Community

Looking Back: Pioneer graves in Whonnock

Looking Back

by Fred Braches

 

The Whonnock cemetery is one of the most peaceful places in Maple Ridge. Tucked away on a dead-end street and partially shaded by mature trees, it is well worth a visit, either to explore the weathered headstones of pioneer settlers or to just enjoy the quietness.

Members of the Norwegian community first established the cemetery, or rather a portion of it, in 1905. They even built their own small wooden church and for many years held Lutheran services there in Norwegian.

Prominent among the Norwegian settlers were Ole Lee, or “Lie” in Norwegian, and his wife Jorgine, as well as the Nelson family, whose graves can still be found in this part of the cemetery.

Originally, the Norwegians were fishermen, but several of the menfolk were lured away by the promise of finding gold in the Klondike and spent years away from Whonnock prospecting. Over time, more of the descendants moved away, and those who remained didn’t speak Norwegian any longer, so in 1958 the wooden church was finally dismantled.

Still, Teddy and Hank Lee, grandsons of Ole and Jorgine, continued to take care of this part of the cemetery and in 1982 were able to produce a plan of the graves, of which many were unmarked.

In 1919, the Maple Ridge municipality acquired the part of land to the east for use as the municipal cemetery. But it was not until 1982 that the two cemeteries were joined, with the municipality becoming the sole owner.

The first to be buried in this new, municipal part was Annie Buckley, who died in February 1922. She was the daughter of Noble and Catherine Oliver, who died in 1923 and 1932, respectively, and whose graves are right beside that of their daughter.

Noble Oliver built the first store in Whonnock when the railroad came through and was the first postmaster. He was also one of the first school trustees and donated the land where St. Paul’s was built, the first Anglican church in Whonnock. In this part of the cemetery you can find the grave of Reeve Ferguson, who is said to have wished “to be buried between two strangers.”

Also buried here are the parents and grandparents of Ruskin historian Charles Miller, whose book The Valley of the Stave tells the story of their arrival and settlement in this area.

Another noteworthy Whonnockian was Fred Showler, who was buried here beside his wife Emma. Showler owned and operated the Red and White Store next to the post office from 1921 to 1946.

Other graves are those of Richard Stanley Whiting, his wife, and his daughter. Whiting served as Whonnock postmaster for 45 years. A nearby grave is that of his mother-in-law, ‘Granny’ Benson, who was much loved in the community and who named her small house on what is now Byrnes Road, “Crowsnest.”

The oldest grave marker, though not the oldest grave, in this part of the cemetery is an upright stone cross in the northeast corner, commemorating Ann (Robertson) Watson, who died in 1922. More Watsons are buried nearby. The old Watson family home still stands on the northeast corner of 272nd Street and Bell Avenue.

There are graves of many of Whonnock’s Japanese families, including Hidaka, Natsuhara, Fujita, and Mukaida.

• To find out who is buried where, Google search “Whonnock notes.”  Obtain a printed version at the Whonnock post office.

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