April 24th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 17
Looking Back - John Kinnear
What Lies Beneath Us- Part II
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
McKenzie's cemetery guide to our heritage

If you haven't read part one, click below:
What Lies Beneath Us - Part I

Part II

As promised last week, this week’s column will talk about a new cemetery guide book recently released by the Crowsnest Museum and authored by respected researcher and historian Ian McKenzie. So really, I guess I have moved on from what lies beneath us to whom lies beneath us.

Ian McKenzie has always been drawn to the interpretive parks where our loved ones were laid. In fact as a student he worked at the old Banff Cemetery while working on his degree in history at U of A. Since retiring here in 2006 Ian has been a tireless researcher and volunteer in all things heritage.

Having done cemetery tours on the August long weekend for several years now, Ian recognized that touring our multitude of cemeteries and learning about those who have gone before us is a great way for one to broaden one’s heritage experience in the Pass.

The logical next step for him was that we needed a great tour book that takes you from memorial park to memorial park throughout the municipality. A book that gives the interesting background on each cemetery’s history and then leads you in amongst the markers where remarkable and moving stories abound. So he wrote one.

Ian perfectly described the significance of what he wanted people to contemplate with his closing remarks in the guide. He said: “The real meat and potatoes of our history rests in the lives of its ordinary people; the men, women, and children who quietly built their families and communities, and then passed on into obscurity.
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Cemeteries offer a supremely democratic cross-section of real stories, large and small, interesting and mundane, humorous and tragic, that together help fill in the wide gaps left by other historical research. There is no better way to understand your community than to research the people who are buried there.”

So of course you have to know I immersed myself in the guide and let it draw me deeper into our unique history that Ian characterizes by saying: “There is no other place like here.” I have always been a cemetery wanderer, marveling at headstones and messages and wondering about their stories. They are parks of remembrance and should be just as properly maintained as any other park. This is part of the mandate of the Crowsnest Memorial Society that works to preserve and enhance our cemeteries in conjunction with the municipality. So I was not surprised when I joined that memorial group recently to find Ian seated at the table.

I thought I would dip briefly into the guide and share or expand on a couple of Ian’s democratic selections for interpretation. A cross section of just how profound the “meat and potatoes” stories can be.

It jumped out at me as a mining historian that throughout his anecdotal journey through the parks there were a plethora of notations that ended with how men had died in mine accidents. There were literally dozens of ways that our pioneers were lost in the mines. Many at a young age and many who left behind widows to struggle with family and income.
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I mentioned Paul Zimka in my last column as one of two lost in the Greenhills Mine in 1941. I was stunned to learn through the cemetery guide that Paul’s father Frank died in the very same mine in 1923 when Paul was four years old. Paul had two brothers and two sisters and their mother Julia passed in 1938 at the age of 51 when Paul was nineteen. That was two years before he was killed in Greenhills. So they lost both their father and their mother at an early age. Such is how it was back then.

The guide can challenge one to go deeper into a story and in this case I used the archives of the Blairmore Enterprise newspaper and findagrave.com to round out the details. I also checked my UMWA list of fatalities for coal mines in Alberta which has a painful 1217 names listed on it. Frank and Paul were among the 25 lost in Greenhills Mine through its lifetime.

Interspersed throughout the guide which moves from east to west are iconic pictures of some of those lost and one page stories on such subjects as Masonic Burials, Hearses in the Pass, The Spanish Flu, a glossary of symbols on stone markers, a piece on military graves and a description of headstone materials. The one that really caught my eye was entitled: “Death by Train”. I knew immediately where this story would go as it is about a very tragic 1936 incident in which six people were lost at the Hillcrest railway crossing when their car was hit by a passenger train.
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Three of those killed were Kubik’s one of whose last name was spelled Kubic on her marker. I recall talking to the one and only Babe Setla about this a few years ago. Babe’s maiden name was Veronica Catherine Kubik. She told me she was invited to go in the car to Hillcrest that fateful day but chose not to. It undoubtedly haunted her the rest of her life. The Kubik family tree is a very complicated one and a findagrave.com search reveals no less than 26 Kubik members buried here in the Pass with six Joseph’s and three Veronica’s.

In the guide Ian notes just how complicated this all was with the following comments on his map location number 13 for the Blairmore Catholic Cemetery. I should mention that each grave he comments on is identified on a map and the note carries its exact location with numbers and letters. So number 13 is identified as A-10-4 ( Section A, row 10, plot 6). The comment reads: “Veronika Kubik (1903-1932), the eldest daughter of Slovak immigrants Joseph and Veronica Kubik, was born in Fernie and move with her family to Michel, Corbin and then Blairmore in 1916. In 1919 Veronika married Joseph Kubik (1894-1936) who was not related to her family. So both she and her husband had the same first and last names as their parents”. See what I mean?

Every marker has a story and usually an extended family beyond it, members of which are, in a lot of cases, still living in the Pass. There are stories of mystery and tragedy and lives well lived to be explored. Both volumes of Crowsnest and Its People carry detailed family histories that one can use to trace back through and connect the dots to more details on the families behind the markers. It is a way for us all to connect to each other and study the roots of the first comers to the Pass.

Of the twelve cemeteries (yes twelve) Ian deals with there are surprisingly two listed for Frank.
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The original Frank cemetery was about 250 meters east of the Frank Slide parking lot and was covered by the slide in 1903. There may have been as many as seven buried there prior to the mountain collapse. The other cemetery he classifies as the present stone and plaque site on the old Frank road. What I did not know is that in 1922 the remains of six people were discovered during a Frank road realignment that were presumed by location to be Ameila Clark and five of her six children. They were reburied by the edge of the road at the present monument site and at one time had a wooden fence around them.

The twelfth cemetery site is thought to exist but the exact whereabouts is not clear. McKenzie refers to it as Crow’s Nest Cemetery and elaborates in detail on possible locations. The bodies are said to be those of CPR railway workers whose deplorable living conditions the guide book elaborates on in detail in a piece entitled: “Death on the Crow’s Nest Line.”

As I said earlier, for anyone wanting to chase any of the guides select stories deeper or research any family member buried here, there are some interesting avenues to go down. But the real thrust of this book is to foster a deeper appreciation for our remarkable collection of sacred resting places.

I’ll pick just one of the guide’s entries and show you what I mean. Bellevue Union Cemetery - Page 28: “#10. A-4-74 – Swan Hagglund (1893-1929) and Astrid Hagglund (1909-1929) were married in 1928. In June 1929 Swan was killed in a mine accident; in August 1929 Astrid gave birth to twins, and later that month died of Scarlet Fever. The twins were adopted by a West Canadian Collieries manager and his wife and were raised in France, possibly without knowledge of their birth heritage.”

From my UMWA summary sheet of mine fatalities for Alberta I found that 13 men were lost here between 1928 and 1929 in the International, McGillivray, Hillcrest and Bellevue Mines. They include Swan Hagglund (Bellevue June 21,1929) and, of note, George Lothian (Nov. 17, 1929), father of Joseph L. Lothian, author of the locally centered book The Grasshopper.

The Guide to the Heritage Cemeteries of Crowsnest Pass should be required reading in our schools so that today’s students can begin to comprehend the amazing scope of stories that form the foundation of who we are here today. The study of the past gives value and meaning to our present.

The official kickoff for the guide will be at the Crowsnest Museum on Wednesday, May 1st at 7 p.m. Make sure you drop by and pick up a copy of this important book.

What Lies Beneath Us - Part I

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April 24th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 17
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