There is a certain poetic irony laced in the earnest beauty of the shared human experience regarding the fact that cemeteries have been amongst the few places some of us have felt comfortable (or been permitted by law) to visit since the pandemic began.
Cemeteries and graveyards in some parts of the world have been closed to the general public during these highly challenging times, but many have remained open – frequently with Covid safety measures in place.
As a passionate taphophile, I have been visiting cemeteries since my youth. These sacred spots of eternal slumber are amongst the most serene, comforting, enjoyable, inspiring, and beautiful I have ever known.
Another irony is that cemeteries often make me feel more alive. They conjure all manner of thoughts and emotions pertaining to death, as well as to the gift of life.
Cemeteries are not amusement parks, and while there is no shame at all in feeling happy or content at a cemetery, it is important to always remember the somberness and loss they signify for many on this side of the veil who have endured the passing of a loved one.
When I spend time at a cemetery, I make a point to reflect not only on the lives of those interred there, but also on the impact their passing may have had on those who knew and cared about them.
Not everyone who dies is buried or interred in a cemetery or graveyard. Yet, no matter our final resting place, we are all connected from the very first human to the last who will ever exist by the unifying certainty that is death.
Visiting cemeteries outside of reasons such as funerals, genealogical or historical research is not everyone’s cup of tea.
I acknowledge and respect this fact. We are each different, each called to by various places and passions throughout our life.
Whether you define yourself as a taphophile or not, if you have even an inkling of an interest in graveyards, cemeteries, and the like, I hope will enjoy a new periodically occurring post series here in which I take you along with me as I explore (and sometimes reexplore) cemeteries that I have visited in person.
I am dubbing this post series “Cemetery Journeys”.
This name is both literal in the sense of that it will document trips/journeys to various cemeteries around Canada (and who knows, perhaps further afield, too 😃), as well as being a respectful homage to the fact that, ultimately, we are all on a journey to the grave.
Launching a series like this is something I have been keen to do since Witchcrafted Life began last year.
Now (with the first harvest sabbat of Lammas under our belts and the exciting journey towards fall, Mabon, and Samhain upon us) seemed like the ideal time to do so. And what better cemetery to begin with than one from our very own region of British Columbia: the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery.
An extremely brief history of Kelowna, British Columbia
As the largest city in this province outside of the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia, it is only natural that Kelowna serves as a hub for the valley – called the Okanagan Valley – in which it resides. Doing so, quite conveniently, in the center of this region.
Many thousands of years before the earliest Europeans set foot on the arid soil of the sun-drenched Okanagan Valley, the area was inhabited by the Sylix/Okanagan People.
This part of BC was not entirely unknown to Europeans – chiefly those involved with the fur trade in Western Canada – in the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, it was not until 1859 that the first non-First Nations settlement was established in Kelowna.
This effort was led by a man whose name is now embedded in the area and who is still spoken of affectionately to this day by generations who never got the chance to met him: Father Pandosy.
Two other Oblate missionaries, Father Richard and Brother Surel, respectively, also had key roles in establishing a mission in what would one day become the city of Kelowna.
The formation of this mission helped to entice settlers from elsewhere in the province, country, and further afield to the budding community. Following that, it wasn’t too long before Kelowna’s roots as a city were firmly planted.
As the century began to tapper, Kelowna got a further boon when in 1893 the Governor-General of Canada, Lord Aberdeen, purchased a substantial amount of land in the area. Much of this land would be used for orchards, which did a great deal to bolster the area’s economy (the Okanagan Valley in general is one of North America’s largest fruit and viticulture growing centers).
As the 20th century emerged, Kelowna’s population continued to be on the smaller side of things, sitting at about 600 inhabitants. However, that was still enough to land Kelowna status as a city in 1905.
The name Kelowna derives from an Okanagan First Nation word for grizzly bear. A majestic creature that feels like an especially fitting animal to associate with a city nestled in the heart of a wild, desert-like landscape that is famed for its breathtaking nature beauty.
In the days before roads, highways, and even railways, snaked their way to the Okanagan, much of the traffic to and from Kelowna was carried out via sternwheeler boats that plied the abundant waters of Okanagan Lake.
With mining thriving in various parts of Central and Northern BC during the early 20th century, it wasn’t long before the Canadian Pacific Railway came calling.
A touch east of Kelowna, track was laid across a beautiful chasm called Myra Canyon. From the years spanning 1916 to 1972, CPR trains traversed Myra Canyon and in doing so, helped to open up the area, bolster its economy, and put Kelowna on the map all the more.
These days, Kelowna has a population of just over 132,000 people.
Compared to many cities around the world, that might seem fairly small. However, for a province that only been inhabited by European (and other international) settlers for about two centuries now, Kelowna is quite a decent size.
Indeed, many corners of BC were not established (as the towns and cities that they are now) until the late 1800s or early 1900s.
As such, the fact that Kelowna got its start in the mid-Victorian era helps to make it one of the oldest continually settled corners of the province – especially north of the Fraser Valley/Lower Mainland area of the province. (The first white settlement in British Columbia was established in the 1790s at Fort St. John in northeastern BC.)
Naturally, as with most communities, it did not take too long for Kelowna to require, and in turn construct, a cemetery of its own.
Kelowna has had, and continues to have, various cemeteries throughout its lifetime. In this post, we are going to explore the largest of them, the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery.
Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery
Located at 1991 Bernard Avenue in Kelowna, British Columbia, the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetary spans a rolling, beautiful 50-acre space at the foot of Dilworth Mountain. It is immediately adjacent to the Kelowna Golf & Country Club, and the relative serenity of both make them well-suited neighbours.
For those wishing to visit, the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery is open 365 days a year from 7 am – 8 pm between March 16th and October 31st, and from 7 am to 5 pm from November 1st to March 15th.
This summer’s tour is “Kelowna’s Forgotten Chinatown”, led by local historian Bob Hayes.
Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery got its start as an Anglican Church burial ground at the turn of the last century, blossoming in the ensuing decades into a sprawling multi-cultural, historically rich cemetery with, at present, more than 25,000 memorials.
A cursory glance of the grounds that comprise the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery can be a touch deceiving. At first sight, the cemetery may not seem as large as one might expect for a city the size of Kelowna.
However, it takes but a few minutes (especially if they’re spent on foot) to quickly realize that this is anything but a small cemetery.
Fifry acres is nothing to sneeze at and while it is certainly possible for one to traverse the whole of Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery in a single (good-sized) visit, you may wish to split seeing the entire cemetery across multiple days.
That has been my approach. Done both because of the size of this burial ground and because I truly like to take my time and connect with each cemetery, and its inhabitants, that I have the joy of visiting.
Cemeteries in British Columbia, Canada
As it is safe to say that most of the cemeteries that I highlight here in this engaging new blog post series are apt to be ones located in British Columbia (where I live), we should touch on some points about cemeteries in BC in general before proceeding further.
As a collective whole, Canada is, from a non-First Nations Peoples standpoint, a very young country.
We officially became a nation in 1867, though our non-indigenous history stretches back a few hundred years earlier. Nevertheless, we’re a relative newcomer on the world stage compared to many other countries and this fact is reflected in Canada’s cemeteries.
Extremely few Canadian cemeteries proceed the mid-1700s and many are far newer still, having been established in the 19th or 20th centuries. (An unmarked burial site in the Maritime province of Nova Scotia is believed to house European settler graves that may date back to around the 1680s.)
Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the vast majority of Canada’s European population was located on the Eastern side of the country – which still houses the largest portion of this nation’s inhabitants.
Gradually, western expansion and exploration unfolded. From the long treks of a small number of intrepid adventurers, hearty explorers, and fortune seekers alike, followed waves of more what might be termed more generalized migration to British Columbia.
With a shoreline nestled against the mighty Pacific Ocean, British Columbia is Canada’s most westerly province.
Before the days of planes, trains, and automobiles, it could only be reached by water travel or a lengthy overland journey which often encompassed crossing the formidable Rocky Mountains.
As a land of diverse climates, ample opportunities, and staggering natural beauty, once the western expansion ball got rolling, it didn’t take too long for BC to flourish.
New communities, towns, and cities alike sprang up rapidly through various parts of the province during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some – particularly when mining was involved – were relatively short-lived. Plenty though were able to not only survive, but thrive, and now account for why BC is Canada’s third most populous province.
While no shortage of fortunes were made (and plenty lost) in BC’s early days, by and large, the population that settled here was comprised of hardworking everyday folks eking out a living, building families and community ties, and helping to turn this province into the wonderful place that it is today.
What, you may be asking, does this have to do with the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery and BC’s cemeteries in general?
The answer lies in the relative humbleness and understated designs of the grave markers and other memorial elements that comprise most cemeteries in British Columbia (and to a degree, throughout much of Canada in general) – as well as the size of the cemeteries themselves.
Are there exceptions to that statement? Absolutely! One need only look, for example, to Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver or Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria to see expansive cemeteries that include an array of more ornate memorials. Many of which date to the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
However, as a whole, BC’s cemeteries are humble affairs. Few teem with the iconic colonial-era headstones of some of the graveyards in the Eastern United States or the jaw-dropping artistry and grandeur of cemeteries such as Kensal Green and Highgate in London, England.
Yet, even so, it is safe to say that each of British Columbia’s cemeteries has a heartwarmingly enduring beauty all its own.
They, like most cemeteries and graveyards the world over, also rarely lack for history – whether that past can quickly be learned about in books, museums, and online or if much of it has now been enveloped by the murky ethers of time.
A springtime visit to Kelowna Memorial Cemetery
On one of those mid-spring days when the weather has more sides to it than an octagon, my husband, Tony, and I decided to spend an enjoyable afternoon visiting the Kelowna Memorial Cemetery.
Covid rules were (and still are at the time of writing) in place and we made sure to respect them fully.
Despite the relatively mild weather that was flip-flopping from overcast to briefly sunny and back again, we saw almost no other visitors to the grounds the whole time we were there.
That isn’t to say that there weren’t potentially some there. Simply that the vastness of the 50 acres of this cemetery easily allowed us to walk for hours without encountering another living soul on that particular day.
Our visit was a general one. We didn’t come with any specific goal or research purpose in mind.
This outing was about shaking off some of the cabin fever of winter, spending time getting to know the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery (which is located just over an hour’s drive south of our small town) better, and taking photos of some of the graves and other structures on the premise.
Many a headstone and grave marker calls the Kelowna Memorial Cemetery home. In addition, cremations are housed in cremation niches, crypts, and columbaries, particularly in a part of the cemetery called the Legacy Gardens.
Like a lot of taphophiles and graveyard adventurers (though not all, of course), I find myself – a lifelong lover and student of history – drawn to older graves.
Thankfully, Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery is happy to oblige those with a passion for the past. Various portions of the cemetery are divided into lettered sections, with the first, Section A (also known as the Pioneer Section), being dedicated to some of the oldest inhabitants.
Amongst which various founders of Kelowna are laid to rest, including a chap named Bernard Lequime who, in the 1890s, laid out the original townsite of Kelowna, and Arthur Booth Knox, after whom Kelowna’s gorgeous and highly visited Knox Mountain is named.
The Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery also houses areas specifically dedicated to both early Chinese and Japanese citizens as well.
In 2014 a granite monument was erected in the Pioneer Section on behalf of the BC Legislative Assembly to acknowledge the wrongdoings done against many early Chinese Canadians by past provincial governments.
Many more recent graves also call this cemetery home, as do an abundance of tranquilly lovely trees and many gorgeous, well-manicured flowerbeds.
As with plenty of cemeteries (of all sizes), the grave markers at the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery are in varying conditions. Quite a few are presently holding up well for their age, whereas others have succumbed to the ravages of time, moss, and weather conditions.
In general, though, I find a good percentage of the older tombstones to still be fairly legible. Some are nearly as crisp as the day they were first etched, others are clearly showing their age, but (again) remain readable.
On this visit, we did not see the whole of the cemetery – nor did we make a point to inspect every single grave in each area that we did spend time in.
Both Tony (a fellow taphophile) and I love to have more to explore and acquaint ourselves with further on future visits.
No post pertaining to the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery worth its salt would be complete without mentioning some of this burial ground’s best-known inhabitants: various members of the Bennett family, including the famously outspoken former BC Premier W.A.C Bennett and his wife, May.
Both are interred at this cemetery and in addition, the Bennett Memorial Columbaria provides above-ground monuments for the placement of private cremation remains (totalling 576 cremation niches, each of which is able to house two urns).
There is much more to see and explore at the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery beyond what appears in this post.
I hope to photograph and share additional parts of it with you in future editions of this series (as well as on my Instagram account, where I’ve been posting photos from various cemeteries for a number of years now).
This cemetery is a beautiful, well-maintained, peaceful, inspiring, and enjoyable one. I feel at ease there and love that it, like most of the cemeteries that I have the honour of visiting, resonates deeply with my spirituality as a Pagan witch.
If you should have the opportunity to visit the Kelowna Memorial Cemetery, I highly recommend doing so.
At 50 acres and more than 25,000 final resting places (be they graves, urns, scattered ashes, or memorials without actual remains), this historically rich corner of Kelowna is one that is sure to appeal to taphophiles, history buffs, genealogists, and many a goth soul alike.
Not to mention those who find solace and comfort in cemeteries.
I fall into every one of those camps myself and am excited to hopefully share many more cemeteries journeys around BC (and hopefully elsewhere as well) that I have the pleasure of undertaking. (Pun intended, sentiment no less sincere.)
Have you ever been to the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery? What was the last cemetery or graveyard you visited? 🥀🖤🥀