Pioneer remains may slide into ocean due to cemetery erosion

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, April 11 2017

The final resting places of many of Gabriola’s pioneers are threatening to slide into False Narrows, as reported by Jared Hooper, Chairman of the Gabriola Cemetery Commission.

Hooper spoke to the Sounder recently, saying that while many people may not give much thought to the cemetery on Gabriola, it is a going concern, “though we generally keep it somewhat low key.”

Jared Hooper on the beach below the Gabriola cemetery. Derek Kilbourn photo

The cemetery has been in existence since the late 1800s when one of the early pioneers here buried his First Nations wife on a donated piece of land. 

That pioneer section expanded over the early years and many of the early settlers are buried there. 

Stroll through the beautiful and peaceful acre overlooking False Narrows towards Mudge Island and you can see at once where many Gabriola place names have come from.

But many of the gravestones have worn to the point where the names are beyond illegible; there is simply a smooth piece of stone.

The cemetery is managed by a small board of volunteers under the governance of the Consumer Affairs branch of the BC Government. Those wishing to be buried in the cemetery can contact the branch office. 

Some of the oldest graves in the Gabriola Cemetary are located at the edge of the embankment above False Narrows and are at risk of being exposed from underneath due to erosion. Derek Kilbourn photo

Hooper said in the early days few to no records were kept, or seemed to be required. 

“Not so nowadays. We’re required to keep accurate records and regularly report to Consumer Affairs about our goings on.”

Of recent concern is the severe erosion of the 30 foot tall bank that drops down to False Narrows. 

That erosion in now threatening to drop the graves and remains of some of the early pioneers down onto the beach. 

“We’ve had an archaeologist and a geologist examine and report on the situation and are hoping to find further advice from geo techs, civil engineers or others who might have some expertise in matters like this.”

Initial thoughts on fixing things are to stabilize or shore up the bank somehow or to move the remains and gravestones to a safer location.

Hooper said that should moving the remains be decided upon, Consumer Affairs has promised their help with all the legalities involved.

“I’ve been getting some good advice from someone with more knowledge and experience in cemetery restoration.”

Also of consideration at the location is a midden site that has been designated by the BC Archeology branch as a Native Heritage Site so any work done to relocate pioneer remains has to also be conducted with the blessings and guidance of the First Nations and archaeologists.

Hooper said another concern, “but a less pressing matter, is the actual title to the land the cemetery sits on. Because the records from back then are sparse, we’re trying to bring that up to date.

“Our board is somewhat at a loss about it all and being non-profit we don’t have a large budget to take on expenses that will surely be incurred. 

“We feel that fixing the erosion situation is something that will need far more expertise than we alone possess.

“We’re seeking input from any community members or groups who might have knowledge of grants available or ideas or experience to help us resolve the situation. We’d also welcome a couple more willing trustees to join the board.”

Any interested parties please contact Hooper by phone at 250-247-8815 or by email: jjhooper@shaw.ca.

The board also keeps a website updated with information and it can be found at: http://gabcemetery.wixsite.com/gabriolacemetery