In the sizzling hot heart of mid-summer, I launched an exciting new reoccurring post series here on Witchcrafted Life called Cemetery Journeys.
The inaugural post took an in-depth look at Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery. It also delved the history of Kelowna itself, as well as that of cemeteries as a whole in Western Canada.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of non-First Nations burial grounds in this part of the world, I highly encourage you check out that post. The information it contains is applicable to many different cemeteries from around these Canadian parts and will continue to apply to most (if not all of) the various entries that this post series will house.
Despite the various challenges both of the ongoing pandemic and those that have been present in my own life throughout 2021, I am delighted to say that I’ve had a chance to visit a few different cemeteries this year (some, even, for the very first time 🥳).
The respite, happiness, serenity, spiritual connections, education, and enjoyment alike that each visit brings my taphophilia adoring soul knows no bounds.
As Tony – bless his caring heart knows – there are few more effective ways to bolster my mood and help set my world right again (or at least temporarily suspend some of my worries and stresses) than time spent at a burial ground.
Knowing this, when I’m really struggling, worried, fighting extra hard on the physical or mental health front, or otherwise in need of a pick-me-up, he often drives me to various cemeteries throughout our region. The time that I spend at them never fails to help ground me and lift my spirits (pun mildly intended, sentiment no less sincere).
Naturally, I often visit cemeteries when things are not as rough as well. The same benefits still come my way in spades and are no less appreciated whether I’m on cloud nine, hovering above rock bottom, or anywhere in between.
It means the world to me that Tony understands how much visiting cemeteries means to me and the powerfully helpful impact that doing so can have on my health, well-being, and spirituality alike.
Awesomely, he also really enjoys spending time at and photographing burial grounds. Thus, our visits to such locations are frequently ones we savour side-by-side. Making the experience all the more enjoyable and memorable for both of us.
Our springtime jaunt to Kelowna took us an hour south of our wee town of Armstrong. In the second of our cemetery journeys, we’ll be heading about half an hour north to explore the serenely beautiful Mt. Ida Cemetery in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
But first, let’s get to know this sun-kissed, Shuswap Lake-filled corner of BC – which has been a tourist hotspot for many decades now – a bit better.
A very brief history of Salmon Arm, British Columbia
To those unfamiliar with Salmon Arm, its name may, understandably, raise an eyebrow or two.
After all, salmon, like fish in general, do not have arms. 😄
Lest you think that some sort of Blinky-worthy salmon plies the waters of this province, let me assure you that the name Salmon Arm has nothing to do with appendages on fish.
Instead, it pertains to the fact that the large body of water called Shuswap Lake that Salmon Arm is located alongside has four “arms” (they are Shuswap Arm, Seymour Arm, Anstey Arm, and Salmon Arm, respectively). Each of which, historically, experienced large runs of salmon that used to fill the creeks that empty into Shuswap Lake.
This lake – one of the loveliest and most visited in the province – drains, via Little Shuswap River, into a smaller body of water called Little Shuswap Lake.
Fascinatingly, Little Shuswap Lake is the source of the South Thompson River, which is a branch of the Thompson River – itself a tributary of that lengthy, serpentine body of water that flows throughout a long swath of British Columbia, the majestic Fraser River.
Salmon Arm is located in the Shuswap Regional District of the Southern Interior region of British Columbia. Though established as a town more than a century prior, it was not until 2005 that Salmon Arm officially became a city.
Do keep in mind, my dear readers, that the term “city” is used somewhat generously here throughout Canada. With a 2016 population of just over 17,700 inhabitants, Salmon Arm won’t exactly be vying on the population front with places such as Tokyo, New York, San Paulo, Cairo, or Moscow anytime soon.
Nevertheless, a city Salmon Arm is all the same and its modest population size only helps to add to the small-town charm of this gorgeous location.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, British Columbia was awash with metal rushes, particularly those pertaining to silver and gold.
The importance of these events, the throngs of prospectors and other people they brought to British Columbia, and the towns that they helped to establish all contributed greatly to the present-day population and layout alike of this province.
In the mid-1860s, the Big Bend Gold Rush along the hefty Columbia River saw an influx of prospectors traversing the interior of BC, some of whom journeyed through the Shuswap region.
The general area was noted by famed explorer David Thompson a few decades prior however, when in 1815 he recorded a lake called “Shuswap” in his travel writings.
The first non-indegious peoples exploration started in earnest throughout the area in the mid-19th century.
In 1880s, the Canadian Pacific Railway surveyed this corner of the province. In due course, track was laid and gradually settlement sprung up in the area throughout that decade and ever onward.
As one might imagine, the first corners of the Shuswap region that were settled housed the greatest potential as agricultural centres, as well as being both accessible and logical as routes in and out of the community.
The District Municipality of Salmon Arm was officially incorporated in 1905 and though it would, for a time during the mid-20th century be classified as a village again, it did not take long for the municipality status to return in 1970.
Throughout the first years of the 20th century, Salmon Arm established a well-deserved reputation as being an excellent producer of various types of fruit – particularly apples, pears, and plums.
This orchard industry helped the budding community to grow all the more and, in the process, made it a hub of both the immediate area and of this general region of the province as a whole.
No single individual or group was solely responsible for the creation and expansion of Salmon Arm and its smaller surrounding communities (such as Westwold, Coldstream, and Enderby).
Naturally, as with most communities, various early settlers left important marks on the area and some of their names are still familiar to many locals and those with an interest in BC’s history to this day.
Amongst this group of pioneers, settlers, prospectors, entrepreneurs and others one finds individuals such as overlander Alexander Leslie Fortune.
Mr. Fortune pre-empted some land that now sits slightly south of the present-day community of Enderby – which, at the time, was called Fortune’s Landing after Alexander himself.
Prior to coming west, Fortune married a woman named Bathia Ross and the two remained wed during the twelve – yes, you read that right, twelve – long years that he was out west and she was back east in Lancaster, Ontario.
Once reunited in person, the two lived in the North Okanagan-Shuswap area for decades, where they were well known for their kindness, hospitality, generosity, and civic-mindedness.
Their important contributions to the development of this part of the province and their surname alike continue to reverberate through various corners of the region, including in the name of Fortune Creek, which runs between Enderby and Armstrong.
In 1885, during the construction of the local railway (which was completed the following year), a brewery and gambling house called Dutch Charlie’s opened its doors. That same year, the first house in Salmon Arm was built by a German settler on what is today Beatty Street.
Dutch Charlie’s would be a relatively short-lived operation, however, with provincial police shutting it down in 1890 after an unsolved murder occurred on the premise.
In 1907, the first local newspaper – The Salmon Arm Observer – went into production. It remains in operation, including in digital form, to this day.
The Shuswap District (aka, Shuswap Region) sits immediately atop the Okanagan Region and to the East of the Thompson-Nicola District (in which one finds the city of Kamloops, which, with a population just shy of 100,000 inhabitants, is the province’s 12th largest municipality).
Much as with Okanagan Lake to the south, Shuswap Lake experienced a good deal of travel via boat, with the S.S. Marten (a Hudson’s Bay Company-operated steamer) being the first commercial boat to set sail on the sparkling waters of this lake.
This occurred back in 1866 and while Shuswap Lake have not been used as a primary means of transportation or commerce in the area for a number of decades now, it is still enjoyed by many pleasure crafters, swimmers, kayakers, paddleboarders, and others every year.
Salmon Arm has experienced continued population and industry expansion for many years now. As the largest community in the Shuswap region (and one that is situated on the majestic 89 kilometre/55 mile long Shuswap Lake), it is no surprise that tourists and those looking to relocate to the area flock to this picturesque corner of BC.
These days, Salmon Arm’s economy is guided by numerous sources, including tourism, lumber (sawmills have operated in the area since the late Victorian era), dairy farming, orchards, and manufacturing.
Visitors and residents alike enjoy the beaches, walking paths, and other amenities offered by Shuswap Lake, as well as the city’s museums (including the wonderful RJ Haney Heritage Park & Museum, which I’ve shared photos of over the years on my Instagram account), art gallery, local theatre group, assortment of both chain and independently operated shops, and the stunning outdoor scenery that surrounds and fills the town.
Salmon Arm is flanked by numerous lofty hills and mountains, and it is from one of the latter that the city’s primary burial ground, Mt. Ida Cemetery, takes its name.
Mt. Ida Cemetery in Salmon Arm
British Columbia’s cemeteries might not be the oldest in the world, but they must surely be amongst the most picturesque and peaceful.
A good many were built in areas that remain rich with breathtaking natural scenery to this day. Abundant trees, small hills, wildflowers and other natural charms often share space with gravestones whose dates span a century or more at this point.
This is precisely the case when it comes to Salmon Arm’s oldest and largest burial ground: Mt. Ida Cemetery.
This idyllically pretty Shuswap District cemetery is located at 2290 Foothill Road SW, Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
It is open between 7 am and 8 pm daily, year-round.
Mt. Ida, the actual mountain, is believed to have been named in the 1870s (possibly by a Mr. J. Richardson) after Mount Ida on the island of Crete.
It should be noted that Mt. Ida in Salmon Arm, BC, is not related to the identically named Mt. Ida that is located in Kakwa Provincial Park, BC. The latter of which, at an impressive 3,192 metres tall and boasting a classic pyramidal shape, more than earns its nickname as the Matterhorn of the North.
In addition, it is important to remember that Mt. Ida is the name that the mountain in the Shuswap was given by white settlers. In the language of the local First Nations Peoples, this hill is known as Kela7scen, and it is considered a sacred site to indigenous communities of this area.
As a population began to be established in Salmon Arm and its smaller satellite communities, a cemetery naturally became a needed element of the township.
Once a suitable location was determined on the (then) outskirts of town, Mt. Ida Cemetery was opened and saw its first burial in 1894.
Two years after passing away from tuberculous at the age of just 26, Mr. Charles McGuire was reinterred at the Mt. Ida Cemetery. He was the son of Sarah Agnes and Alexander McGuire, two of the area’s earliest non-First Nations inhabitants.
After its closure as a public house, it was Charles McGuire who helped to turn Dutch Charlie’s into a locl trading post, all the while working to secure the burgeoning community’s mail contract.
The family’s name lives on in the area to this day via McGuire Lake and the adjacent McGuire Lake Park in Salmon Arm.
At the time of its opening, Mt. Ida Cemetery was a modest one acre of land that had been purchased by the local Methodist community with the (presumed) aim of it being a Methodist focused burial ground.
The Salmon Arm Reporter tells us that in 1909, ownership of Mt. Ida Cemetery was transferred to the municipality of Salmon Arm, under whose care it has remained ever since.
As one might expect, a fair number of the area’s first settlers and some of their descents have been laid to rest in Mt. Ida Cemetery over the years.
The earliest sections of the cemetery are now more than 125 years old and numerous headstones exist there which date from the 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, and 1920s. With continued burials from that point onward to the present day occuring throughout the grounds of this cemetery.
While the whole of Mt. Ida Cemetery is now considerably larger than its single acre beginnings, it is not so huge or challenging to traverse that one cannot explore the whole of it in a single outing – time, weather, and other circumstances permitting, of course.
The Old Section of the cemetery, as the original section is known by locals, includes a captivating array of grave markers and headstones.
These include such styles as tabletop markers, tablet stones, set-ins, ledgers, obelisks, urns, open books, lambs and doves (typically used for those who passed away at a very young age), and numerous sizes and types of crosses, including Celtic crosses.
This portion of Mt. Ida Cemetery is located on a tranquil grass knoll that basks in the refreshing shade and beauty of numerous maple trees, all of which reside at the foothills, so to speak, of Mt. Ida itself.
In addition to those of Northern and Central European ancestry, amongst Mt. Ida’s earliest residents, one finds members of the Chinese Canadian community as well. Later interments include those from many different parts of the world and numerous grave markers appear in languages other than English.
Mt. Ida Cemetery is maintained by the city of Salmon Arm and like many Canadian burial grounds, includes a section specifically for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
In addition, a touchingly lovely memorial cairn has been placed to the right of this section of the cemetery with small plaques bearing the names of fifty local veterans.
According to the Findagrave.com entry from Mt. Ida Cemetery, as of the time this post is being written (in November 2021), there are approximately 5,302 memorials on the premise. A space that sprawls across about 110 acres, only nine of which have been deemed suitable for internment usage.
Annually, about 75 to 80 new individuals are being housed at Mt. Ida Cemetery.
In addition to in-ground burials, the city of Salmon Arm recently put installed a new 24-unit columbarium for cremation internments.
Interestingly, as Mt. Ida Cemetery is now nearing the maximum number of burials that are permitted in the suitable ground that is available, the city has obtained a new piece of land and is developing the Shuswap Memorial Cemetery on it.
This newly constructed 25-acre cemetery is located at the southeast end of Salmon Arm at 2700 20th Avenue SE. It provides grave plots, scattering gardens, family vessels, and columbariums.
A peaceful early autumn visit to Mt. Ida Cemetery
In the first days of this fall, Tony and I decided to take a late afternoon drive up to Salmon Arm.
More than a year had passed since we had last stopped in to visit Mt. Ida Cemetery while in Salmon Arm and the start of what is both of our favourite season seemed like an ideal time to do so again.
While I have photographed parts of Mt. Ida Cemetery on previous visits, I’ve not yet shared many (if any) of those images publicly (though hope to do so as time goes on).
All of the images of Mt. Ida Cemetery housed in this blog post were taken by me with my iPhone in September 2021.
The day we were there was chillier than one might expect for the very start of autumn and rain had fallen prior to our arrival at the cemetery.
A few brief spits tumbled down while we were there, too, but not enough to send us fleeing for the car.
The sky overhead summersaulted between hues and intensity of light. One moment it was a mix of dusty periwinkle and aged sand, the next glisteningly blue, and the next still as grey as the antique headstones that dot the property itself.
All around us, the many trees, shrubs, and other greenery of Mt. Ida Cemetery were embracing the current season and glowing resplendently in their early fall colours.
Much of the earth and bark mulch at Mt. Ida has a warm, naturally reddish-brown colour to it which was brought to the fore all the more by the damp conditions and accompanying fall foliage.
I will happily visit a cemetery at any point in the year, but especially welcome the opportunity to do so during the autumn months.
Not only does the local landscape stand to be awe-inspiringly gorgeous, but the powerful connection between the departed and the weeks that span the Pagan sabbats of Mabon and Samhain provide an even greater spiritual connection, as the veil thins to its most gossamer point in the year.
On this visit, knowing that I would be blogging about the history of Mt. Ida Cemetery, I was keen to cover as much ground there as I realistically could before the day’s light gave up the ghost.
While, interestingly, I did not spy Charles McGuire’s headstone (I will be keeping an eye out for it on future visits), I did have the pleasure of documenting many other early grave markers belonging to some of the area’s first settlers.
When visiting a cemetery, my interest and focus generally lies with pre-circa 1960s inhabitents. However, I make a point of exploring as much of a given burial ground as I possibly can. And, in the process, reflecting on and paying my respects to both the more recently departed and those who have been laid to rest for a good many years now.
If you are planning a visit to Mt. Ida Cemetery in Salmon Arm, BC, and wish to explore it thoroughly, I would suggest allotting anywhere from 2 to 4+ hours to do so.
Having been there before, I had a lay of the land already (including knowing where the Old Section is located) and that helped to save time.
There are no washrooms on premise (objectively, few cemeteries I have ever been to included public washrooms), however, there are a small number of benches around the property if you wish or need to stop and get off your feet for a while.
The terraian is a mix of unpaved and paved paths, as well as ample grass and bare soil covered ground.
If you visit from about May to mid-September (or later still if it is an especially warm autumn), please note that the mosquitoes on the property can be brutally thick.
A previous summertime visit saw me inundated by more mosquitoes than at almost any other time and place in my entire life.
All that to say, if you pop by Mt. Ida during the warmer months, use bug spray and wear clothing that covers as much of your body as possible.
Much to our delight and relief, nary a single mosquito was spotted while we were there at the start of this autumn.
As well, once the snowy season returns it becomes trickier to traverse the whole of the cemetery on foot unless one is sporting suitable wintertime footwear, such as snow boots or even snowshoes.
However, that said, the paved and unpaved pathways (some of which cars are permitted to drive on) should be a bit easier to tackle even in the snow.
Given its relatively close proximity to our house, the fairly large number of interments, and the rich history that this burial ground contains, it is safe to say that will continue to visit Mt. Ida Cemetery from time to time.
Especially during the fall months, when this historic Shuswap District cemetery presents a celebration of both departed human lives and the last days of the year’s mesmerizing foliage.
Have you ever visited Salmon Arm’s Mt. Ida Cemetery? Which of the grave markers featured in this post sparked your interest the most? 🍂🤎🍂
Explore additional burial grounds that have been visited in the Cemetery Journeys post series:
–Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery, Kelowna, British Columbia