Adele Dvorak looked down and placed her hand on a familiar name – the name of her great grandfather, Jean B. LaLonde, whom she knows little about.
However what she knows now is that her great grandfather shares a common resting place with about 365 others, for whom there is no known final resting place.
These individuals, from the Fernie area, passed away between 1896 and 1945, and their names are now inscribed beside each other on a new memorial plaque.
A crowd gathered Saturday to watch the unveiling of the new memorial plaque, at the intersection of Ridgemont Crescent and St. Margaret’s Road, close to the oldest known grave in Fernie.
The plaque project was a combined effort by many groups and volunteers, spearheaded by the Lost Souls Society, and took years of research to put together.
“He’s here somewhere, or was somewhere,” said Dvorak speaking about her great grandfather.
For Dvorak and her family, having a spot to call Jean’s provides some closure.
“You can come here and say my great-grandfather is here,” she said.
Dvorak pointed up the road towards St. Margaret’s Cemetery.
“My grandfather’s there, my dad’s there. They’re all here; we never left the valley,” she explained.
The lifetime Fernie resident knows little about her great grandfather, aside from the fact he came to the area as a merchant. On the contrary, other sources have said he was a farmer. Over the years she has come to discover that when Jean died, her grandmother started a boarding house in order to support the family.
Over the years, Dvorak admitted that memories and stories are forgotten if they’re not written down. This, she said, is a common story shared by the families of the men and women on the plaque.
“There’s a lot of names on there,” she said.
“We are grateful,” she added. “Very very grateful for what they (Lost Souls Society) did,” she said, adding that she is grateful especially that the founders of the area are being recognized.
“The people that made Fernie, started Fernie, were involved from the beginning. It’s nice to see that somebody cared,” she said.
(Corlyn Haarstad, Mayor Ange Qualizza and John Gawryluk unveil the new plaque. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press)
City of Fernie mayor Ange Qualizza thanked the many groups involved, including the Lost Souls Society, who took on this project with what she described as a great deal of sensitivity and attention to detail throughout the entire process.
“It is the historians that work to preserve the narrative of our communities that I’m especially thankful for today,” said Qualizza.
“Having people like the Lost Souls Society or the Fernie Museum making sure those important events and stories of our past are captured, makes me feel assured that we won’t forget, and hopefully we’ll continue to appreciate our community and pay special attention to the contribution of previous community builders; those brave families that built this town.”
The Lost Souls Society is made up of three dedicated individuals; Corlyn Haarstad, John Gawryluk and Dan Ste. Marie, who have taken it upon themselves to locate the resting places of the long-lost but not-so-long-forgotten. Their goal is to give closure to the families who have, for many years, been searching for the resting place of their loved ones.
In doing so, they have been able to identify the resting places of many individuals from Michel, Natal, to Fernie, Elko and beyond.
“Closure is one aspect of grieving,” said Ste. Marie. “Knowing where a family member is buried and being able to visit the grave helps them in finding closure.”
Since 1999, members of the society, responding to countless requests from individuals looking for the graves of their family members, have been dedicated to locating these graves in order to provide these families with answers.
(Phil McLachlan/The Free Press)
Before the plaque was unveiled Saturday, Ste. Marie addressed the crowd.
“Some of you are probably wondering, how can it be? How come there’s so many missing (graves)?” he said.
“Well, with the passage of time, memories fade. Part of the oral tradition of passing information down from generation to generation, well, it’s like the old telephone game. By the time it gets to the current generation, information gets distorted.
“Records are lost, and some of the records that do exist… are incomplete.”
The ‘lost souls’ inscribed on the plaque were men, women and children, whom died from both natural causes, and accidents in the mining and forestry industries.
“What we can’t lose track of, is these individuals help make Fernie what it is today,” said Ste. Marie.
“Now with this plaque that we have here, these families will now have a place where they can come visit, place flowers or mementos, and hopefully achieve some kind of solace,” he said.