Notch in the Cadomin sandstone west side of Union Cemetery
As you drive east on Highway 3 past the Bellevue Underground Mine you will notice there is a massive sandstone bluff that the main mine entry was driven into over a hundred years ago. Geologists these days refer to this quarzitic sandstone as the Dalhousie and it is the basal sandstone of the Kootenay Formation a formation that contains all those wonderful coal seams the Pass mines burrowed into for most of the last century. You will also notice as you drive by this sandstone that this highway cuts through a coal seam that is visible on your left. One or two of the many coal seams found in the Kootenay Formation lie on or very close to this basal sandstone which is sometimes called the Cadomin Formation.
The trend of this incredibly hard rock formation travels north and south from the Bellevue entry forming a massive almost vertical wall south towards the old Mohawk mine tipple. If you follow its northerly trend on its east side it will lead you up a wonderful little back avenue called Larch that parallels the bluff. A short distance up Larch Avenue will bring you to one of the most remarkable graveyards I have ever come across in all my years of cemetery wandering. Last week was my first trip there but it won’t be my last I can assure you. The grave fencings and styles of head stones were as varied as any you will see anywhere. And as I have said many times before each marker has a story.
The site had just been recently weed whipped and there was fresh evidence of mole soil casts amongst the graves. What I found most enchanting about the cemetery was that the basal sandstone trend forms a solid west wall to the place except for one spot about half way along its length. There what appears to be a deliberately blasted notch can be found, a passage way through the sandstone with a gate on its east side and a “No Trespassing” sign posted on a tree above the notch. The gate was wired shut but I can imagine that back in the early days when this resting place first came into use that it provided an alternate access to mourners and visitors alike.
According to researcher Belle Kovach, William John Fisher was the first person interred there in 1918. The very first marker I ran into at the south entrance was that of a young boy named Joseph Newton, just seventeen years of age. His epitaph stated that he died in the Bellevue Number Two Mine on September 16, 1918. The September 20th issue of the Blairmore Enterprise newspaper reported that “Newton had just finished his shift and was on his way out when a piece of timber hit him, breaking his neck.” It struck me right there and then that I had just entered an important place where tragedy and heart break had been lovingly marked with carved stone, wire fences and gates, concrete pillars, pipe rails and wrought iron ornaments.
I was inexorably drawn from one end to the other, a hundred yards north, by its remarkable beauty and by an insatiable desire to see who lay where and when they died. It is not a morose thing to be in such a place. It is to me an interpretive center, a place of stories. A commemoration of lives lived and lost.
The cross section of ages was typical, from new borns to those who had lived a somewhat long life but somehow I kept coming across the tragic loss of young men like Newton. There was John Bovio, also seventeen, who drowned in Lee Lake in 1927. According to the Enterprise John was a wonderful all around athlete who had just finished high school and the previous fall had won a gold medal in a provincial sports competition. And in 1928 Primo Comin, just fourteen, who was at “gun practice, when a cartridge got stuck in a gun held by one of the other lads and in attempting to extract the shell the gun went off, the 22 bullet entering Comin’s spine.” And in 1934, twenty one year old Milton Danysh, a Bellevue boy; “who had been riding a freight train, attempted to jump from the moving train at the crossing and was dragged under the wheels....... Danysh was armed with fishing tackle and evidently intended to try his luck in the river near Lundbreck.” Danysh had also graduated with honours.
Losing young men at this age is such a painful thing for families. They are just beginning their adult lives. It is hard to imagine how difficult this must have been for their parents and siblings. Loss of life was a lot more common back then and families adapted and moved on. What choice did they have?
Such was the case with the Padgett family. Fred Padgett, born in Yorkshire England, came to the Pass in 1911, served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps in World War I and when wounded in action met Annie Lily, a nurse in the Bramshot Hospital. They were married, returned to Bellevue in 1919 and had a daughter Hilda that year and another daughter they named Lily in 1922. Mrs Padgett passed away just days after having Lily and Fred’s brother Albert looked after Lily for three years until Fred remarried. Lily’s loss was described in the Enterprise thusly: “Four times during the past four weeks the Angel of Death has visited the village of Bellevue, and on each occasion has taken there a mother upon whom a number of children were dependent.” Albert and Annie Lily Padgett’s markers lie quietly in separate areas of the cemetery.
The Union Cemetery suffered flooding many years ago and has long ceased to be an active site. The irony is that the graves of the miners and their family members buried there lie directly on the softer ground of the coal seams adjunct to that basal sandstone. That is to say some of the miners buried there may have died in those coal seams but are buried on top of them. The Union Cemetery is a gem of Pass history that desperately needs restoration and interpretation. One visit there and you will see what I mean.