History not buried in the Moose Jaw Cemetery

Nathan Liewicki
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Headstone shapes, sizes and symbols tell stories of the past

There were no ghouls or goblins. There were crows circling overhead, but they did not tilt their head from side to side and stare into the souls of the people below them.

Mosquitoes attempted to drink my blood, but the sun’s rays pierced the clouds, shining a warm radiance upon my barely tanned forearms.

It was a Saturday morning and I was standing in a cemetery – the Moose Jaw Cemetery.

Built in 1911, the Moose Jaw Cemetery was designed to hold 5,400 graves. By 1920, it had already reached capacity. Rosedale Cemetery opened two years later.

Before the Moose Jaw Cemetery opened, people were first buried on farmland in South Hill, near where some of Moose Jaw’s oil bins are currently located. Using sonar technology, a number of those graves were dug up in 1950s and moved to their current resting place, noted Brian Bell, president of Heritage Moose Jaw.

“This cemetery allowed people of any race, creed, or colour to be buried here – everyone but First Nations people,” Bell told Heritage Cemetery Tour-takers.

Although the cemetery became a municipal heritage property on May 3, 1999, burials still take place. More than 7,000 graves now exist in the century old cemetery.

This is just one of the many factoids Bell spoke of during the two-hour tour. Among the information nuggets Bell mentioned were the varying symbols found on the many headstones.

“Ivy represents immortality … and you see this one with the lamb? It represents a child,” he explained.

There were a number of lambs on the tops of graves it made one look back in time and wonder about the thoughts in the minds of children before they died of influenza, tuberculosis, or were murdered.

As we strolled through the cemetery one of the tour-takers pointed out a squirrel with a bushy, white tail. It helped take my mind away from my thoughts of children dying without having an opportunity to live full lives.

In addition to the golf clubs, wheat sheaves, military insignia and other symbols marked on headstones, it was remarkable to see such a variety of shapes and sizes of them – mostly built of either granite, marble, or sandstone.

From Celtic crosses to low headstones with Chinese text, and from carefully carved out images of humans to a simple grave dedicated to the only known aboriginal in the cemetery, there were plenty of unique headstones.

But weren’t First Nations people banned from being buried in the Moose Jaw Cemetery?

Yes, but one exception was made – and the individual had a link to General George Custer. In fact, there is another aboriginal grave in the cemetery, but it is unmarked and the exact location of it is unknown.

I may have even walked over it.

I may also – like Doreen Bye, who was on the tour for the fourth consecutive year – join Bell for another tour.

“It speaks to how close history is to us,” Bell said.

History, no matter who you are, is exciting and there is plenty of it in the Moose Jaw Cemetery.

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: First Nations

Geographic location: South Hill, Moose Jaw

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