Last Sunday, the locally-owned and operated Fernie funeral home, Cherished Memories, opened its doors to the public, displaying nearly 18 years of cemetery research including four binders filled with the names of over 400 lost souls.
For nearly two decades, John Gawryluk and Corlyn Haarstad of Cherished Memories Funeral Services, have been gathering data on misplaced bodies from five separate burial sites around Fernie.
Their story gained national attention earlier this month when Global News covered it in a two-part documentary entitled, A Grave Mistake.
Gawryluk and Haarstad presented their findings to the City of Fernie in January 2013, asking them for assistance. One of their main goals was to preserve the burial site, coined as the Stork Cemetery, located in a ravine behind several houses off of Ridgemont Drive.
In June 2013 the city formed a committee.
At the beginning of 2014 the City of Fernie decided to move forward with ground penetrating radar (GPR) to assess that land and determine the location and amount of human remains believed to be buried in the area.
Gawryluk’s concerns with the site included residents’ property encroaching on the land, residents burying animals on the land and the site being overrun with weeds.
The site however is not currently recognized as a cemetery and was deemed a Historic Site by the Heritage Conservation Branch in 1979, protecting it under the Heritage Act, which forbids anyone from altering the land.
But Gawryluk and Haarstad would like the site to be properly preserved, and recognized, as a historic burial ground.
“You make the cemetery a cemetery not a weed patch,” Gawryluk said.
Haarstad added, “We could have stopped this a long time ago.”
Mayor Mary Giuliano commended the work they’ve done, stating, “Nobody from the city has ever discontented the work that they’ve done.”
“I think it’s good that they’re opening it up. They have been very good about showing the public the work they’ve done.”
The city is currently waiting on the GPR results before they move forward in protecting the site.
“Once we hear what the results are, that’s when we’re going to act on whatever we need to do,” Giuliano said.
The GPR results are expected to come in at the end of this month.