iN VIDEO: A brief history of the Old Men's cemetery in Kamloops | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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iN VIDEO: A brief history of the Old Men's cemetery in Kamloops

Cairn in the Old Men's Provincial Cemetery
Image Credit: Submitted by City of Kamloops

Beneath a beautifully manicured cemetery in Kamloops lies a unique and fascinating history.

The Old Men’s Cemetery on 6 Avenue holds the remains of more than 1,000 men who once lived at the Provincial Old Men’s Home, an establishment for the poor and indigent, former miners, fur traders and guides that was built in 1895.

The provincial home was built on a farm belonging to John Ussher, a former Government Agent Constable who was killed two decades earlier by the Wild McLean Boys, according to the Kamloops Heritage Commission.

According to a historical write up by former Kamloops resident Frank Dwyer, an incident that happened Victoria in 1879 helped prompt the formation of the men’s house, when a passersby found a feeble man collapsed on the street.

“The police carried him to the city jail, but he died before long. That was William Williams, described as elderly and infirm. Williams, hailing from Baltimore, USA, worked as a miner in the Cariboo after his arrival in 1858. In declining health, he depended on charity to live out his days. At the inquest, the coroner deplored the fact that there was no public facility to take care of the indigent sick. This tragedy became one of the reasons for the creation of the home of 'last resort' in Kamloops.”

During that time there was a large population of single old men with almost twice as many males as females living in the province, and for many of the men there was no retirement and pensions did not exist yet.

“The old-timers found what work they could, lived in rough shacks, and hung on until they became desperately old or sick,” Dwyer’s article reads. “Without family, and owning little, many lived out their days as best they could.”

In 1893, the provincial government passed an act to establish a provincial home for the aged and infirm. Just two years later, in September of 1895, the home opened in Kamloops.

“There were 65 beds on opening day. Inmates could go on leaves. Many did, working in orchards or taking to the bush for a spell. While in care, they had to abide by strict rules, although one historian commented that they were often unconventional in an extremely conservative era.”

In 1922, a cemetery was created for the men on a site below where St. Andrews church now stands. Over time, the cemetery fell into ruin and was forgotten, with most of the names of the deceased missing.

According the Kamloops Heritage Commission, most of the graves were unmarked because administrators of the home often did not have background information on the old residents, however written archival records exist showing the locations and names of the men. Over time some of the stones that marked the graves sunk into the ground under the grass.

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The Provincial Old Men’s Home closed in 1974, the same year the last person to be interred in the Old Men’s Cemetery died, and today a senior’s home sits on the site.

In 2019, Dwyer started researching the cemetery and putting together a vintage-themed video about it.

“I was a resident of the neighbourhood for a long time and at one point was dismayed at the derelict condition of the cemetery so I started doing research,” he told iNFOnews.ca.

Ground penetrating radar was used to locate the remains in 2020.

Dwyer was active in creating the Sagebrush Neighbourhood Association. He proposed to the City of Kamloops it create a memorial arboretum with trees to represent all of the countries the old men came from.

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The project went ahead and cairns were placed with historical records and local historians helping to identify the names, birthplaces and occupations of the men.

The association provided wrought iron gates made by a blacksmith in Westwold, and several members of the community donated money toward beautifying the cemetery.

Dwyer said an amateur historian in town did research to find the names of the buried men and the city retrieved more information from records at the museum.

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“Most of the names are now on the plaques but whether all the names are there is unknown,” he said. “There is a pauper’s section there and some locals buried there so it would be difficult to determine that. It’s a bit murky in spots but the information is mostly there.”

Dwyer, who now lives in Cranbrook, attended an opening ceremony for the much-improved cemetery last fall.

“Credit goes to the city, the neighbourhood association and donations from the community,” he said. “The place has been transformed. I’d suggest going for a walk around it when the sun is going down and the rays are coming across and just let it all sink in.”

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The entrance to the cemetery is at 6 Avenue and Douglas Street.

The full historical write up on the house and cemetery can be found on the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church website.

“Under its verdant, undulating surface lie the remains of men from thirty-two countries and ten provinces. It is a lovely place,” Dwyer wrote.


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