An Indigenous section of the Old Men’s Provincial Cemetery on Sixth Avenue showed “distinct features” in a ground-penetrating radar exercise, indicating numerous unmarked grave plots.
Therefore, a contractor has found, it should be avoided in a city arboretum project.
The area, located in the northwest corner of the cemetery, does not have headstones or gravestone markers. A technician, contracted by the city, discovered undulations in that area “visibly spaced in a systemic fashion” and blue perennial wildflowers — known as juga or bugleweed and commonly planted in cemeteries throughout the region — supporting the conclusion such anomalies are unmarked grave plots.
“Naturally, this area should be avoided when considering new plantation, as it is within the cemetery borders,” the report states.
The results of the ground-penetrating radar exercise, conducted this past spring for the city by Precision Radar Scanning at a cost of $2,500, were shared with the city’s civic operations committee last week, as the city creates an arboretum, or tree museum, in the area.
The Old Men’s Provincial Cemetery is a large green space home to more than 1,000 unmarked graves, dating back to the Gold Rush and city’s incorporation in 1893. It is located on Sixth Avenue, just south of Columbia Street, in the Sagebrush (South Kamloops) neighbourhood.
A move is afoot to turn the area into more of a park space over the next couple years, with planting of trees underway. The Sagebrush Neighbourhood Association is also fundraising to build an entrance to the space.
A report from Precision Radar Scanning concludes many known grave plots were direct burials, without caskets, or pine caskets in which bodies have deteriorated. The results, in many cases, were inconclusive, the report states.
“The cemetery itself was known to have been used for the poor and indignant residents of the community,” the report reads. “The technical speculates that many of the deceased were most likely underprivileged and were probably buried in a cloth shroud or a pine casket. Human remains over long periods of time will naturally decay and take similar properties to that of the underlying soil, making GPR data inconclusive. Furthermore, a pine casket over an extended period of time will deteriorate, resulting in similar geophysical properties as the underlying soil.”
The report concludes that known grave plots were identified at a depth of about three to 3.5 feet, noting any planting should not be conducted beyond that depth. A border has been determined to guide the city in future planning of the space, with pathways and historical signage expected as early as this fall. The contractor noted, however, it is possible unknown burial plots may exist outside the border provided.
In an interview with KTW last December, city parks manager Jeff Putnam told KTW the tree museum idea was born at a conference he attended in 2019 in Oregon.
“There’s a catalpa, Rocky Mountain juniper. There’s some trees in there where the conditions are perfect. They’re thriving,” he said. “Then, with an arboretum, we would add different species, explaining if they’re native to the area, how long they live. It’s more public education and also benefitting the environment.”