A grave matter

Carter Haydu
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The gravesite of Arthur Reginald Dobson is among the thousands located in Saskatoon's Woodlawn Cemetery.

I don’t know much about my maternal great grandfather — Arthur Reginald Dobson. I know he came from an aristocratic English family, born and raised in East India when it was still part of the British Empire.

However, his short life did not end in such comfortable circumstances. At age 29, he passed away with kidney disease at a Saskatoon hospital in 1916 — a poor Alberta farmer who left behind a widow and two sons. That’s really all I know about him.

My great grandmother quickly remarried, as was the custom of that time. Her second husband is the one my mom remembers, and hence is the one I grew up hearing stories about and is the one my mother considers “Granddad.”

This past week, though, Bev Haydu and I were in Saskatoon and decided to find the gravesite of her biological grandfather.

Locating his final resting spot was actually incredibly easy, thanks to the City of Saskatoon’s website, which lists the gravesite of everyone buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in alphabetical order.

Unfortunately, as easy as it was to find, the gravestone of my great grandfather was not equally easy on the eyes. After almost a century of neglect and weather, the marble cross had fractured and become loosened from its cement base.

Almost instinctively, Mother and I immediately started to cleanup the marker. I took an ice scraper from the car trunk and removed as much of the caked-on moss as possible.

Next to the cemetery is Eternal Memorials, a small business specializing in tombstones. We drove up and asked manager Russ Boyko if he could take a look at the gravestone and possibly fix it. For a relatively modest cost, he offered a couple of solutions. He could either replace the failing cross with a more sturdy plaque, or else try to fasten the fractured cross together.

Mom is going to consult her three siblings and one cousin to see what they think should be done. However, she is determined to see the gravesite of her grandfather rejuvenated to hopefully last another 96 years.

It is indeed an interesting experience to come across the grave of an ancestor who died long before I was even born. There is a strange connection I felt towards the monument erected in his memory — a familiarity that seems to reach across the decades.

And there’s a sort of sadness that accompanies this familiarity. Great-Grandpa Dobson is entirely alone and isolated from those who where important in his life. While he lays in a cemetery in Saskatoon, his two boys (who both passed away as old men) are buried in Oxville Cemetery near Paradise Valley, Alta. — the likely future final resting place for my own earthly remains.

My great-grandfather’s wife is buried alongside her second husband in a cemetery near the hamlet of McLaughlin, Alta.

It must have been a horrible tragedy for Great-Grandpa Dobson, as the young man neared death in a hospital far from his home, knowing he would leave behind his beloved family forever.

Somehow, it seems almost doubly cruel that his family would then move on from him so completely, and that life would continue in his absence until all those who remember him passed away themselves, and eventually there is nothing left but an aging, derelict gravestone that will disappear in time as well.

But I suppose, more or less, that is the fate that awaits us all.


Carter Haydu can be reached at 691-1265.

Organizations: East India, British Empire, Saskatoon hospital

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Alberta, Paradise Valley

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