PENTICTON - A year after the search began, a local historian believes he has confirmed the existence of a forgotten paupers' burial ground at the Penticton Lakeview Cemetery.
The existence of the graves in the long-forgotten northwest corner of the cemetery came to light after a request last year to local historian Randy Manuel from a Penticton resident seeking a grave site.
They were looking for a headstone in the cemetery of a deceased person whose name showed up on the City of Penticton’s list of those buried in the cemetery, but the number of the plot wasn't on cemetery maps.
“It was thought to be a computer glitch or something else," Manuel says.
The numbering system at Lakeview Cemetery starts at 001 and goes well into the 2100s, but graves from 500 to 999 are missing from the map. That was the mystery Manuel was asked to solve.
Manuel’s research uncovered original documents that listed at least 56 people buried in the missing numbers sequence, for years thought to be strictly a burial section for Chinese people. Only 17 plots were listed as containing their remains, and six of those bodies were exhumed, some in 1938 and the others in 1927.
“This had been a common practice at the time. It was done so the souls could rest properly by being buried in their village of origin,” Manuel says.
In the past year, Manuel has delved further into the original record books of the Howson Funeral Home, where he discovered all the people who had low cost funerals — costing from $5 to $12 — were buried in graves in the 500 to 999 range.
Manuel says the clue that finally solved the mysterious gap in the numbering system was a notation from Aug 5, 1922, in the Funeral Home's record book about a stillborn burial in lot 513 which was referred to as the paupers' section.
“So, there it was. The graveyard wasn’t only a site for Chinese, but one where poor folks, vagrants and unknowns could be planted,” Manuel says.
Manuel says his research turned up three “unknowns” buried at the site. A 1921 entry lists a body found floating in the lake by the crew of the SS Sicamous. A 1925 entry notes the burial of someone killed in a train accident on the Kettle Valley Railroad.
“Who are these men? Their families will never know what happened to them,” he says.
Manuel has also compiled a partial list of people buried and mostly forgotten in the paupers' graveyard. He’s hoping a surviving family member might recognize a name from the past.
“Who were these people and why were they buried there? Are there family members still around?” he says. “It’s fascinating. Were they Penticton residents? Is there anyone out there looking for these names as part of their family’s genealogy study?”
He says in many cases the names did not show up in the newspapers of the day as having recently been deceased, adding to the mystery of who they were.
The list of people buried includes: George Benson, Fred Todd, Charles Leedy, M. Watson, John Remington, Rudolph Johnson, Willian Hunt, Edward Johanson, Bernard Baggaley, Francis Joseph LeRoy, Yeoman Charles Kitley, Henry Walters, Martin Nelson, Henry Nelson and Robert Miller Cowan.
“Perhaps a family researcher will see a name familiar to them, and we’ll solve another mystery,” he says.
Manuel hopes some cemetery funding can be set aside to conduct a further search, perhaps with ground penetrating radar to delineate all the graves. He would also like to see some signage erected listing the names of the people known to be buried there.
He says the subject will be a topic of conversation at an upcoming Museum Advisory Committee meeting.
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