From suspenseful reads to literary tweeds…
A tour of the Fraser Cemetery may not be everyone’s first choice on a sunny June afternoon, but it was mine. I was hoping to unearth some tidbits on the city’s founders. It was hosted by Archie Miller, a local antiquarian of New Westminster.
Archie’s tours are always informative with a few fun stories thrown in. For example, he told us that while researching for a certain resident of the graveyard, he had a startling experience. On a dreary day, with the graveyard filled with myst, he crouched on his hands and knees attempting to decipher the flat stones. Suddenly, he was smacked on the shoulder with a cane and a creaky old lady’s voice yelled, “What are you doing in here!” or something along those lines. He jumped up with such fright that he startled the old woman who, I am sure, nearly had a heart attack herself. After explaining his predicament, she invited him over to her home, and he became privy to more information on the original setup of the graveyard that this woman had played in as a child. The story had us all laughing.
Gassy Jack’s grave is also there. Gassy Jack was a famous Vancouver character who talked incessantly, hence “gassy.” He was the first settler to Gastown but is buried in New West as I don’t believe they even had a graveyard yet.
Another well known grave is Captain Irving’s, of Irving House, where the city’s museum and archives are on Royal Avenue. The tall obelisk marker rises high in the lower half of the Fraser Cemetary. However, it is a newer marker as the original, Archie told us, was a flat stone.
The lower half of the graveyard is where the location of the Freemason’s cemetery is. The graves are from the late 1800s there. Symbols like the masonic star, square and compasses and angel wings are found there.
The graveyard also includes an Odd Fellows section, Church of England section, and above is the St. Peter’s section. To be buried in the Freemason’s area, you did not have to be a Freemason, but you had to abide by certain rules. The Odd Fellows also buried non-members, fundraising and then selling the plots individually. There is a bit of a mishmash happening, but you will find members in each area.
I learned more about the graveyard itself then its internments. However, I really enjoyed Archie Miller’s tour. The tours are free and run by the New Westminster Historical Society. Find more information at http://www.nwheritage.org/heritagesite/orgs/nwhs/walktour.htm