June 18th, 2019

Heritage in the Hat: In memoriam

By medicinehatnews on June 8, 2019.

We now think of Hillside Cemetery as the final resting place for our citizens, but it was not always thus. Over the years, deceased citizens have “returned to dust” in various spots around town. There are somewhat confusing and contradictory accounts and dates for the different graveyards.

In pre-settlement days, this area was frequented by First Nations due to its sheltered location, water and game. Inevitably, some died here and there are reports of their bodies raised on scaffolds in the cottonwoods of Police Point and Strathcona Island. 

Morrow, in his history of Medicine Hat, recounts that the indigenous peoples had their first burial grounds down on the flat (site of the future Ogilvie Mill and then timbered like Police Point) and on the hillside by the brick plant. Since he used the term “burial grounds,” one assumes interment.

In a Medicine Hat News article, an oldtimer reported that when Alberta became a province (1905), it was decided that the practice of bodies on raised platforms would no longer be acceptable, and the remains were taken down from the trees and buried on the heights above Saratoga Park.

Although some early settlers may have been buried at the future Ogilvie Mill location (pre-CPR?), the first formal settler cemetery was located in proximity to the future Anglican church (St. Barnabas) along Sixth Avenue. Colin McKay is indicated as the first burial in 1884. By 1886, when the wooden church was built, the cemetery had been moved higher up to the brow of the hill and a number of graves relocated there. 

The first burial in what is now Hillside Cemetery was a toddler named Cecil Hargrave, the son of James and Alexandra Hargrave, on Nov. 7, 1886. At the time, the Hargraves did not want to see their son’s body moved from graveyard to graveyard, so he was buried on the side of the hill of the 40 acres of land committed for the purpose of a future cemetery. It appears that Hargrave secured the land and it was subsequently taken over by St. John’s Presbyterian Church of which he was an elder. In 1908, the Church released 20 acres to the City of Medicine Hat for the purpose of establishing a public cemetery and the remaining 20 acres in 1914. 

In 1892, the Anglican Vestry bought six acres of land in the Seven Persons Creek area (now Kin Coulee) from a Mr. Cruickshank. Two acres were then sold to the Roman Catholic Church for $30. In 1893, most of the remains were moved from the Sixth Avenue burial ground out to this location. The plaque in the old cemetery indicates 1884 for the site of “this cemetery” but that appears to be an error and must refer to the original St. Barnabas site.

In 1922, five acres in the Hillside cemetery were reserved for the exclusive use of the Church of England and so the Seven Persons Creek site fell into disuse and became neglected. In 1945, the site was turned over to the City and the last interment was in 1947.

Of course, there are other graveyards in the area. Some Jewish graves were originally located out by Finn’s Lake (exact location unknown) before being relocated to Hillside. Redcliff has its own cemetery, overlooking a coulee on the south-west side of the Town. Our cemeteries are restful, contemplative places to visit and learn about early  residents.

Malcolm Sissons is a Member of the Heritage Resources Committee of the City of Medicine Hat.

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