COALMONT, B.C. - Someone is digging holes in the cemetery of a ghost town in southern British Columbia and a member of the local historical society believes it's the work of misguided treasure hunters.
"It's pretty disturbing, very disheartening," said Bob Sterne, who has tended the cemetery in the former gold rush town of Granite Creek for more than a decade.
Sterne said Friday he checked the area after the Victoria Day long weekend and was surprised to find 16 new, but familiar, shallow holes where the ground had been dug up and replaced.
"My guess is, because we have seen those kinds of marks before, that it was somebody with a metal detector and when they get a ping they dig a shallow excavation, find anything or don't find anything, and fill the hole back in."
The holes are in an area where Chinese miners were buried as long as 130 years ago in a section that Sterne said was just outside what was the Christian portion of the cemetery.
"The Chinese section, we don't know how many people were interred there. There are absolutely no records for it. But there are, I believe, nine big holes in the ground where bodies were exhumed," he said in an interview. "This was common practice, I think in the '50s and '60s. A lot of the Chinese graves all over B.C. were exhumed and the remains were sent back to China."
There are no records of what happened to the remains, but Sterne said it's possible some were removed during those repatriation efforts.
The space between the nine large holes is where Sterne said the smaller holes were found Tuesday. He said the same area had been targeted before.
"This is the third incident we have had where the ground has been disturbed by people, in my opinion treasure hunting, most likely metal detecting."
The Granite Creek Preservation Society says on its website that in 1885, the community had a brief but intense gold rush that saw the four-block town along the Tulameen River, 300 kilometres east of Vancouver, swell to more than 2,000 residents.
Before the gold disappeared and the town shut down, society records show 148 people were buried in the cemetery, 133 of them in marked graves, Sterne said.
The latest incident has not been reported to police, but Sterne said a game camera mounted at the cemetery took more than 2,000 pictures of visitors over a single month, proving the heritage site is a busy one.
He hopes future visitors will speak up if they see something suspicious.
— By Beth Leighton in Vancouver