A historical society in B.C.'s Similkameen region says someone has been digging holes in a ghost town cemetery.

Bob Sterne and his wife, members of the Granite Creek Preservation Society who have been taking care of the Granite Creek Cemetery for more than a decade, arrived at the site on Monday evening to discover that someone had dug at least 16 holes over the weekend — all in the Chinese part of the cemetery.

Many of the graves in that section were exhumed decades ago, the bones ostensibly repatriated to China. Sterne suspects the new holes are the result of would-be treasure hunters scouring the area with metal detectors.

"Most of the holes are a foot in diameter — the kind of thing that you would see if somebody was metal detecting," Sterne said.

Granite Creek is near modern-day Coalmont, south of Kamloops and west of Penticton.

Granite Creek

An undated photo shows mining operations at Granite Creek, near modern-day Coalmont, B.C. (Granite Creek Preservation Society)

A recurring problem

Sterne says that he hasn't contacted the RCMP about the discovery because he has no information, such as licence plate numbers or descriptions of people to hand over to investigators.

Still it's not the first time Sterne has dealt with this issue.

Five or six years ago, Sterne said he encountered a group of people sweeping the Chinese section of the cemetery with metal detectors.

"I went over and said, 'you know, you realize this is a cemetery,' " Sterne said. "And they said, 'well, but this is only the Chinese section.' That was their response."

After that incident, Sterne posted a sign warning against such activity, citing the B.C. Heritage Conservation Act, which forbids damaging, desecrating or altering historical burial sites or removing human remains or objects from such sites.

"Not only is it tremendously disrespectful, it's against the law," Sterne said. "I don't think there's any excuse for anybody doing it."

Sterne has encountered other such groups since — and the sign itself was once stolen.

Granite Creek

Granite Creek, photographed here in 1888, was a mining town that was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1907. (Granite Creek Preservation Society)

A ghost town for a century

Granite Creek was a mining town that Sterne said was the third largest town in B.C. in 1886, with a population of about 2,000. Only Vancouver and New Westminster were bigger.

"It was a jumping place," Sterne said. "And it's tiny. It's like two city blocks in area."

But the town was almost completely razed by a fire in 1907, and the post office eventually closed in 1918, taking the rest of the town with it.

About a third of the miners who lived in town were of Chinese descent, Sterne said, living in an area of town known as the Chinese quarter.

Sterne said Chinese residents of Granite Creek were buried just outside the main part of the town cemetery when they died. He said it's unclear why.

He said during the mid-20th century, the province paid contractors to exhume and repatriate the remains of Chinese nationals. But the Granite Creek Preservation Society has never been able to find records of that occurring, so it's not entirely sure what happened to the bodies that were in the graves.

Sterne said records and archeological data are hard to come by, but the Granite Creek Preservation Society has been able to identify 133 graves in the cemetery, including nine empty graves in the Chinese section.

The society's records include names of 148 people said to be buried there, meaning some are in likely in unmarked graves.

Sterne urges anyone who sees anyone digging in the cemetery to record their licence plate and report them to police.

"We've seen it enough now [that] I wouldn't even bother approaching anybody anymore, myself," Sterne said. "I would just record it and go straight to the cops."

With files from Brady Strachan.