Cemetery tour digs deep into Okanagan history - InfoNews

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Cemetery tour digs deep into Okanagan history

Bob Hayes, past president of the Okanagan Historical Society and cemetery tour guide.
June 21, 2019 - 6:00 AM

KELOWNA - Compared to England or China, Canada is a young country — Kelowna only became a municipality in 1905, just 114 years ago.

Some may consider Canadian history underwhelming or inconsequential by comparison. However, as local historian Bob Hayes can attest, this is far from the truth. To discover this for yourself, all you have to do is visit the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery.

Hayes leads a tour through the oldest part of the cemetery, the Pioneer section, every two weeks on Wednesday and Saturday, regaling attendees with the stories of early pioneers, their families and the legacies they left behind. The tour costs only $5, which goes directly to the Okanagan Heritage Museum. 

Hayes himself is a descendant of one of these pioneer families, the Clements. He led tour attendees to the graves of several of his ancestors. At the tour on June 19, local historian and author Sharon Simpson was available to share her expertise. She herself is descended from the Jennins family, whose graves are also in the Pioneer section.

The graves of Hayes' ancestors.
The graves of Hayes' ancestors.

To mark the 100th birthday of Kelowna in 2005, Hayes and Simpson undertook a project to identify as many unmarked early settler graves as possible. At the beginning of the project, there were about 900 unmarked graves in the Pioneer section.

"Our goal was to mark as many graves as possible… We actually managed to mark about 140 graves,” said Hayes.

Locals often recognize some of the names on the graves, as it was common practice in Kelowna’s early years to name streets, parks and landmarks after influential people in the community. However, most locals don’t know the real stories behind these pioneers. 

“Many people assume Knox Mountain is named after pioneer doctor William Knox who came here in 1903. It’s not,” said Hayes. "It’s named after Arthur B. Knox and he was here much earlier, no connection to Dr. Knox.”

Arthur Knox settled in Kelowna in 1884 and had one of the largest cattle ranches in the area. In 1891 he was falsely accused of burning three large haystacks by Tom Ellis, who claimed he saw Knox on his property. Knox went to trial and was sentenced to three years of hard labour. He died a multi-millionaire and a bachelor at 77 years old.

Grave of Arthur B. Knox, lifelong bachelor and secret millionaire.
Grave of Arthur B. Knox, lifelong bachelor and secret millionaire.

Another familiar name, especially for those who live in Rutland, is Edith Gaye.

"Gaye was one of those people in the community that does everything,” said Hayes. “She was a lifelong supporter of Girl Guides, she was a leader there, strong supporter of the SPCA.”

In her will, Gaye donated her property to the community of Rutland, for which a park was named after her.

"One of the things I really enjoy about cemetery tours is connecting with people,” said Hayes.

Sometimes a descendant of one of the pioneers will be on the tour, and will share their story with the group. This tour was no exception, as the great-grandaughter of A.S. Matheson (who A.S. Matheson Elementary School is named after) was there to share her family’s story.  The Mathesons valued education and most of the family had university degrees. In fact, the family was distantly related to Lord Admiral Nelson, whose most famous victory was for Britain at Cape Trafalgar against Napoleon.

Many of Kelowna’s early mayors are buried in the Pioneer section, along with many other influential townspeople of the time.

Some of these older graves are covered in lichen, and some are completely illegible.

For those interested, the Kelowna Heritage Museum is hosting a tombstone cleaning workshop on June 29 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Memorial Park Cemetery. For only $5 per person, you will learn how to properly clean and preserve gravestones using specialized tools, while learning more about the people buried in the cemetery.

For more information call Nikki at 250-763-2417 ext. 23 or email nbose@kelownamuseums.ca.

The grave of past Kelowna mayor David Russel Leckie.
The grave of past Kelowna mayor David Russel Leckie.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2019
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