During the evening of Thursday, August 23, I had the privilege to participate in a walking tour of Fernie’s historic cemetery, led by Len and Bill, who both demonstrated energy and enthusiasm throughout the two hours we were together. They are totally devoted to the restoration and rehabilitation of the cemetery’s grounds and its gravesites, and were eager to share their worthwhile experiences with me.
The two seniors are keen about their volunteerism and very importantly, have a great deal of knowledge about the people buried in the cemetery. They are amazing sleuths when it comes to the unmarked graves, as well as missing graves. These energetic, dedicated men have adopted some of the graves, including that of Baby Edgar. Bill and Len’s stories continued throughout the evening: the young 24-year-old man who served with the Italian Army in World War One, the window styled markers, and how many cedar crosses were lost in the fires that devastated Fernie at the turn of the 20th century, for example.
As a volunteer with the City of Calgary Cemetery Tours, I was able to exchange anecdotes from the people that lived back then in Calgary. What I mention to the people who come out for the few tours I guide at Union Cemetery is this: every person buried there has a story. They had highs and lows, and ups and downs in their, for some short, yet for many others, longer lives. Many of the people will always leave mysteries behind, as well. We discuss child mortality, sanitation, or lack thereof, access to medical care, antibiotics today, people’s life expectancy, so many themes common to every cemetery.
And in Fernie: add mining!
Bill and Len explained how they have taken it upon themselves to cut back the trees and bushes, exposing more of the gravestones. They, via their own volition, have repaired many of the stones, as well. Kudos to them!
I highly encourage both residents and visitors alike, to take a walking tour through the cemetery. It is a place full of history, of tales, sad more often than not, but still, very worthy of two hours of a person’s time.
Feeling honoured to be the first person to request a tour, I hope to hear that there are many, many more interested individuals who come out in the future. (Bring water and sturdy walking shoes, and a hiking pole would also be encouraged, as the ground is uneven.) I look forward to returning for another tour the next time I am in town.