Updated: Oct 25
Of the 100 or so cemeteries in West Kootenay/Boundary, two dozen can no longer be visited because they were either flooded out, exhumed, ploughed over, covered by slides, or simply lost. In addition, five cemeteries never actually existed. Three were proposed but didn’t happen and two others entered the historical record in error. These phantom graveyards are detailed below.
In addition to about 100 actual cemeteries, West Kootenay/Boundary had a handful of other phantom graveyards. (pxhere.com)
The Passmore notes of the Slocan Enterprise of July 13, 1927 read: “The Farmers Institute held the regular monthly meeting last Saturday. The cemetery site committee gave their report and were instructed to procure further information re: costs, etc.”
I don’t know what site they were looking at, but it didn’t come to be. There are six known burial grounds between South Slocan and Slocan City including Doukhobor cemeteries at Slocan Park, Perry Siding, and Winlaw (the latter of which is very obscure), plus the Dumont Creek Cemetery at Winlaw, and Sinixt cemetery at Vallican.
There are also two unmarked graves side-by-side at Winlaw, belonging to Sarah and Elias Chase, who died in 1921 and 1943, respectively. Amy Watson was buried at Winlaw in 1906, three years after she drowned in the Slocan River, but her remains were later reburied at Nelson.
Between Castlegar and South Slocan, there are Doukhobor cemeteries at Brilliant, Pass Creek, Krestova, Glade, Thrums, and Shoreacres. Sinixt remains have also been uncovered and reburied at Slocan Pool. But no other cemeteries exist between South Slocan and Nelson.
In 2003, the late Dave Macdonald told me a cemetery was intended next to St. Matthew’s church in South Slocan, but the ground was found to be solid bedrock, so the plan was abandoned.
Only one churchyard cemetery still exists in our area, behind Robson Community Memorial Church. Several graves also used to be in the yard of the Longbeach All Saints Anglican Church, but after the church was torn down in 1970 the upright markers were uprooted and placed flat a cement slab on a hillside off Longbeach Road (one of which is pictured above).
In examining a 1941 survey map of Block 51 in Castlegar (seen below), historian Walter Volovsek noted a portion of the property bore the pencil notation “Cemetery Roll #200,” along with what looks like “Legion plot/200 graves/5x8 100 graves.” That would be where the Pioneer Arena now stands.
This cemetery, it appears, was just provisional. There was a cemetery in Robson at the time, alluded to above, plus Doukhobor cemeteries at Brilliant and Ootischenia.
I’m not sure when the land was set aside for cemetery purposes, but a Castlegar cemetery group existed as of 1944 and the topic was revisited following the incorporation of Castlegar in 1946 and Kinnaird in 1947.
The first mention of this location is in the Nelson Daily News of Nov. 27, 1948 when S.C. Watson of Kinnaird village council (who had been secretary of the cemetery group) and William Rigby of Castlegar village council were appointed to investigate alternate sites that would not stand in the way of development.
The view was expressed that the present Castlegar cemetery site is situated directly in the direction of expansion and it is therefore quite possible that in a few years it would prove to be unsuitable. The committee will try to see if there are more suitable sites available with a view to either settling the question of a Castlegar cemetery or recommending a district cemetery …
In 1949, the two villages acquired 12 acres on what was then Milestone Road, the present Kinnaird Park Memorial Cemetery. The Daily News reported the land had been offered “at a reasonable price by an old timer of the district who is anxious to see the villages have a suitable cemetery.”
Ross MacDermid in the Castlegar News of Sept. 28, 1967 identified the old timer as S.C. Watson himself. “It took a long time to work out all the details,” he added. “It seems that in the struggle to make both projects work, the community has lost sight of the fact that this land was donated by Mr. Watson.”
As for what was now referred to as the “old cemetery grounds,” the Eagles lodge asked the Village of Castlegar in 1953 if they could buy it, but were told it was not for sale. Early the following year, plans were unveiled by the Castlegar District Projects Society for what would become the Pioneer Arena.
The Daily News noted: “Location for the building would probably be the old cemetery grounds, owned by the village, situated just south of the BC Forest Service station in Castlegar. This ground has been reserved by the board of commissioners for the Projects Society.”
None of the newspaper stories indicated whether there were any burials. I assume there were not, but it’s curious they never felt this detail worth clarifying. Just to be sure, I checked Castlegar death registrations for the late 1940s. None listed Castlegar as place of burial. The first burial in the present cemetery was reportedly that of pioneer citizen Thomas Bloomer, who died on April 10, 1950. His death registration gives the location of his burial as “Castlegar and Kinnaird.”
Three references exist to a cemetery at Silverton, but two are in error and one is apocryphal.
• In High Grade & Hot Springs: A History of the Ainsworth Camp, Ted Affleck indicated Joseph Dearin’s remains were interred in Silverton, but his death registration says New Denver.
• The Nelson Daily News of April 3, 1917 mentioned the death of Patrick Harding in the Sandon hospital: “The body has been taken to Silverton, where the funeral will take place.” However, he was buried in New Denver — which we can confirm both through his death registration and the location of his headstone, seen at right. (Harding’s son Randolph was the longtime Kaslo-Slocan MLA, MP for Kootenay West, and mayor of Silverton.)
• Bill Lewis, who was foreman at the Vancouver group of mines near Silverton in 1897-98, wrote a story entitled Slickenside’s Bill Funeral, which begins:
Were any of you fellows in Silverton that time we buried Slickenside Bill? No? Well, sirs, that was sure the greatest funeral I ever witnessed and I’ve seen a few ... There was no undertaker in the town at that time, as nobody ever died there very much ...
It makes several references to “the graveside” without specifying exactly where it was. But it’s all moot; although the story mentions real people, the whole thing is made up.
Gus Stankoven was correct when he wrote in the Nelson Daily News of July 21, 1969: “One thing Silverton has never had is its own cemetery, as all the dead were and even to this day are buried at New Denver.”
Three items suggested, erroneously, that Ferguson had a cemetery.
• The Nelson Daily News of March 13, 1903 said of the four victims of the deadly Nettie L mine disaster — Pat Crilly, Robert Savage, Ed Gagnon, and Allan Calder — one body was sent east, another to Nelson, and “The bodies of the other two victims have been buried at Ferguson.” However, while the funeral was held at Ferguson, according to the Lardeau Eagle of the same day:
A large procession formed and drove to the cemetery between Ferguson and Trout Lake. The bodies of P. Crilly and R. Savage were interred here …
The other two bodies were taken through to Beaton by a volunteer committee of 25 union men. From Beaton the bodies were hauled across the lake 12 miles on sleds, the ice being too stout for the boat and too thin for safe walking but the brave union men from Ferguson waived the danger in order to deliver the mains to the brothers of the deceased who were waiting at Arrowhead but were advised to not risk a crossing.
The body of Ed. Gagnon was taken east via Nelson for burial and that of A. Calder was taken to his home in the east via Revelstoke.
Perhaps the fact the Trout Lake cemetery (pictured at right in 2000) was a little outside the original townsite accounts for the confusion.
• Bill Barlee wrote in the Fall 1969 issue of Canada West magazine: “Finally, the looting, and there is really no other term to describe it, of tombstones from the cemeteries in Ferguson, Trout Lake, Quesnelle Forks, and other old towns have forced me to take a step which I would otherwise not have taken.” (He stopped selling subscriptions to Americans.)
• Barlee said something very similar in The Columbian of Feb. 26, 1970. So he clearly believed Ferguson and Trout Lake each had its own cemetery. But he was wrong.
In fact, the Lardeau Eagle of Dec. 26, 1900 explained: “Ferguson has no cemetery. Too busy to start one.”
In Backroad Adventures (1976), p. 179, Donovan Clemson also observed: “The old cemetery at Trout Lake … is difficult to find … What legible inscriptions remain indicate that Ferguson also used this plot, for names of miners killed in the mines there are here inscribed.”
Updated on Jan. 23, 2019 to correct that Thomas Bloomer was the first person buried in the present Castlegar cemetery. Updated on April 25, 2023 with additional details about the provisional Castlegar cemetery.