Deep in the lush, southern forests of Kaien Island lies a peaceful, yet haunting area of trail, shrubbery and creeks.
As you make your way though the overgrown greenery and past any sort of marked trail that disappeared long ago, back when you started your journey from the road leading from Ridley Island, time seems to stand still.
Travel deeper and you’ll start to notice small crosses dug deep in the ground – miniature markers for miniature loved ones long passed.
You’ve stumbled upon the North Coast’s fabled “Secret Garden”, the unofficial resting place of dozens of loved pets – dogs, cats and more that have met their end, and buried by their loving owners.
Decades of long passed dogs, cats and more gentle souls keep watch of the nestled, off-beaten garden, which is plentiful in food bowls and dishes, small fences and gates, hamster cages and replica birdhouses.
It’s a place that remains guarded to the outside world, and a place that one can’t help but feel the heaviness and gravity of just how many souls had found peace within the trees and the running water.
“The area is large and peaceful. Lots of big, old trees filtering the sun on the ferns covering the ground, and a small creek winding through, adding the quiet calm of flowing water,” said North Coast resident Alexis Milton last week.
“It’s always felt like a sad peace, mostly because it’s always a very sombre occasion to go out there.”
Milton and her family have five cats buried in the area from over her 25 years living here. It was important to Milton and her family for the related pets to be close to each other after passing and where they can be “free and returned to nature”.
She thinks the name might derive from the novel, The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911, about a girl who discovers a walled-off garden and its hidden secrets. It has since been adapted into the stage, film, TV and animated realms.
“I’m not sure why it’s called the Secret Garden,” Milton said.
“It could be because it’s not officially designated as a cemetery, or it could be a reference to the story, The Secret Garden, where a garden is secretly tended to, even though the weight of mourning and loneliness is heavy, so that life still blooms.”
Recently, the Port of Prince Rupert announced a feasibility agreement with SSA Marine for a potential breakbulk terminal to be built on the southern part of Kaien Island.
Fearing the invasion of the garden by industrial usage, Milton was troubled that her grave sites and others from Prince Rupert and Port Edward may be in the way, but Port of Prince Rupert manager of corporate communications Michael Gurney put those fears to rest last week when he confirmed that the Secret Garden is located “a significant distance from the boundary of the proposed breakbulk terminal” adding that there is a sizable buffer of trees and mountainside that will separate it from the potential facility.
The garden is spread over dozens of square metres in the area and keeps getting larger. Milton figures the number of grave sites may reach the triple digits.
“We do a lot of fostering as well and there isn’t always a happy ending. So there are many kittens out there who didn’t get to have a very long life. There are probably hundreds of beloved lost pets out there, from families both in Rupert and Port Ed,” she said.
For now, the Secret Garden remains safe from prying, industrious interests and a home for countless loved feline, canine, rodent and aerial loved ones.
A sanctuary for the deceased.