section of the check and on the envelope for mailing, please note: Canoe Hill Cemetery Fund.

  6. Kudos and blessings to Kristen Pace and her daughters for doing such wonderful work! New Canaan owes a debt of gratitude to such dedicated citizens.

  7. I am so happy that Kristen and her girls g0t this going. Some more of the story is she found several of her family members and her in-laws family members too.
    She found a member of a family that had two children by the same name because one was deceased and one was not. It is a very interesting story you might like to hear from her.
    They found a little rabbit that a head stone had fallen on too. They took it home and bottle fed it until it became a special part of their family. It didn’t live very long but they loved it. It was so cute.
    Please help in cleaning up the cemetery and making these projects move forward.
    Thank you for doing this wonderful work for those that went before us. They will be glad to see you when we are reunited some day.
    Thank you, DP

  8. I am so proud of Kristen, Kayleigh and Ashlyn for giving of their time and talents to revive this cemetery! Such a needed project handled with care and respect! It warms my heart that I am friends with such amazing people! God bless them always 💜

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