The history of Cranbrook and the colourful people who gave our town its unique character are only footsteps away.
The Cranbrook History Centre put on an inaugural tour of the old Cranbrook Cemetery on Saturday, May 20. With local historian Jim Cameron serving as tour guide, the event was a fascinating trip into the past, a thumbnail view of local heritage, as seen through a sampling of some of the cemetery’s more notable graves.
Cameron selected a few key gravestones to illustrate the uniqueness, complexity and mystery of Cranbrook’s past.
The Old Cemetery, off Cobham Avenue and on the east side of Patterson Street, has been extant since 1900. But it is not Cranbrook’s first graveyard. The first cemetery is now lost, though evidence suggests it was somewhere in the vicinity of the intersection of 2nd Street South and 14th Avenue, now overlooking Baker Park. Cameron explained that though many of the bodies were re-interred in the newer location, to allow for the road to go through the original site, not all were, leaving the intriguing possibility that there may be others still in the original location.
Other notable moments on the tour:
• One of those who was moved from the original cemetery was Henry Seelye. Seelye was a member of a delegation from the colony of British Columbia to Ottawa in 1870 to negotiate British Columbia’s inclusion in Confederation. The delegation was successful, and B.C. joined Canada the next year. Thus, a true father of Confederation is buried in Cranbrook. His grave marked by a newer brass plaque.
• One of the first Cranbrook residents to be buried in the cemetery was one May Reynolds. When she died, in 1900, the whole community of Cranbrook chipped in to pay for her funeral and her burial, and the whole town came out to pay their respects when she was buried. She was,in fact, a local prostitute, and Reynolds probably wasn’t her real name. The mystery is, no one knows why she was so obviously held in such high regard, but as Cameron explained, Cranbrook was a pretty rough and tumble town in its early days, and moral codes were probably more flexible than we may believe nowadays.
• It would surprise many to know that some victims of the Frank Slide (April, 1903), are buried in Cranbrook.
• Cranbrook’s most famous grave is that of Conrad Kain, 1883-1934, an Austrianwho became one of the most renowned mountaineers in the world. He guided extensively in Europe, Canada, and New Zealand, and responsible for the first ascents of more than 60 routes in British Columbia. He died of encephilitis in Cranbrook. The marker on his grave reads “A guide of great spirit”.
• Madeleine Leone Wood of Cranbrook was Canada’s first ever Miss Canada, winning that title in 1927, and later coming in sixth at the Miss Universe contest held in Texas. She is buried near her brother James, who committed suicide in 1924, age 18. Madeleine died in 1935, aged 25, from drinking lysol.
• An unmarked plot marks the grave of Adolf Gartland, who killed his estranged wife and then himself in 1927 (a tumultuous year in Cranbrook). As a murderer, his grave is unmarked, but it is believed, though not known for certain, that his wife is buried with him.
• An example of the pressures grave s face, from time and the elements. The Baxter family plot, which includes the renowned school teacher Muriel Baxter, has fallen into disrepair.
• The ornate headstone of Nils Hanson is still in fine condition. Hanson was the founder of Wasa, named after his home town in Sweden. He eventually moved to Cranbrook, and died in 1917.
• One of the most beautiful graves in the cemetery is that of Sylva Hill, who died, aged 10, in 1923. The fact that graveyards are ultimately tragic places is never far from mind, especially in the Old Cemetery. Many gravestones are adorned with lambs, a style indicating a child is buried there.
The inaugural tour of the cemetery was a fascinating and successful event, likely to be held again. One gets the feeling the tour could be held over and over, and never the same story told twice.