Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - September 19, 1972, Lethbridge, Alberta
6 THE inHBEIDGE HErtAlD Tuesday, September 19, 197i- Graveyard rehabilitation is 'kid project' By MARGARET LUCKHUHST ot The Herald GRAY, Ihs disting- qiu'slicd English pool, is best known for his meditative, simple poem, Elegy in a Coun- try Churchyard. Written over 200 years ago, it was said lo be the most celebrated poem ol the century. Today it is still widely quoted, even by (oik who have small appreciation and less patience for poetry. Gray was inspired to write his elegy during visits to the little rural English church, Stoke Poges, wliich is set in a pastoral scene, surrounded by the crowded graves ol many generations. It isn't difficult In understand why Gray's sentiments, so beautifully expressed, have bad such universal appeal. He an- alyses with outstanding per- ception (even measured by to- day's hypcranalytical society) the age-old question of the meaning of life. The theme of his poem is Ihe day-to-day grind of the com- mon man, seemingly of so lit- tle consequence on the broad- er world's scene. Yet even tha "simple plowman of Stoke Poges had his dreams, his am- bitions, albeit unrealized, as seldom did anything come of them. But the poem lyrically states that the inequalities of life in which a few have it easy while untold numbers have it tragically rough nevertheless leads inevitably to the same end. Gray says: "Let not ambition mock their useful toil, Their homely joys and destiny obscure; Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful smile The short and simply an- nals of the poor. The boast of beraldy, the pomp of pow'r And all that beauty, all that e'er gcve, Awaits alike th' inevitable hour, The paths of glory lead but to the grave." All cemeteries, (a more pop- ular and less dismal synonym for graveyard) are in their own way, Stoke Poges, relat- ing a story without a script. Military cemeteries the world over tell stories of war; mauso- leums tell stories of wealth, and leadership; small private cemeteries seen occasionally adjoining prairied signify stories steeped in path- os. I n modem communities, cemeteries with their individu- alistic tombstones of varying size are becoming less popu- lar now that the trend is to parklikc types with restrictions on monuments. But in tima even these doubtless will tell their own story. For some, graveyards are dreary places lo be avoided as decently as possible. To others they are shadows of the past which, confusing as it may seem. Is always a part of Iho present as well. Young people, in a surprising way, can often be moved as much by things past as they are by things present. Geoargo Watson, a local old-timer with a broad variety of civic inter- ests was aware of this fact sev- eral years ago when he spoko lo Ilepm 21 of Hamilton Jun- ior High School he must have been, as he certainly got some positive results. Invited to address the class on an his- torical topic Mr. Watson chose ore of his favorites ot that time the plight of an early graveyard over on the north side, which had been allowed to fall into a deplor- able condition. lie gave Ihe clnss a brief sketch o( the life of the first settlers whose spartan exist- ence laid the foundation on which Coalbanks, the old min- ing town, later renamed Leth- bridge, was built. He concluded by suggesting that "when ou make your first million, perhaps one of you will do something lo redeem the graveyard from its ignoble stale." He didn't say that years pre- viously he'd approached city council on Ihis very mailer in the hope of having something done and had been politely but firmly rebuffed. He also neg- lecled to mention lhat over the years following, he'd made it a personal crusade lo keen this subject before the public school classes included until such time as the collective con- science was touched. In I960, lhat afternoon at Hamilton School, Mr. Watson's little talk touched the consicnco of Iloom 21. Later the young- sters discussed Hie topic with their teacher and came to the unanimous decision that it would make a dandy project for their room to get themselves involved in. In the nature of young people they set about their task with zeal and determination. A vis- it to the graveyard convinced Ihcm that they couldn't handle the project entirely alone as (he site was long beyond tho point where all it needed was a little cursory attention. Grown over with weeds, and gopher ridden, it had been a bandy spot for unscrupulous vandals looking for a bit of sport. Markers had been torn from their places, and head stones had been pushed over and in many cases completely smashed. It was indeed a sor- ry mess. Undaunled, the kids drew up some baste plans and checked these out with inleresled org- anizations and private citizens. Upon receiving support from a substantial cross section of tho city a delegation of five stu- dents appeared before council lo present details of their proj- cct and lo win council's ap- proval. City council members were caught with a bit of 1am on their austere faces. They could turn Mr. Watson down without a twinge but how could they lum down earnest, fresh-faced kids filled with an astonishing degree ot civic pride? The presentation Ihe youth- ful delecation made was not cxlravagant or impractic.nl. They showed slides to illustrate the general run-down condition of Ihe graveyard with its weeds and broken markers and pro- posed that a general clean-up was necessary immediately. Then they sought permission to mark the area with a king- sized boulder a caim with a plaque naming all the people buried there. They concluded by explaining lhat to accurate- ly compile all the names would lake upwards of a year. Itcp- rc s e'n t a liv e s from city churches, Ihe Pcmmican Club and Ihe IODE were in the coun- cil chambers to hear the pre- sentation and lend the project Ihcir support. In the face of such dedication to a worth- while cause, council scarcely would have had the nerve to turn Ihe delegation down. In- stead they were lauded by the incumbent mayor A. W. Sliacklcford, and all council members who gave the kids tlic go ahead, witli their bless- ing. Various checks through The Herald's files have failed lo turn up any mention of when the first official graveyard in this general area was opened. It's known that on the death one of William Stafford's sons in 1803 (perhaps the first death on record in Coalbanks) there wasn't n graveyard as such, nor was there a member of the clergy near at hand lo perform last rites. The boy was buried near the family home in the riverbottom and his father con- ducted the brief funeral ser- vice. But grave markers appear In Ihe old nortliside as far back as 18C4 five years before Coalbanks became Lelh- bridge. Speculation suggests the villagers decided lhat tho riverbollom was not a suitable site for a permanent grave- yard and decided on a tract of land far away from the threat of river floods and Ihe busyness around the mine heads. Dut whatever the reason, the Prot- estant section of the graveyard was in general use only up un- til about 1917. Why it ceased lo be used following the Sec- ond World War seems now to be lost lo history. Room 21's project of restor- ing the site went along very well. Relatives and friends who had family members buried in the graveyard were pleased lo contribute towards the plaque. Tho 33 Field Squadron Royal Canadian Engineers moved Iho huge boulder from southwest ol Turin at no charge to the stu- dents. The one big difficulty the kids ran into was in com- piling a list of those interred. Records had been skelchily kept, and markers sometimes offered no information so it was decided to nbandon Ihis idea in favor of a general com- memoration of all. In June 19G1 a service of re- storation and dedication of the graveyard was held. The 25-ton boulder with the bronze plaque was unveiled, following which a member of Room 21 related briefly the story of the project. The event was well attended. Members from churches and various organizations were represented, Including the Pcmmican Club, the Historical Society, IODE the Legion and Auxiliary, The Oddfellows Lodge, and of course, members of Lcthbrldgc City Council. Since its restoration Pioneer Cemetery tas Ihis seclion of tho site is called) has been beauti- fully maintained. A stroll through it doesn't take very long as there are not too many markers left lo read, but thoso lhat are Iherc lell a story. It's tho story of the first settlers who challenged this part of Ihe Wesl in search of a better way of life; and it's Ihe story of tho many who at an early age, losl the challenge. The dales on Ihe modest tombstones indicalo lhat, pecially for young women and children, death was not an un- common companion. Molliers died of childbed fever, their children fell prey to Ihe plagues of the day diphtheria, pneu- monia, scarlet fever, and other childhood diseases. Edwin Pierce, 3 years 0 months, 1884; Waller John Whilney, 7 years, 6 months, 1901; Bertha Reding, 39 years; Freddie Steel II years; Janet Bulmcr, 25 years, also Mildred, infant child, 1900; Lizzie McNabb 26 years; and a mother's heartbreaking attempt to draw out to its lim- its the pathrtically brief period of her baby's life Kiltie No- lan 1 year, 5 monlhs and 8 days, 1891. Too many young men died also at an early age, from a variely of causes, leaving bo- hind goodness knows how much Irouble and distress from Ihcir young families. The young people of Room 21 probably were never really aware of Ihe very important service they performed in re- storing the graveyard, not only for their forcbcarcrs but for the community as well. It would have been a great pity If Pioneer Cemetery had been allowed lo become buried for- ever beneath the overgrowth, for a small part of Ihe history of Lethbridge could eventually have disappeared forever.