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Every Marker Has a Story

The Crowsnest Pass Memorial Society is a non-profit group, registered in Alberta, that encourages adequate maintenance and ongoing improvements to the twelve (yes 12) cemeteries within the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass.
You may or may not have noticed the completion of one of their latest projects last year, that being the south fencing for the Blairmore Catholic Cemetery. The old caragana bushes on the east side facing the highway were stripped out and ornamental wrought iron and concrete post fencing, that matches the west side, was installed. The white cross that sat at the back of the cemetery was sanded down, painted and installed on a new pedestal in the middle of the new east side fence. There will eventually be a plaque in the middle of that pedestal.
Society fund raising and donations and municipal support made that amazing fence happen. The society works closely in concert with the municipality on resolving what they see as issues needing addressed and there are many. The fencing around some ofis these important resting places are in disrepair and mostly are entirely inadequate. So the society it turning its eye towards fund raising for new fencing in places like the Coleman Catholic cemetery.
There are a couple of events the society is working on to that end, one of which will be a 5, 10 and 20 km fun run in and around the second week of September. They are also holding a Name the Fun Run contest for this first annual event. The contest promises a $100 prize for the best name entry and the deadline for entries in June 17th.  Details of how to submit your suggestion can be found on the new Crowsnest Memorial Society facebook site that has phone numbers or address information that can be used for phone message or mail in suggestions. The facebook site was put up by new board member Carmellia Saretzky. I will also list those contest contacts at the end of the article.  One name that came to mind for me is a play on words and that is the “First Annual Monumental Run”.
The society is also waiting on a license for a 50/50 draw, the proceeds from which will also be used for beautification and enhancement. As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of issues besides fencing that need addressing. There have been society discussions around signage that includes renaming the cemeteries back to their old original names like St. Anne’s and directional signage so that visitors can more readily locate them. As an aside people need to be respectful of our loved ones resting places and not use them as dog parks. Again signage here may be in order.
The municipality has a work in progress right now which is generating a special database of the cemeteries that can be used to allow an easier determination of plots available, existing plots and reserved plots for the public. That database will be converted into a GIS overlay which is a computer layer that can be overlain onto the municipal computerized mapping system.
One of the ongoing projects the society has worked on is headstone stabilization and repair. In August 2020, a partnership between the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, Fantin’s Funeral Chapel, and the CNP Memorial Society was established to address the problems detailed in the 2019 report Cemetery Headstone Damage and Risk Assessment. This report was generated by Ian McKenzie and took a lot of work to compile.  Part of it included a Top Priority Action List, in order to deal with markers at serious risk or presently a hazard. Generally speaking, funding is provided by the Municipality, expertise and contractor coordination by Fantin’s, and volunteers by the Society.
There were seven monuments that were worked on in 2021 in the Coleman Catholic and Blairmore Catholic cemeteries and this long overdue intervention will continue again this year. The society is always looking for volunteers for this type of work which can be tricky. No one should attempt working with stones of this weight without the able assistance of board member Darrell Sydora. It is a very rewarding experience to step back from a restored stone, placed there usually a long ago. Time and the elements take their toll.
Last summer Ian engaged Vic Bergman for help in some priority work in the Old Blairmore Union Cemetery and Vic has posted a lovely overview of that work with always first rate pictures. It can be found on his website:  https://www.vicbergman.com/blairmore-cemetery-repair-work/. One of the stone repairs they worked on was for the sixteen-month-old daughter of Dr. George Henry Malcolmson of Frank, the very first doctor in the Crowsnest Pass. Dr. Malcomson’s daughter Beatrice Margaret contracted laryngeal diphtheria and despite his intervention she did not survive. The good doctor was tasked with digging his own daughter’s grave as the miners, who usually did this work, were on strike.
In 2018 former board member Ian McKenzie had a wonderful guide to our cemeteries published through the Crowsnest Museum. It is 80-plus pages and is chock full of pictures and mini-stories that are an interesting cross-section of those interned. Every single name has a story. Ian summed up why cemeteries matter to us in that book.
He said, “A walk in a cemetery is one of the most peaceful ways to spend a few quiet hours. Nothing much goes on there. But the air his heavy with history, with the echo of lives lived- you can almost feel the laughter and tears, love and hatred, happiness and anger, hope and despair, that people here and everywhere else have experienced. Cemeteries tell the story of how we got to where we are today- they hold the people who went before us, who built and flavoured the houses, towns and institutions that mark us today, and gave us a foundation for the lives we live now.”
The Society is looking for volunteers for their annual work-bee that will be at the Blairmore Old Union Cemetery, Sunday June 5th, from 1pm to 5pm. We will be clearing brush from around headstones which are presently inaccessible or obscured. We will NOT be working on headstones, or cutting trees. Volunteers should bring lunch, water, gloves and other protective gear, and loppers, saws or even a chainsaw or a wheel barrow, if you have one. Collection of debris from the parking lot will be done by the Municipality. Come on out and help the society clean up this remarkable cemetery. You will find it rewarding.
For next Sunday I have my eye on the Reuben Steeves marker at Blairmore Union. It badly needs a cleanup of the bushes that have surrounded this beautiful marble marker. Steeves was a self-made businessman who according to McKenzie owned the Imperial Hotel in Frank and the Windsor in Lundbreck as well as a brick yard and was a member of the first village council for Frank. He drowned near Stavely while out duck hunting.
The final word for me on cemeteries as a historian was also nicely described by Ian McKenzie in his final words in his guide book, copies of which are available at the museum.  “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. Cemeteries offer a supremely democratic cross-section of real stories, large and small, interesting and mundane, humourous 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.”
Authors Note: For Fun Run name suggestions you can contact Irene Shafer at 403-562-8831, PO Box 652 Blairmore, AB T0K 0E0 or Wendy Fabro at 403-563-3394, PO Box 756 Coleman, AB T0K 0M0.

Spectacular Reuben Steeves marker needing cleanup

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New fence and cross at Blairmore Catholic Cemetery

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Coleman Catholic Cemetery fence in need of replacement,

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