by Claude-Jean Harel
|- all photos courtesy Claude-Jean Harel
In the world of green spaces, few parcels of land are so rich in
complexity and history as those places where our deceased peers
are put to rest. I recently encountered a group of students from
Robert Usher Collegiate at the Regina Cemetery who had been sent
there to carry out a social studies assignment.
Cemeteries are as much places for the living as for the dead. We
visit them to remember, to leave flowers, to pay our respects. We
look at tombstones, seek peace and quiet, perhaps indulge in a little
genealogical research. A lone figure stands quietly by a plot, a
couple with binoculars looks inquisitively at the grosbeak feeding
on white spruce cones, another couple attempts to locate the gravestone
of a relative hopelessly hidden under the snow.
As citizens, we assume that cemeteries pretty much run themselves.
We are generally oblivious to the fact that municipal authorities
must contend with issues of maintenance, such as perpetual care.
The latest trend in cemetery management involves self-sustainability
forever - a concept more easily expressed than implemented. With
older cemeteries being "filled" to capacity, generating revenue
has become an almost impossible task. Especially when it comes to
raising protective fences or fixing damaged gravestones. The considerations
that cemetery staff must take into account rarely become issues
expressed in the public domain. So, diligently, they pick up broken
up pieces and try to contact relatives who may be long gone. When
all else fails, they may, out of decency, apply a little tender
loving care and fix it themselves.
When you visit an older cemetery, you will notice that monuments
that will stand the test of time tend to be inconspicuous models,
low to the ground and made of granite. You may have seen how wooden
monuments eventually disintegrate. Nothing stops the forces of weathering.
Marble is better than wood - and certainly beautiful - but a half-inch-deep
inscription will all but disappear within 150 years. The same goes
for limestone. If you want durability, granite is your stone. A
half-inch inscription will remain legible for 800 years, as it will
weather at the rate of 1/16 of an inch every 100 years. The Regina
cemetery itself is probably the repository of millions of dollars'
worth of headstones.
There is a definite understated culture to cemeteries at a number
of levels. Take ethnicity. The Chinese area at Regina's Riverside
Memorial Park Cemetery is quite revealing about the value which
Asian society puts on ancestor worship. The new pagoda monument
has to be one of the most architecturally interesting features of
any cemetery in the Saskatchewan.
Nearby, a war memorial illustrates the sadness of lives lost in
wartime.The monument serves as a reminder of the fragility and value
of peace. We have, it seems, an inherent need as a society to give
expression to those events that claim lives in circumstances where
the outcome or its consequences are unsure. As such, cemeteries
help reflect who we really are as a community of humans.
I can only commend the efforts of Eileen Schuster and her band
of historical enthusiasts for launching Regina Ethnic Pionneers
Cemetery Walking Tour Inc. That initiative led to the publication
of a useful self-guided booklet that delves deep into Regina's past.
We learn that the Regina Cemetery was delineated in 1884 and that
it encompasses 29,000 graves. The booklet provides information on
55 sites and is available at the 4th Avenue and Broad Street entrance.
Eileen will occasionally lead tours of the cemetery, but you can
custom design your own using the guide. As you walk and identify
those sites, you get a sense of historical perspective unlike anything
you will read in a book. I was particularly touched by the story
of Clifford Tanouye, a 33-year-old man who was "hospitalized for
an emergency operation to remove an obstruction in his respiratory
system". He later died suddenly because of a piece of gauze that
clogged his trachea.
The anesthetist was charged and he died within a year in a car
Some stories are truly achievements. Take Florent Arnold, born
in Alsace, France in 1836. He dropped out of college and enlisted
in the army, imbued with a great admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte.
"After leaving the army, he led a roving existence, visiting nearly
every country in Europe, and spending eight years in South Africa."
He immigrated and settled in Regina in 1880, pursuing a career
as a hotelier. Florent is also credited with building the Hotel
du Canada in 1888, which was located on the northwest corner of
11th Avenue and Scarth Street. The hotel was known as a great gathering
place for the horsemen of the district.
With the self-guided booklet, touring the cemetery will give you
an impression of what the city looked like at the end of the 19th
Century. Sadly, it will also give you a sense of how Regina's
heritage has been lost through building demolition and "progress".
Long after those historical features - tramways, theatres, cricket
clubs and opera houses - disappear, the cemetery remains. And one
day someone will come and inquire as to the whereabouts of a particular
fallen marker, a victim of time, weather and vandalism. The latter
being a concern in any cemetery. Elongated, high, pointed or compounded
monuments with elegant crosses and statues with weak necks are obvious
targets for those who pass through cemeteries with less than noble
As cities fall victim to the phenomenon of urban sprawl, new cemeteries
are established with the intent of enticing area residents to use
cemeteries to the full extent of their potential. In accordance
with the guiding principles of self-sustainability, it has now become
common for individuals to sponsor trees such as green or mountain
ash, Japanese tree lilac or scots pine, $200 and up. You may even
consider a bench ($750) or a bicycle rack ($900). What better way
to honor a relative or friend who has passed on, than to help make
his or her place of eternal rest more inviting to those who live
Harel owns and operates Great
Excursions, a Regina-based travel company specializing in "travel for the hungry mind" and focusing on tours
of Western Canada.
| Contents |
| Events | Search |
Prints 'n Posters | Lodging
Assistance | Golf |
© Copyright (1997-2012) Virtual Saskatchewan