Workers uncover and clean headstones at the Fairview Cemetery in Prince Rupert.

Workers uncover and clean headstones at the Fairview Cemetery in Prince Rupert.

May 1 declared Cemetery Day in Prince Rupert

From now on May 1 will be Cemetery Day in Prince Rupert.

From now on May 1 will be Cemetery Day in Prince Rupert.

In a letter to City Council requesting a declaration of the day, Cemetery Advisory Committee Chair Reverend Jim Whaley said by having a day set aside each year, people will have a chance to honour and thank former citizens by helping beautify the cemetery and see what improvements have been made at Fairview Cemetery.

“That’s actually International Labour Day so maybe people can get out and labour at the cemetery,” said Councillor Joy Thorkelson, after council passed a motion to accept the declaration.

Committee member Dawn Quast told The Northern View her group has tried different ways of encouraging the community to help clean up at the cemetery.

For the last two years they held an Adopt-A-Plot program, with some level of success.

Meanwhile, the Prince Rupert Genealogy Club was also busy at the cemetery and had begun photographing all of the graves that have been unearthed to date and posting them on www.finadagrave.com.

Already there are close to 4,000 listed from Prince Rupert and several of those include photographs, said Shannon Mark who represents the Genealogy Club on the Cemetery Committee.

The two groups decided to work together, said Quast, and came up with the idea for a Cemetery Day in Prince Rupert.

“We were talking about the fact that so many cultures celebrate All Souls Day on November 1 by going to the cemetery and having a picnic, cleaning up the graves, weeping and laughing.  But November doesn’t work for us weather wise, so we thought we would adopt May 1 because it’s starting to warm up and it’s before people are starting their summer activities,” Mark said.

This year May 1 falls on Sunday so the work party will run from 12 to 4 p.m., but next year it will probably run from 4 until 8 p.m. because it will be a work day.

“We will have people there from the genealogy club and the cemetery committee throughout the time so if people have questions about the genealogy aspect of it there’ll be people that can help them. Some members will be in the office serving coffee and cookies and showing people how to find a plots, using the computers, books or maps,” Quast said.

And if people are coming to unearth graves for the first time, club members will be there to demonstrate the best methods.

Some avid volunteers from the genealogy club have been making progress using plastic tent pegs to gently probe for the corners of the headstones that have sunk in the muskeg and are buried under the grass.

“If you mark the edges and cut it then the grass peels back really easily,” Mark explained.

Normally volunteers will unearth the stones and then later City staff will raise them. Recently efforts have been made to unearth entire rows and then lay highway cloth down first before placing the stones back in place so that the cloth provides additional support to prevent sinking in the future.

“We will be providing clear guidelines on cleaning headstones and unearthing them. Hopefully we’ll get people that will come out and clear their own family headstones, but also people that will come out and volunteer to work on stones that don’t have family member here anymore,” Mark said.