July 14th, 2024

Cemetery tours offer insights into early days of Lethbridge

By Lethbridge Herald on October 24, 2023.

Herald photo by Theodora MacLeod Kristin Krein, of the Galt Museum, and tour attendees gather at the shared burial site of siblings, Clarence and Sarah Perry, who died in 1887 and 1891, on Thursday's flashlight tour of St. Patrick's Cemetery.

Theodora Macleod

While some might consider walking through a cemetery, illuminated only by the moon and a handful of flashlights, a macabre activity, for a group of local history enthusiasts, it was well worth navigating the uneven terrain of St. Patrick’s Cemetery on Thursday night. Hosted by the Galt Museum and guided by community program coordinator, Kristin Krein, the event offered both an insight into the early days of Lethbridge as a city, and the opportunity to gather in the serenity of an environment that could be described as dead quiet. 

Originally researched and compiled by historian and author, Belinda Crowson, the tour outlines the lives and experiences of some of the earliest people laid to rest in the cemetery, giving attendees a more intimate understanding of the residents who came before them. Many of the biographies are ladened with heartbreak, harrowing reminders of how living conditions and lifestyles have evolved. 

One notable headstone, adorned with a sleeping lamb and engraved with the words “Our Darling” marks the burial site of Peachie Cox, an eleven-year-old girl who died in July of 1904. According to Krein, as well as an article published in the Lethbridge Herald at the time, the girl was on the front of a loaded wagon when uneven terrain sent her tumbling from the vehicle.

 She was crushed by two of the wheels and died. With her father in Winnipeg, Peachie’s siblings were forced to transport her body from Grassy Lake to Lethbridge, a journey that today, taking the highway, is 85.6 kilometres and nearly an hour long. 

For some, the question of why likely remains. Why gather at gravesites in the dark? Though Krein isn’t certain on the exact origins of the tour, they believe it is an important event. 

“Some of this, in my understanding, is telling the stories of our city, and you can’t tell the stories, the history of our city, without the history of its death.”

Within St. Patrick’s Cemetery are different sections.

 An area where employees of the mines were buried, a section for members of the Chinese community, a part for Catholics– the unconsecrated in a subsection of their own, and a lot for Protestants. 

Each of the sections with stories of their own that contribute to the overall understanding of what Lethbridge once was how that has impacted what it is today.  

There are, however, gaps in the research. As is unfortunately common, the archives that contain Lethbridge’s history are missing some voices. Little is known about the women who impacted the city, with records and news articles often referring to them by their relation to the men in their lives, their stories revolving mainly around a father or husbands. Similarly, is the case for members of the Indigenous community. Though strides are being made in the recognition of diverse voices, the lack of primary sources– historical documents, articles, anything existing at the time– including women, people of colour, Indigenous people, and other underrepresented demographics tells a story in and of itself. 

The absence of those perspectives in documents reflecting the disregard that was prevalent at the time. 

Though the timing may feel all too appropriate to wander a cemetery under a darkened sky, with Halloween just days away, Krein says the daylight versions of the tour are no less popular.

 “It piques curiosity on all levels,” they say. “No matter when I do cemetery tours, they sell out, but I’m not entirely positive if it is cemetery based, or if it’s local history buffs, or if it’s people who want to know more about their family and legacy.”

Whatever the reason, Krein is passionate about sharing the history of Lethbridge, and if the tour of St. Patrick’s Cemetery is any indication, there is much more to be shared and there are many people eager to learn. 

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