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Sault woman discovers memorial plaque, possibly ashes, in her backyard (2 photos)

Monique Carroll began her search for Jan and Anna Czerwinski after stumbling upon mysterious marker

The discovery of a mysterious monument in a woman’s backyard has sparked some old-school sleuthing to unravel the story behind it.

This past July, Monique Carroll was in the process of getting settled into her new place when her dog escaped the house, darting out the back door and into the backyard, which borders a Tai Chi establishment in the city’s west end.     

When Carroll went to look at the hole in the fence that her dog had used, she found a small plaque in the ground, bearing the names of Jan and Anna Czerwinski.

“He had kicked up some leaves and stuff that were back there, and kind of showed the corner of that plaque,” Carroll said. “I was like, ‘oh my God.’”

“I felt in that moment to pay some respect, because oh my God, I had literally just stepped on a gravestone by complete accident.”

Curious about what she had discovered in her yard, Carroll called around to see if she could track the people listed on the plaque by name.

“I called the cemetery myself, it had absolutely no record of those people, so that’s what kind of intrigued me the most,” Carroll said.

Looking for clues 

That’s when Carroll decided to perform some detective work.

She called up churches, cemeteries, voting records and even people who deal in headstones and monuments to find out anything she could about Jan and Anna Czerwinski.

Then, after she had requested for help in a local social media group, the responses began to roll in.

Turns out that some people knew of the husband and wife, with one of those people providing Carroll with a photo of the couple.

“I spoke with at least 10 to 15 people who had individually known them, that kind of like gave me a background of their story,” Carroll told SooToday. “There was a lot of things that they told me too that they didn’t want to be published, so a lot was cropped out of that story.”

Through her extensive digging and networking, Carroll discovered that Jan and Anna Czerwinski were members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which had been fully operational for years on the 100 block of Cunningham Road.

Carroll says the couple lived at 768 Wellington Street East for a number of years, and also owned a piece of property, with a trailer on it, in the Goulais River area.

“Two people I talked to were neighbours with them out in Goulais [River], couple of them were members of the church,” Carroll said. “One of them cleaned for them when they resided on Wellington Street,”

“A lot of the people that I had spoken with had the exact same similar story, so it was pretty wild.”

The Story of Jan and Anna Czerwinski

Here’s an edited excerpt of Carroll’s social media post, detailing the story of Jan and Anna Czerwinski:

Let’s travel back in time to 1939 to the invasion of Poland, marking the beginning of [World] War 2. It was a dark time in history, but it’s where this whole mystery began. Jan was a Polish guard working at a womans prison camp where Anna had been staying. It wasn’t a nice camp, by far, but slowly they would get to know each other. During their time there Anna would teach Jan about God, and everything she knew. It wasn’t accepted but it happened, and before you knew it, and maybe as fate would have it, Jan would fall in love with Anna, and to, become a follower of God.

It isn’t known how they came here, but they arrived as refugees in the late 1940’s. Around 1951 they tied the knot and got married. They met quite a few friends and talked a lot about their life back in Poland. Without any relatives here in the Sault, they grew a bond and a family within the church. They both had strong heavy accents and at times it would be hard to comprehend what they were saying. They decided it would have been difficult raising a child and they too, were both very independent people.

Jan, or John, as many would call him, was a humble man. He was tall with blonde hair that he would always slick back with a wave in it. He wore really thick glasses and sometimes would tend to think that he was all that. He was the main provider of the relationship and the household. In his early years here, he worked as a steelworker at the steel plant and quit before he retired. Afterwards he made his money as a real estate investor buying and selling properties. Occasionally, he would rent out some of the units that he owned.

Anna was quite a busty woman. She too was tall and always wore her white-ish blonde hair in huge curls. Anyone that knew her would say that she had quite the personality and always had a huge smile whenever they saw her. She loved luxurious things and her bedroom at home described that. With an elegant bed and a fancy vanity, it was everything anyone would have dreamed of. She stayed at home throughout most of the years, working occasionally.

As a couple, some might have described their life as unconventional but no one really questioned it. It was different but it was their life and it worked for them. They lived in quite a few places but resided at 768 Wellington Street East for a number of years. They also owned a trailer with a huge property in the Robertsons Lake Road area out in Goulais River. During the summer they would stay at both residences and in the winter they would pack up and leave to Florida to stay with friends.

In John’s later years he was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer. He was sent to stay at a hospital in Toronto where he was being treated, when his battle sadly ended in 1985. After John passed away, Anna went to stay with friends in Florida where she too, passed away roughly around 1986-1987. Both of their bodies were donated and given to science where they were then cremated.

After science, the head conference of the 7th Day Adventist Church contacted our local church here in the Sault, which was then located at 120 Cunningham. An executor and member of the church, was responsible for their estate and everything they owned was given to the church. Members of the church went and liquidated their trailer out in Goulais and with the money, they were able to purchase the plaque. It was decided that the plaque be placed in far back corner of the property. It was buried under a tree where a flower garden once was, in either the summer of 1993 or the spring of 1994.

Here lie the ashes?

Carroll’s discovery has since prompted a visit from Roger Nenonen, manager of cemeteries for The City of Sault Ste. Marie.

Carroll says that Nenonen, with the help of a city worker, began to dig up the plaque.

They had only dug a foot deep, she says, due to the possibility of old water or gas lines.

“They had stuck a rod underneath the ground, and they were hitting something,” Carroll said.

After more research, Carroll was informed by somebody that the ashes of Jan and Anna Czerwinski were buried directly underneath the plaque in Carroll’s backyard.

“Their ashes were given to the church, and then the church took it upon themselves to bury it in the back corner,” Carroll said.

Now she’s awaiting word from the city to see what happens next.

“The plaque is just lightly sitting on top of the ground, because they’ve already dug it, but they have to have the plaque and the ashes together, so it just temporarily kind of sits there, while they figure what to do and where it’s supposed to go,” Carroll said.

After all the voluntary research that she went through to find the story behind the plaque in her yard, Carroll says the results definitely warranted the work.

“It feels like a great accomplishment,” Carroll said. “At the beginning, it seemed really far-fetched what I was hoping to do, and I didn’t think that I would get that much information and that I could actually piece together a story.”

“It’s been amazing finding out their journey, and the kind of life that they lived.”


James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday based in Sault Ste. Marie
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