Council to form committee to address cemetery concerns

Fernie Council is putting together a select committee to address the concern there are additional burial sites outside of the cemetery.

St. Margaret's Cemetery in Fernie.

St. Margaret's Cemetery in Fernie.

Fernie Council is putting together a select committee to address and recognize the concern that there are additional burial sites outside of St. Margaret’s Cemetery. The committee will take on the task of creating a monument to honour hundreds of people who are believed to be buried in unmarked graves within the City of Fernie.

Community members John Gawryluk and Corlyn Haarstad spoke at a committee of the whole meeting Monday morning to outline their requests to the City. The pair has spent the last 12 years gathering data and records from the Fernie and District Historical Society, the City of Fernie, B.C. archives, newspaper articles, and obituary notices. They believe that inaccurate record keeping and the improper designation of cemetery boundaries has led to the misplacement and/or removal of 392 people that died and were buried in Fernie.

Gawryluk reinforced that they are not trying to place blame on anyone, but simply move forward. “What’s done is done,” he commented. “We want to move on and get this settled and do the right thing, which is maintain and improve both cemeteries.”

Gawryluk and Haarstad asked mayor and council to assist in the creation of a monument, as well as grant them access to records in the City Hall basement to help continue their work in locating the misplaced burials. They would also like council to consider using radar technology to survey the ground in areas outside of St. Margaret’s to confirm the location of unmarked burial plots.

Gawryluk and Haarstad understand their requests come with a cost and don’t expect the City to foot the entire bill.

“There’s the Regional District [of East Kootenay], there’s Columbia Basin Trust, you can go historical, you can go so many different routes here to start searching out funding,” said Haarstad. “The applications won’t be in place until at least the fall, everybody has pretty much delegated their funding out this year already, but we’re more than ready to form that committee and start looking for funding. We don’t expect this to lie fully on the shoulders of the City at all.”

Council voted unanimously to form a select committee to deal with the issue, which will consist of at least two councillors and interested community members. City staff will put together a terms of reference for the committee, which will be brought to a future council meeting. Following council’s approval of the terms, the City will begin advertising for committee members.