Honour the deceased

Honour the deceased It's a big deal when a municipality such as ours takes over the responsibility for something as sacred as one of our oldest cemeteries. It's a bigger deal when that steward destroys half of the grave markers (the wooden ones) in the b

It’s a big deal when a municipality such as ours takes over the responsibility for something as sacred as one of our oldest cemeteries. It’s a bigger deal when that steward destroys half of the grave markers (the wooden ones) in the belief that it is tidying up. For many of us with unidentified relatives in that cemetery, however, the pinnacle of atrocity would be the desecration of those lost, final, resting places.

Last week the groundworks were being laid for just such an atrocity, when the City of Whitehorse moved to transfer a portion of the Pioneer Cemetery to the Yukon government.

Few historical records remain about any of the burials in the Pioneer Cemetery, but we know for a fact that Martha Louise Black died on Oct. 31, 1957 and was interned with a full state funeral on Nov. 1. The same dates stand for Jeffery Kenneth Howell. It was 6 C that day, making the cemetery difficult to access, so Mrs. Black was buried very close to the road. The same consideration would have been given to Jeff.

Looking down the Steele St. extension, dividing the cemetery from the transferring lots, it is clear where the Steele Street line cuts through the turnaround at the southwest end of the cemetery. That turnaround is filled with gravesites, both marked and unmarked. This would have been the most easily accessed part of the cemetery away from Mrs Blacks’ state funeral that day.

Ground-penetrating radar and an excavation crew are not necessary when it comes to discovering the burial sites. One needs only open your eyes to see four smaller, grave-shaped, depressions beside and (almost) right on the road. As a casual search continues, several more can be seen nearby. The same is true for the remainder of the Pioneer Cemetery.

Further, because the Pioneer Cemetery was the only active cemetery at the height of the residential schools tragedy, First Nations have also found themselves deeply concerned. Nobody knows where half of the people buried here are, so many Yukoners, whose predecessors may not have had the money for a stone headpiece, probably have a dead relative in an unmarked grave here.

I suspect that the message resonated politically as well. Mayor Dan Curtis seemed much more contrite than the mayor who was driven to make things happen last week, and the minister responsible for social services, Doug Graham, even showed up prior to the final vote, formally reassuring all that no desecrations would happen. In fact, in conversation later, Minister Graham and I spoke about the possible redrawing of the property line so that it simply does not tear through the area of interest.

So I suppose this is a letter of thanks to those who have accepted this moment in time as a reminder of the duty of care that we all have in the preservation of our history and our unique Yukon-style ethics of respect, duty and honour.

Looking forward to watching how this all plays out.

Scott Howell


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read