Obituary Guide

Get to Know Your Local Cemetery

Brandon Sun, June 10, 2013

David McConkey

If you would like to get in touch with your community’s heritage, then get to know your local cemetery. To become acquainted with the cemetery is to remember and recognize your fellow citizens, their lives and deaths.

Manitobans have a valuable resource in the two-volume series by Charles and Dale Brawn, Every Stone a Story: Manitoba's Buried History. (In Canada: Every Stone a Story.)

The books have dozens of fascinating stories. You can discover everyone from premiers to murderers; from visionaries who made history to victims of the mayhem of history.

Brandonites have the Brandon Municipal Cemetery, which dates from the earliest days of the city.

After Brandon’s founding in 1881, funeral homes and the cemetery itself were among the first businesses to be established. In the early 1900s, the City of Brandon purchased the cemetery, which had been privately owned and operated. The city also expanded the site by buying other nearby property.

Today, the Brandon Cemetery has more than 20,000 interments.

You can get to know the cemetery better with two walking tours: “Gossip in the Graveyard” and What Lies Beneath

“Gossip in the Graveyard” is a two-hour walk highlighting some of the intriguing people buried in the cemetery. Actors from 7 Ages Productions, under artistic director George Buri, portray these characters at their graves. You can even chat with each of them about their life and death. 
 
This year’s “Gossip” is on Saturday June 22 and Sunday June 23.

Sponsored by Brockie Donovan Funeral Home, “Gossip in the Graveyard” sells out every year. Tickets are $15 from Kelly Lumbard, 204-724-2682. Proceeds are donated to Westman Hospice. 

What Lies Beneath is a City of Brandon self-guided walking tour of the cemetery.
 
Some graves on the tour probably ring a bell as the names of city businesses, streets and buildings. Like George Brockie, Ernest Christie, Flora Cowan, A.E. McKenzie, and Henry Patmore.
 
Others – like Wilfred Bigelow or George Tackaberry – could be more familiar to us. As a community, we could do a better job of recognizing notable citizens from our past. One way would be to name new streets after them.

The “What Lies Beneath” tour can be followed online. The virtual tour has a photo of each gravesite and a summary of the individual’s life.

You can also take the tour by walking through the cemetery. Tour booklets are available at the cemetery office and at the Riverbank Discovery Centre.

A suggestion I have mentioned before: put the booklet online. Then anyone can print a copy for themselves and walk through the cemetery whenever they like.
 
You can also search for any grave on the City of Brandon’s website. This is an excellent resource for family or historical research. Note that you can look for someone even if you know only some of their information. (There are some gaps in the historical record, however, of the early years of the cemetery.)

The Brandon Cemetery could be even more inviting to visitors if we took a leaf from the Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg.

At the Brookside Cemetery, fitness trails are marked throughout the grounds. Prominent burial sites and points of interest are identified for those strolling, jogging or bicycling along.

In addition, there are historical plaques describing especially interesting gravesites.

One of these plaques identifies the grave of veterinarian Harry Colebourn (1887 - 1947). While serving in the First World War, he took an orphaned bear cub with him to the United Kingdom. Colebourn named the bear Winnie (after Winnipeg) and donated it to the London Zoo. Winnie the bear inspired A.A. Milne to pen the children’s stories.
 
Another plaque remembers the Dugald train disaster, which killed 31 people in 1947. Many of the victims are buried in the Brookside Cemetery.

The Dugald accident has an eerie echo of the Brandon train disaster, which killed 19 people in 1916. All of those victims are buried in the Brandon Cemetery – but they are largely forgotten today.

I will return to the Brandon Cemetery again. There are so many stories!

I will also return to “Doors Open Brandon” on the July 20 - 21 weekend. (For information: Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee, 204-720-1432 or Heritage Brandon.) As part of this year’s event, I will host a leisurely four-kilometre bicycle tour of historic Brandon parks.

* * *
See Also:

Cemeteries on Amazon.com    (on Amazon.ca)

Tours, Book Bring Cemetery to Life 

“Memoir Man” a Born Storyteller

Obituaries in American Culture: A Review

Memoir Writing: Ten Tips

A Family History Writing Workshop



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