Conservation and restoration of the Columbia Cemetery has been underway for four years.

Conservation and restoration of the Columbia Cemetery has been underway for four years.

A painstaking project for the dearly departed

After four years of work the Heritage Commission feels it has a much better handle on the Columbia Cemetery.

  • Aug. 7, 2014 8:00 p.m.

Jim Sinclair

Rossland News

A conscientious group of Rosslanders has succeeded in bringing greater order to a local cemetery.

The seven-member Heritage Commission has turned in a large and lengthy effort for the benefit of those whose remains are interred at the resting place, as well as the relatives and descendants who continue to arrive at the facility from all points of the globe to pay their respects.

Committee spokesperson Jackie Drysdale and her colleagues have obviously treated the task with the reverence and diligence it deserves.

She spoke with the Rossland News on August 5, supplying fascinating historical information on the updated cataloguing and restoration of the Columbia Cemetery which was created in 1899 and officially ‘decommissioned’ in 1985.

“It certainly is a point of interest for people who are coming back to this area to discover their roots,” she began. “We’ve done exhaustive research.”

The Columbia Cemetery had been the newest of several such sites in the Rossland area around the turn of the last century.

“For development reasons the City of Rossland decided it needed to create a new cemetery and bought 80 acres from the Corbin, Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway Co. They set aside 10 acres for the ‘Columbia’ cemetery. The first remains were put in during 1899,” Drysdale explained,

The cemetery had been designed by a man named Smith, according to the chair, who had also prepared the design for the City of Greenwood. It was laid out in a series of blocks, which each contained a number of plots. The grid was a radiating one, with no straight lines, making it a bit confusing to try and make sense of many years later.

Even though serious effort was devoted to keeping track of who was buried where, over the course of time and circumstance the records reflecting the contents of the Columbia Cemetery somewhere veered off course. The Columbia began to show signs of neglect, apparently, during the 1930s.

Another part of it, as commission chair Drysdale explained, related to the transferral of many remains, something she learned of by studying city council meeting minutes of the day. It was apparently part of urban redesign and involved another burial property.

“It would appear that one of the reasons why they wanted to move the Laurel Hill Cemetery (which was between Third and Fourth Avenues) was because they wanted to construct Fourth Avenue as the access out to the mining on Kootenay/Columbia Mountain,” she explained.

The other facilities were Sunnyside Cemetery, according to Drysdale, and a Catholic facility as well.

It’s been a painstaking procedure to get a realistic grasp of the situation at the Columbia Cemetery for numerous reasons. Differing criteria for burial permits was one of those reasons. In 1915, for example, information required for permits had changed significantly.

After four years of work the Heritage Commission feels it has a much better handle on the Columbia Cemetery. But there are many details of identification that, pardon the expression, have literally been taken to the grave.

“It’s very safe to say there are over 1,000 remains in the Columbia Cemetery,” says Drysdale, offering a hint at how involved the conservation and restoration has been. That’s roughly 100 more than there are confirmed identities for. As far as restoration, at least 65 monuments have been refurbished along with much grooming of the grounds.

This has only been part of the story. Check with the Rossland Historical Museum for written materials on the topic, and ask about the late September Cemetery Tour if you’re interested.