Recent History – 2000
Feb. 25, 2000
By Jill Northan,Contributing Writer
The Peace Country Roots Group is asking for the assistance of old-time residents to identify as many grave sites as possible in the Pioneer Memorial Cemetery.
At a cost of approximately $1,700, or $10 a grave marker, The City of Dawson Creek has given approval in principle to commence with this Roots Group millennium project.
“We sure need some help from the old time residents,” said past president of the Peace Country Roots Group, Neil Stables.
“At least 527 persons are buried in the cemetery, but only 120 grave sites have existing headstones. We feel that if we use old plans of the cemetery and the memory of people coming forward to tell us where their ancestors are, we might be able to identify 170 more.”
History has not been kind to the old graveyard that Brookside Cemetery now borders and each event it has endured has led to the Roots Group’s present concerns.
Long before there was a Dawson Creek, either village or city, the site was a church-owned Presbyterian graveyard. According to records found by the Roots Group, in 1914, Mrs. Isabella Harper was the first person laid to rest in its ground.
Until 1933, Roman Catholic parishioners were buried in the St. Emile’s Cemetery on the old Tremblay property by the Pouce Coupe River. Then, in 1933, the Roman Catholic section of Pioneer Memorial Cemetery was opened.
By April, 1947, with the exception of a few burials in family plots on either side of the cemetery, interments were in the Dawson Creek Cemetery at the junction of Hart and Alaska Highways. The last person known by the group to be buried in the Pioneer Memorial was Randy Suttner in 1963.
A 1947 article in the Peace River Block News reported the Pioneer Memorial graveyard a mess.
Former city alderman, Daphne Phillips stated in an October 15, 1976 letter to the editor, Peace River Block News, that the City of Dawson Creek started efforts in 1961 to secure title to both pieces of church-owned property in order to maintain them. The Catholic side was readily deeded to the city, but acquiring the portion owned by the Presbyterian Church proved to be a long, drawn-out procedure since, at the time of church union to the United Church, this little piece of property was not, apparently, transferred to the United Church authorities in Toronto.
It was noted in Phillips’ letter, that in August of 1970, Orders in Council were passed authorizing the City of Dawson Creek to maintain the cemetery in a clean and tidy condition.
Since there were no perpetual care funds for maintenance of the graveyard because of the way in which the titles came into the city’s possession, incorporating the area into the Parks System appeared to be the only route by which monies could be expended in the amounts needed.
March 5, 1975, City Council passed a resolution to dedicate Pioneer Memorial Park and to invite the city engineer and the Parks and Recreation Department to submit proposals for its development.
To facilitate easy maintenance, at a meeting of the City’s Advisory Planning Commission in April 1975, approval for the proposal of the grouping of headstones was given.
Further disruption of the cemetery came with the implementation of a student work program called S.W.I.M. (Students Working In Municipalities.)
A hedge was replaced with a new picket fence, a brick patio was built at the entrance to the now park and a large memorial to list the names of the honored pioneers buried there was erected. A hole was begun for a pond or pool and, with that in mind, it was felt that grounds had to be leveled and the lawns re- seeded as well as the new trees and shrubs planted.
The city public works department did fill in the pool and the Peace River District Women’s Institutes became involved in collecting donations for the maintenance of the now Pioneer Memorial Park.
The District W.I. applied for an LIP Grant to complete re-seeding to grass, planting of trees and shrubs, rehabilitation of the existing headstones and installation of a plaque listing the names of all known persons buried there.
The Roots Group feel they could, with input from relatives with knowledge of their ancestors’ burial sites, replace 170 grave markers.
“We’re searching for maps of the lay out of graves particularly for the Catholic section,” said Marge Monlezun, group treasurer.
The group will be manning a booth for Heritage Week at the Dawson Mall, Feb. 26.
For those with information or who are interested in the project but are unable to be at the Mall Saturday, please call Neil at 782-7651 or Marg at 782-8424.