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Hold off on Pioneer Cemetery transfer, council told

Scott Howell doesn't know where his brothers are buried and, according to him, neither does the city that buried them. Howell spoke at Whitehorse’s city council meeting Tuesday night.

Scott Howell doesn’t know where his brothers are buried and, according to him, neither does the city that buried them.

Howell spoke at Whitehorse’s city council meeting Tuesday night, asking the city to hold off transferring part of the old Pioneer Cemetery to the territorial government.

The city is planning to transfer a parcel of land behind the Sarah Steele treatment centre to the territorial government so it can build a new detox facility.

But that land has between six and eight possible graves on it, and two of them could hold Howell’s brothers.

“I have two brothers in there, and I don’t know where they are. You don’t. What I’m saying is that it’s probably a dereliction of duty to sell the property before the City of Whitehorse fixes the mess that they admit to making in that graveyard,” Howell said.

Twenty years ago, when the city took over the land, it began what it now calls a “misguided” attempt to clean up the cemetery, and removed all the wooden grave markers.

Now there are an estimated 200 “lost graves,” Howell said, and the city hasn’t done due diligence in making amends for the mistake.

“I’d like to see the third reading of the (motion) to give this property over to the territorial government fail. There are a lot of unanswered questions in there, and I don’t think the city is ready for it,” Howell said.

Howell has some surprising details about where his brother may be buried.

On Nov. 1, 1957, a state funeral was held for Martha Black, a former commissioner of the Yukon and the second woman ever elected to the Canadian House of Commons. It was a funeral fit for a remarkable and historic woman. Black’s resting place is well known.

But on that same day a smaller funeral was also held to bury an infant boy from a modest family. That child was Howell’s older brother Jeff, and exactly where he now lies is a mystery.

It’s possible that Howell’s missing sibling is in one of the six or eight “sites of interest” behind the Sarah Steele building that the city wants to sell.

Councillor Kirk Cameron pointed out that the Order of Yukon Pioneers is already doing a survey of the land in question, studying the ground with radar.

“If we were to relax on this and give time for that to be completed, would that help you with your journey?” Cameron asked.

It would, Howell said, but that only takes care of one issue. The second is what to do about the other missing graves inside the current cemetery’s bounds.

“There has to be some formal recognition,” Howell said.

“There is absolutely no way you’re going to dig up every grave and do DNA testing to figure out who’s who.

“It’s not in that bad of shape, but it is being abused. There is dog poop there, and late night partying. For the most part it’s really not recognized as the treasured historic site that it should be,” he said.

John Streicker asked what the city could do to help make amends and properly recognize those who lie in the unmarked graves.

A memorial wall would be a good option, Howell said.

“A stone wall around the perimeter of the lost graves would be a beautiful memorial,” he said.

Council plans to make a decision on the land and the cemetery later this month.

Contact Jesse Winter at