Flashback Friday: Banff, AB

Kinnear Centre on campus
Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Banff, AB

A few years back I attended a work retreat at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. The campus is located in the trees on a rise above the town site, across the Bow River from the Fairmont Banff Springs. Even if I hadn’t had any free time at all, it wouldn’t have mattered because the campus is incredibly beautiful and interesting all by itself. However, since access to the trail system was just steps away, I was able to squeeze in a couple of quick walks down the hill to town.

The first morning, I went as far as The Old Banff Cemetery, which is not far at all. It’s also not the kind of place a person wants to rush through on their first visit, but that’s exactly what I had to do. To anyone passing by, I may have looked like a mad woman: power walking, scanning the monuments, kneeling for photos, then rushing on again to the next one. One monument brought me up short, though. The epitaph was especially eye-catching: “Trail Blazer of the Canadian Rockies | Lake Louise 1882 | Emerald Lake 1882.” Hmm, so who was Tom Wilson?

Tom Wilson grave marker
Thomas Edmonds Wilson and wife Minnie McDougall Wilson grave site, The Old Banff Cemetery, Banff, AB

Tom Wilson was a NWMP Officer, CPR survey packer, trapper, prospector, mountain guide and outfitter, rancher, and trail blazer. His early explorations of the Rocky Mountains were instrumental to trail development in the Banff and Yoho valley areas. The bronze plaque in the above photo was originally mounted near the Takakkaw Falls in the Yoho valley, but was relocated to his grave site upon his death. Mount Wilson, near the Columbia Icefield, is named after him. Cemeteries are filled with monuments to lives lived, and are always worth exploring – with google follow-ups usually required.

St. George's In-The-Pines Anglican Church
St. George’s In-The-Pines, Banff, AB

One evening, I succeeded in making it all the way to town and back. I discovered a plaque commemorating the life of Reverend Robert Rundle, a missionary I had crossed paths with at Pigeon Lake the year before. I learned St. George’s In-The-Pines Anglican Church is the oldest active church in Banff. The building’s cornerstone was laid in 1889 by Lord and Lady Stanley, then Governor-General of Canada. I found a cairn dedicated to men and women who had died overseas in service of their country.

They will never know the beauty of this place, see the seasons change, enjoy nature’s chorus. All we enjoy we owe to them, men and women who lie buried in the earth of foreign lands and in the seven seas.

Government of Canada

Now, my last photo is not really historical in nature, although it will definitely be a flashback to an earlier time for some…

Banff, AB

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Sunday Sunshine: Lilydale

Along the stretch of Saskatchewan Highway 21 connecting Hwys 40 and 16, there’s a roadside pull-out just south of the Battle River that marks an old ferry crossing. I’ve driven this road fairly regularly over the years on trips to-and-from Lloydminster or Edmonton. The traffic’s not too bad; the rolling hills are beautiful, and I’ve actually seen moose once or twice. I read the historical marker on the site years ago, and never really thought much more about it.

Lilydale Road sign, SK
Lilydale Road, SK

Last week, however, I had an ‘aha’ moment. A mile or so before the river crossing is a large decorative sign on the corner of Hwy 21 and Township Road 460. I know it’s been there a while, but in my mind I’ve brushed it aside as a family farm marker. This time, though, when I read “Lilydale Road,” I suddenly connected it with the ferry, and decided I just had to investigate. So, on my way back home, I detoured west.

In 1905, pioneer Elijah Marshall constructed a home-made ferry boat to cross the Battle River. He named it “Battle Lily” after his daughter. In 1912, when Barr Colonist Thomas Simkins built a school for the area’s children, it was named Lilydale: ‘Lily’ for the local resident, ‘dale’ for the surrounding area. This school gave the school district its name and, later, the local post office, as well. Lilydale School District No. 450 was dissolved in 1963; the area is in the Rural Municipality of Hillsdale.

Since 1980, the building was restored and preserved by The Lilydale School Historical Society Incorporated and it was designated as municipal heritage property in 1981.

Lilydale School No. 450

Lilydale School remains on its original site with its flagpole and water pump. It’s also retains the classic architectural features of a prairie schoolhouse like the front cloakroom, the wall of windows, and contrasting window and door trim. Behind the school is a baseball diamond – complete with old backstop posts! A small house (a teacherage?) and a barn (for students riding to school?) are also part of the property. The schoolhouse is maintained and used for community events and rented out for weddings, reunions, etc. (Click on gallery above to view photos.)

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved.

Cemeteries and Family Histories

Cut Knife Cemetery Gate
Cut Knife, SK

The Cut Knife Cemetery, like so many others in Saskatchewan, is over one hundred years old, and meandering through on a Sunday afternoon, it’s easy to recognize the older graves. Lettering has eroded on many of the softer marble stones, and names and dates on others have filled with mosses and lichens, both of which make the inscriptions difficult to read and the graves to identify. A few headstones have broken, a few plots have remained unmarked for reasons unknown. Perhaps, there are records that can fill in the gaps, perhaps not.

Cemetery records everywhere, especially the older ones, are notorious for having been lost, or damaged, or destroyed in fire and flood. This makes it especially difficult for families who are searching, at a distance, for an ancestor. A grave connects a person to a place, and provides a context; a grave marker records vital statistics. Sometimes, a marker can also shed light on a personality through the choice of epitaph, the presence of religious or association symbols, nicknames, etc. When both records are no longer accessible, a vital piece of family history is lost.

Many rural cemeteries are cared for by volunteers, and are just not in a position, financially, to undertake large restoration projects. In addition, the volunteer hours required to clean, photograph, and annotate a whole cemetery of headstones is probably not realistic, either. Maybe, a simpler approach would work . . . providing online accessibility to researchers. . . 24/7?

Cut Knife monuments in disrepair

CanadianHeadstones.com is a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organization that archives photos and text of cemetery grave markers submitted by individuals, or cemetery committees. The Clayton McLain Memorial Museum has listed it on their Family History | Canada page as a genealogy resource. The Cut Knife Cemetery, and the Carruthers Cemetery are already represented online with a number of photos to view for each.

The next time you’re wandering through your local cemetery with your phone or digital camera, consider digitizing your family’s headstones, and sharing them online with those who may be searching for them. In all probability, if any part of the headstone is illegible, you or a family member would have the knowledge needed to record the correct information.

All photos, except where noted, copyright D. MacLeod. All rights reserved. Originally published on the Clayton McLain Memorial Museum blog.