PENTICTON - Is there a lost pauper’s cemetery within Penticton Lakeside Cemetery’s boundaries that has been forgotten with time?
Penticton historian Randy Manuel thinks so, and is gathering mounting evidence to that fact.
Manuel says it all began when another local researcher, who does not wish to be named, began doing volunteer work for a website known as findagrave.
When requested, the researcher would go to the cemetery, find someone’s ancestral plot, photograph and document it in order to add to the requester’s ancestral knowledge.
The researcher was following up on a request earlier this year when he discovered the numbering system for graves at Lakeview Cemetery didn’t match up with the grave numbers he had been given.
“The grave numbering system stopped at 499 in the old section but the listing for some of the people buried goes to 998 in that section,” Manuel explained.
The researcher gave Manuel a list of people to look up and he went to the Anglican Church archives, where Rev. W.S. Beames, priest in charge of burials at the cemetery in the 1940s, left records.
“He had buried two people on the list in the early 1950s,” Manuel explained. “I checked other records of the day and found people had been buried at the cemetery but their numbers didn’t match up with the present numbering system.”
Manuel knew a number of Chinese people had been buried in a section of their own on the west side of the Kettle Valley Railway right of way, which runs along the west boundary of the cemetery. He wondered if the people he was looking for had been buried there, somewhere around the site of the present day crematorium.
“I went to the archives, found original records of the Howson and Baker Funeral Home, who began operations around 1912. One record book was filled, but the next record book I haven’t been able to access, because it may not exist anymore,” he says.
Manuel went through the book and began noticing grave numbers that he couldn’t find on present day city maps of the cemetery.
“Everyone of these graves had a cheap burial, three bucks, five bucks, nine bucks,” he says.
He came across a listing of four Chinese burials dating back to 1916, with a notation in the funeral home book describing the remains of one being removed on Sept. 19, 1938, and another removed on Nov. 1, 1927.
That still left 50 people in the book unaccounted for. What Manuel did next was to flip through the pages of the book looking for cheap burials and then trying to match them up with the missing numbering system.
A key piece of the puzzle fell into place when Manuel found an entry in one column that stated where the body was buried, noted as the “pauper’s grave.”
“Then it all fell into place,” he says.
The Chinese were known to have a burial site across the tracks from the main cemetery, but it now appeared that anyone with no family or means might have ended up there as well.
Manuel has found three accounts of past deaths so far that reinforce his theory.
“One was of a hobo who was killed in a train wreck on the Kettle Valley line near Ruth on May 14, 1925,” he says.
"The newspaper headline read, ‘Unknown hobo buried Tuesday.’ He was found in a derailment amongst a carload of lumber that shifted and crushed him,” Manuel says.
“He had no papers on him and although police tried every means to identify him, he was buried on Tuesday without any information of his name being known,” Manuel says, reciting the newspaper story.
Another body in the site could belong to that found by members of the SS Sicamous crew back in the 20s.
Manuel says there are several babies buried there, including twins. In one account, Manuel read of a local police officer who donated $2.50 toward the cost of burying a child.
"The costs of the burials are listed as 'bad debt', 'paid by the municipality’ or ‘paid by the province,'” he notes.
Manuel has identified 24 of 56 bodies on the list gleaned from Anglican Church and city cemetery records. His next move is to check with Providence Funeral Home to see if they have any records dating back that far.
“I’ve checked up to 1938, that book is filled, but the Howson Funeral Home eventually morphed into the Penticton Funeral Chapel which morphed into the present Providence Funeral Home,” he says.
If he comes up with any records, he’ll then go to newspaper archives with dates in hand to see what else he can find.
Ultimately, Manuel would like to identify as many of the graves as possible, then take a look at surveying the site with ground penetrating radar, perhaps through use of an archeological student in a summer research program. He says the high numbering system indicated in the records probably meant there was an intention to use the whole west side of the KVR for the entire length of the cemetery.
“There are gullies along there that would have been filled in over the years, much like they’ve been doing in the main cemetery,” he says.
Manuel would like to properly map the site and eventually post historic signage identifying people known to be buried there. He sees the historical society as a possible funding source, with the possibility of a grant from the museum providing wages for a summer student project.
“It’s a project that should also fit into the city’s long-term cemetery maintenance plan,” he says.
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