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Death came on Tuesday

Written for the Lost Souls Society - Forever Remembered
Fernie from above. Free Press file photo

Jennifer Cronin

In the Fernie subdivision of Ridgemont, at the edge of a terrace on the south side of a ravine with an unnamed creek that empties just southeast of the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Fernie, is the Stork Cemetery.

The stratum description from 1979 describes this area as four graves with mappable superficial features, one untraceable small gravestone, an undeterminable number of unmarked graves in what appears to be an early cemetery used for victims of pestilential diseases and formerly housed in an isolation hospital or pest-house located on the north side of the ravine.

At rest in this cemetery is Johnnie McLeod. Just one headstone marks his place of interment, which he shares with his father and sister.

Johnnie died on May 3, 1904, at the age of 16. Having lost his father in the Coal Creek Mine explosion two years earlier, he and his brother Philip, 15, worked to provide for their widowed mother and seven siblings.

Johnnie’s position was that of office boy at Herchmer & Herchmer barristers, which was located over Burn’s Meats, where Big Bang Bagels is today.

Two accounts exist of what happened to precipitate the death of young Johnnie McLeod.

The first as told by Arthur Chapman, an employee of P. Burns & Co., purports that on April 23, he and McLeod were in the stable behind the store and they were playing with a rifle that had been left out there when somehow it discharged and hit McLeod in the back.

McLeod’s story was that he was standing on a ledge in the stable watching a man on the balcony across the street at the Alberta Hotel when he heard a loud bang, felt a sharp pain and fell to the floor.

He did not know that he had been shot, rather thought he had fallen and broken his back.

Chapman then ran out of the building to seek help, and McLeod laying on the floor cried out for help.

Help arrived shortly after and transported McLeod to the Fernie hospital where it was determined that the shot had severed his spinal cord and the bullet remained lodged in his chest.

An affidavit sworn by Johnnie McLeod read as follows:

“I know I am dying and there is no hope of recovery. On the 23rd of April about half past three or four o’clock in the afternoon I was in P. Burns & Co. stable looking through the window up at a man and woman on the veranda of St. Alberta Hotel when I was shot.

“It was when I went into P. Burns & Co. stable with Arthur Chapman and we had a conversation about a bicycle and talking about the price of it that I went to the window and all of a sudden I heard a shot and just dropped down.

“I remember hearing Arthur say, ‘Oh Jack, I think it was an accident’ but we were always good friends and we were together a lot and never quarrelled. Arthur left the rifle standing and I saw it after I was shot.”

The May 6, 1904 headline in The Fernie Free Press read “Death Came on Tuesday”. This story followed:

“John McLeod, the victim of the sad shooting accident of the April 23 died at noon on Tuesday, having lived 10 days with his spinal cord severed. The little fellow, though very tired and weak, was conscious to the last.”

The headstone inscription for Johnnie’s father reads “In memory of Malcolm McLeod May 22 1902 aged 46 years also his infant daughter. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord”.

During an inspection of this site in July 2014, it was noted that this headstone had at some time been flipped over and the other side read “John McLeod”.

Written for the Lost Souls Society - Forever Remembered.