Hello there, death and burial aficionados! I come to you today with a new series that I’m starting on Spade & the Grave called ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’ (cemeteries because it works for the 3 C’s, not because I totally agree with the term for all sites). Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of publications that talk about burial sites around the world tend to gloss over Canadian sites, and I’d love to bring a few of the amazing burial grounds across the country into a bit of the spotlight! So if you have any interesting suggestions, I’d love to hear them! I’m going to try to make this either a weekly or bi-weekly feature on the blog, amidst other posts as I think of them.
Burial grounds, graveyards, cemeteries…whatever the terminology is for the site, every one holds a unique history and place within the landscape. While large, famous sites like Mount Auburn Cemetery or the Granary in Boston see visitors every day due to their publicity (and amazing monuments), there are hundreds of smaller burial grounds across North America and the world, that have just as rich of a back story, but might not be quite so obvious to the burial ground visitor on the go. Sites like these were meant to be visited, cared for, and enjoyed. They were created for the living just as much as the dead, and visiting historical burial grounds isn’t morbid. So without further adieu, lets virtually visit some unique burial grounds, from across Canada!
For my first post in the series, I wanted to feature a graveyard from one of my childhood homes (we moved a lot!), and the place that I lived in for the longest:
Penticton, British Columbia.
Penticton, BC, is located on the traditional territory of the Sylix/Okanagan, who settled in the area and still live there today. The name of the land, ‘snpintktn‘, in the nsyilxcən language, of the Interior Salish language group, means ‘a place where people live year-round’, owing to the fairly mild climate and abundant resources of the valley. This meaning has evolved into the town’s byline today: ‘A place to stay forever’ (coming on a little strong, Penticton). The present town is located on a sand bar between Okanagan Lake to the north and Skaha Lake to the south, and is a popular destination for tourists as it is in the heart of the Okanagan wine country and is basically all beaches, and gets to +30 to +35 in the summer.
Fun facts, Penticton is located in a geographical desert, due to the low amount of yearly rainfall. The surrounding area is also frequently affected by forest fires, like the rest of the Interior.
European settlement began in 1866 with the arrival of Thomas Ellis and family, and began the cattle empire of the South Okanagan. He was responsible for much of the development of Penticton as we know it today.
Later in the 19th-century, Thomas, his wife Wilhelmina, and their family were travelling by wagon from Penticton to Kamloops when a terrible accident occurred. Luckily, everyone survived, and the story goes that in 1892, the family built the St. Saviour’s Anglican Chapel to thank God for escaping death, right beside the Ellis Family homestead. The graveyard surrounding the church opened that same year, and Thomas’ son was buried there eventually.
The chapel was the first Protestant Church in the growing town, but it was also the only church for many years, and was used by people of many faiths for their congregations to hold services . It was built in the Gothic revival style in a traditional ‘cross’ shape, with pointed arch windows, a covered porch, and a bell tower on the south end of the structure. When a new church to accommodate the growing congregation was constructed in 1934, the ‘Ellis Chapel’ as it was now known, was moved to become a wing of the new structure, at Orchard Ave and Winnipeg Street, where it can be visited to this day.
The graveyard, or churchyard, of St. Saviour’s is also known as the Fairview Cemetery, and is located at 1136 Fairview Road, at the southeast corner of Fairview Road and Regina Ave. It contains the graves of many of Penticton’s earliest European settlers. Years after the chapel was moved, the original foundation was commemorated as a permanent granite footprint inside the churchyard, with an interpretive panel detailing the history of the site. When I first visited the site with my English Literature in grade 12 to read an epitaph aloud while standing between the gravestones (why yes, that was the best part of high school), I remember being fascinated by the footprint of the building, and the inscriptions on the gravestones. This small, unassuming burial site is nestled between modern properties, and at first glance you might think that it was something fairly recently.
Listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places in 2007, the Fairview Cemetery contains the graves of a constable who was murdered, the city’s first Reeve, and the first settler burials (Parks Canada 2007). The variety of headstones present at the site is very impressive, and includes marble and granite monuments from the Granite Island Quarry in the Gulf Islands.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any photos of the church footprint, and am not in Penticton to go take one (if I can convince someone to do that, I’ll add it to this post!). The Ellis family sold the chapel to the Anglican Church for a nominal fee of $1 in 1905 (Parks Canada 2007), which was expanded after being purchased to accommodate the growing congregation. The expanded church is pictures above, but the and the structure is commemorated at the original site, with the graves surrounding it in situ.
For a graveyard that acted as Penticton’s only burial space between its opening and 1910, when the present Lakeview Cemetery opened to the northeast of town, it is very interesting to note that most of the gravestones are concentrated to the east side of the site, and that a large portion of the site appears empty. Of course, there could be a number of unmarked graves below the surface!
It’s hard to see on aerial images, but the arrow in this googlemaps shot indicates the outline of the original church, suggesting that the majority of the burials at the site were to the east and north of the church. While there are some stand alone gravestones and small monuments, it is evident that the majority of the burials had stone or cement curbs surrounding the plots, covered in gravel, dirt, and other materials. I’m looking forward to visiting the site for the first time in ages later this year, and will get some good photos of the variety of grave markers to share with you all.
The Fairview Cemetery has had a long history entwined within the heart of the community as a space for burial and worship. Recently revitalized thanks to the efforts of the city, the site welcomes visitors through new gates today. Small burial sites are dotted throughout the country, and each one has an amazing story to tell. I hope you’ve enjoyed this one!
City of Penticton. 2004. Satellite Imagery of Penticton. Accessed through GoogleEarth Pro, April 12, 2018.
Parks Canada. 2007. Fairview Cemetery, Penticton, British Columbia. Canada’s Historic Places. Available online at: www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=6795
Penticton Museum and Archives. ND. St. Saviour’s Church, 1908. In Lees + Associates, City of Penticton Cemetery Project, Presentation Boards. 2013. Available online: http://www.penticton.ca/assets/City~News/News/2013/2013-05-23%20Penticton%20Cemeteries%20Master%20Plan%20Presentation%20Boards%20FINAL_R.pdf
Pfeiffer, Deborah. 2013. Council Endorses Cemetery Plan. Castanet. Available online at: https://www.castanet.net/news/Penticton/96953/Council-endorses-cemetery-plan