Recent History – 2003
By Gary Rusak
Deep under knee-high grass and a battalion of mosquitoes, just off Highway 49, lies an important piece of the region’s history. Located eight kilometres outside Dawson Creek and consecrated in 1916, St. Emile Mission was one of the earliest homesteads in the entire Peace Country.
After the Catholic mission was abandoned in 1931, the historic plots where more than 50 of the area’s earliest pioneers were buried went unattended. Soon after being abandoned, a fire burned down the rest of the mission and the cemetery fell out of the public consciousness.
Responding to renewed public interest, in 1983, the City bought thesite for $1. With prodding from the Landry Women’s Institute and the Peace Country Roots Genealogical Society, interest in preserving the historic site was revived. Almost 20 years later in 2002, Jacques Monlezun and Dave Leoppky formed the St. Emile Cemetery Committee.
After securing $40,000 from the city to recover the site, the volunteer committee is now closing in on its goal of properly commemorating the historic cemetery.
“It is important that people know,” said Frank Breault, a member of the committee. “We are going to have a carved cedar sign, three feet by five feet, that marks the area. That should be here on the 25th of June.”
The committee also has an application to the Ministry of Highways to have the area marked as a historic site, literally putting it on the map. As well, ground work will be done, including cutting back the grass and weeds.But, perhaps the most important task left for the committee is to acknowledge individually the pioneers who are buried on the plot.
“We are hoping to get a piece of granite to display the names and the dates of those that we can confirm are there,” said Breault.
Working from data collected through penetrating radar, the group has learned that 54 people are buried in the cemetery. Unfortunately, of those bodies, only 26 names have been verified. Some of the confirmed names will be familiar to those with a keen sense of the history of the region, as names like Michaud, DeWetter, Marion and McDonell still populate the area. However, many of the dead will go unnamed unless proper records are uncovered.
Neil Stables, a founding member of the committee, is proud of the work done in preserving the site.
“The first thing we had to do was fix the road up so people could even get in here,” he said explaining that he expects that the site should attract some traffic when it is completed.
“A lot of the pioneers were buried out here,” he said. “I think there will always be people interested. I don’t think you will have people flocking here, but the main thing is to mark (where) some of the people that were first in the country are buried.”
The committee expects to have an official ceremony when it erects the cemetery’s new sign in the coming weeks.