British Columbia

'Buried beneath our feet': book explores unusual B.C. burial sites

A historical book looking at unusual burial sites in the Okanagan has found many graves exist along popular paths still used by the public.

Historian says Kelowna's Mission Creek could be one of the area's largest unmarked 'cemeteries'

Reverend Philip Stocks died July 31, 1916 and was buried on the family property just off Westside Road near Fintry. (Carolin Robertson)

A historical book looking at unusual burials in the Central Okanagan details a past of impromptu gravesites, many of which are unmarked and exist along popular paths still used by the public today.

Isolated Burials in the Central Okanagan with Genealogies and Local History was written by Susan Campbell and Robert Hayes, members of the Kelowna and District Genealogical Society.

Hayes said Kelowna's Mission Creek Greenway which is a busy spot for joggers, cyclists, family photos and dog walkers may, in fact, be one of the areas largest unmarked "cemeteries."

"It's inevitable people are going to die along the creek, drown or be killed in accidents and generally buried where they fell," he said.

'Buried beneath our feet for all we know'

Hayes describes Mission Creek as a hub following 1860, with gold miners and settlers arriving from Eastern Canada, the United States, China and Europe.

"There's a grave marker in a church in Wales to a man named John Williams who drowned in the Okanagan on May 3, 1877 ... we did some research in mining records, and, sure enough, we found he had a claim along Mission Creek," said Hayes.

"He had dug actually 60 feet into the bank to look for gold ... and what happened? It caved in."

"He could be buried beneath our feet for all we know."

This headstone was found in Wales in memory of John Williams who died while gold mining in the Kelowna area in 1877. (David Collier)

Hayes wanted to research unusual burial sites out of curiosity but also as a service for people missing loved ones or just wishing to know more about the area.

While there is no signage to indicate where most burials took place, Hayes said their research combining archival information along with family photos and interviews has provided new insight.

'Remarkable pieces of social history'

"People were very willing to share," he said.

"These are photographs from private family archives and collections that are quite remarkable pieces of social history."

Phyllis Pattullo, the flower girl pictured left, died in 1940 of leukemia at the age of 10 and is buried in an isolated grave in the hills east of Wood Lake. (Shirley Horner.)

Hayes describes the death of an early Okanagan trapper named Alfred Taggart who "went off into the bush in April 1914 and disappeared." His remains were found the following summer.

He also recounts a tale of a Chinese worker's grave near Mission Creek that resulted in rumours of a ghost.

"That burial hadn't been done properly, and there was a ghost that was a little bit restless ... they removed the body and reburied it."

Hayes said the book is currently the only listing of many of the local deaths and burial grounds.

While he is not currently researching a follow-up, he said there are "many more graves waiting to be discovered."

This is the grave marker for Phyllis Pattullo found in the hills above Oyama. (Carolin Robertson)

With files from CBC's Daybreak South.