Another use for cemeteries: walking tour provides context for history

I take a lot of detours in this city, but it’s not my fault — I’m an Edmonton transplant. Born in Calgary and accidentally smitten with Edmonton, this blog series is about how I see the capital city, some of the things I’ve learned (maybe the hard way) and just about areas of the city I’m just discovering (and fascinated by). You can read the full explanation here.

Sandwiched between the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market and the Strathcona Library, it’s a nice park, to be sure — Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park has the standard trees and grass, a cement pad where the large outdoor Fringe stage goes in August, and a gazebo. It also has a fountain.The fountain is nothing special, or so I thought, until I took a walk through the Mount Pleasant Cemetery with a city archivist, as part of the city’s summer tours through the area’s cemeteries. McIntyre, an animal lover, wanted to make sure the dray horses were properly hydrated while working, and so a fountain was erected on Whyte Avenue, where it stood until a drunk driver knocked it over.

I’m under the impression that the fountain was then stored in the transit barns and wasn’t rediscovered until the transit barns became the farmers’ market and the Arts Barns, but it could also be a replica. In any case, there actually is a plaque on the fountain dedicating it to McIntyre, which was also quite the “Who knew?” moment for me.

McIntyre Fountain
Ask most people, and they can’t think of the fountain in McIntyre Park. It’s just part of the scenery. Photo: Catherine Szabo

The cemetery tours only run through the summer, and the point is to encourage Edmontonians to come into the cemetery, using the paths as walking or jogging trails, or just enjoying the greenery. Old buildings are one thing, but the people who made Edmonton’s history are usually the reason for those old buildings. Our guide also noted that the tour can differ every time, depending on which archivist is running the tour.

I didn’t take photos of all of the headstones, because we covered a lot on that tour. One headstone (that wasn’t discussed, but we noticed anyways) sums up Mount Pleasant’s occupants quite well, I think: “Helped to make and helped to write the early history of Alberta” is inscribed on the back of Clarence Stout’s headstone.

mine victims memorial
Five of the victims of the mine explosion are listed here; a similar memorial is across the road in St. Anthony’s for the sixth victim. Photo: Catherine Szabo

John Walter, who owned the mine, is also buried here. As noted, St. Anthony’s shares land with Mount Pleasant, and the way to tell the difference between the municipal cemetery and the Catholic cemetery is by the way the headstones are facing. The ones in Mount Pleasant face north-south; St. Anthony’s face east-west to distinguish.

Holgate headstone
Both Bidwell Holgate and William Magrath, founders of the Highlands neighbourhood, are buried here. At the angle it’s set, Highlands should be visible from Holgate’s tombstone, except for the trees. Magrath’s headstone was set on an angle until recently when the cemetery was tidied and his headstone reset. Photo: Catherine Szabo

Other interesting people buried in Mount Pleasant:

  • Adolf Minchau, a German immigrant blacksmith who was interned during the Second World War. A school in Mill Woods is named after him.
  • Joseph Clarke, who came to the West to work for the NWMP to avoid becoming a lawyer like his family wanted, but he didn’t like the discipline of the NWMP. Eventually became a lawyer, as well as an alderman for Edmonton numerous times the and mayor twice. Clarke Stadium is named for him.
  • A family plot is here for the Martins, one of the original families who owned the cemetery land.
  • Ella Walker, who was instrumental in the U of A’s faculty of extension and documenting Edmonton’s history.
  • Alexander Cameron Rutherford is buried here, without much pomp or circumstance.
  • William Sheppard, who built the brewery in Rossdale and then moved to and built the building that is now the Molson brewing site in Oliver.
  • John Gainer, who was a large part of the butchering trade and packing industry in Edmonton.
  • Robert Ritchie, who arrived from Ontario. The Ritchie Mill in Old Strathcona is his last standing mill.

So somehow, within a few city blocks, I managed to explore quite varied parts of Edmonton! As part of Alberta Culture Days, the Edmonton City Archives is offering behind-the-scenes tours on Sept. 29.