Citizens concerned by cemetery’s condition

People in Whitehorse are letting their dogs use grave sites for toilets, and they don't even know it. That was the message Grant Lundy brought to Whitehorse City Council Monday night.

People in Whitehorse are letting their dogs use grave sites for toilets, and they don’t even know it.

That was the message Grant Lundy, past president of the Yukon Order of Pioneers, brought to Whitehorse City Council Monday night.

He’s concerned about the state of the Pioneer Cemetery downtown. An estimated 800 people are buried at the site, which closed in 1965.

About a year ago, the pioneers received a complaint about the condition of the cemetery, located at 6th Avenue between Wood Street and Steele Street.

The order of pioneers is not officially affiliated with the cemetery, but is concerned by the lack of attention it has received.

It has fallen into disrepair, said Lundy. Headstones have been knocked over. Tombstones need to be cleaned up.

Many of the graves don’t have headstones, he said. Instead, stone markers in the ground say who is buried there. Not all markers are legible.

People treat the area as if it’s a dog park, said Lundy.

“That cemetery is so full of interned persons that there isn’t enough room for us to engineer a walkway through it, but they’re using it to play with their dogs,” said Lundy.

The canines walk through the area and poop all over the place, he said.

It’s hard to even know who all is buried at the site, said Lundy.

The graves in the front part of the property are all in rows, but ones at the back are “helter-skelter,” he said. “We don’t know where the heads are, the feet are. The graves have literally collapsed into the ground,” said Lundy.

More bodies are buried underneath the cul-de-sac in the wooded area at the back.

“People are driving over them, going there for lunch, going there partying with their boyfriends and girlfriends, every day,” said Lundy.

It needs to stop, he said.

The city recently installed signs saying dogs aren’t allowed in the park. But citizens are working hard to make sure more is done.

Members of the order of pioneers, the Royal Canadian Legion and the RCMP have formed a committee to restore the site. That will begin with putting up fencing around the whole property. After that, a entrance may be installed, possibly at 6th Avenue and Wood Street.

New benches and a map showing where people are buried may also be included, Lundy said.

The pioneers and legion have already contributed $10,000 towards the project. They’ve contacted the Downtown Residents Association to see if they’ll join the committee.

Rand Centre, senior landscape architect from Inukshuk Planning and Development Ltd., has been hired to do design work.

Lundy hopes service groups pitch in some funds, he said. The committee hasn’t asked for any money from the city yet, Lundy said Tuesday. But it may later on.

Before any work can happen, the group needs an X-ray machine. The area where they want to put the new entrance has not been exhumed, said Lundy. The committee needs to remove any bodies from the ground before any building can be done, he said.

Maintaining the cemetery has been controversial in the past. The Yukon government and City of Whitehorse disputed who was responsible for its upkeep in the 1960s, before the city took over responsibility.

In the 1970s, many grave markers were accidentally thrown out when people tried to clean the site.

People need to realize how important the site is, said Lundy.

“The people that are in there are the unsung heroes who founded this city and territory,” he told council.

Martin Berrigan, who built Whitehorse’s log skyscrapers, is buried there. Pioneer Cemetery is also the final resting grounds of businessmen Isaac Taylor and William Stephenson Drury, as well as Martha Louise Black, who became the second woman to be elected to Canada’s Parliament.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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