Almost all my life, I have heard that New Westminster High School was buried close to or over a cemetery. Then about 10 years ago, the story started coming out more as they were talking about having to replace the now aging school. It is closing in on 10 years of talks, and just recently it was in the paper how there should be an “archaeological dig” as it is the only way to determine the exactly where bodies are buried.
I have always under the belief that the cemetery was in 1 corner of this property, but in reading more and more, there is not just 1 cemetery, but possibly 4 separate cemeteries between the years of 1860 to 1920 when they were all closed down. And they are in different areas of the school property, including but not limited to being under the teachers parking lot (a survey done in 2007 stated that there were areas “that could be graves”.
The information I am putting here is from various articles, reports, etc that I have read online. The scope of the entire thing to me will always remain the same — that the people buried within these cemeteries deserve to be remembered. Not one of the different pages, stories, documents I read had a list of who was buried there. Some of the people are just referred to as poor, prisoners and insane. One of the prisoners could be an Indian Chief that was hanged.
There are 3 active cemeteries in New Westminster: Fraser Cemetery (opened in 1869 or 1870) which run by City; right next to it is St. Peters Catholic Cemetery (run by the Archdiocese, opened in 1880) and then Schara Tzedeck- the Jewish Cemetery which was opened in the 1920s. Nothing seems to point to any of the people being re-interned in any of these cemeteries.
Now about the Lost Cemeteries:
Douglas Road Cemetery
This cemetery was also called the New Westminster Public Cemetery and was opened around 1859 on a 27 acre site. The entire area was used as a Cemetery for close to 60 years, finally closed in 1920. But sadly, the breakup of the cemetery started way back in about 1892, when the Crown ended up subdividing the southeast corner of the property in order to give the city of New West the entire east side.
Around 1908, when the southwest corner, which included the older of 2 Chinese cemeteries was filled up, they then opened the northwest corner for burials. The new City Works yard was then built in the southwest corner which, according to records was “ploughed and cleared”.
In 1920, the Douglas Road cemetery was closed (Northwest Section) and the area was used as barracks to house 1000 soldiers at a time while in training. They were built on top of the 4 acres that was originally used to bury the institutionalized; poor and incarcerated. They also use 2 acres of the new Chinese burial section. The estimate of buried in these cemeteries is said to be around 6,000 men, woman and children. The current High School is said to be on the western half of the cemetery, with the other sections taken up by the city and the East sections owned by private companies.
Sadly, no one will take the responsibility of either finding out or explaining what happened to all the people buried within these cemeteries. Officially, there is apparently there was only 1 coffin that has been uncovered and it is believed no other remains where unearthed or moved. But, according to rumours, this is not the case. What is said to have taken place is that there was a funeral director and his son who sat on the school board from 1908 to 1956 when a lot of the rebuilding took place including the building of the school in 1948. The talk is of workers who would pile bones up and then a Funeral Home would cart some off and others were piled into trucks and dumped somewhere.
To imagine that the City, Provincial and possibly Federal Governments are all involved in some sort of cover up is very sad. The northwest corner (Douglas), 6.5 acres, is suppose be designated the symbolic cemetery, to be a passive park but what exactly will they do, is not know.
I have never seen anything that lists the names of the Chinese cemeteries or the unnamed cemetery for the poor or institutionalized people that were buried there. How will all of them be remembered? They don’t seem to be listed anywhere. Or will a small park be the only way these people will be remembered.
There is a report about the area that shows the size and shape of the School area, along with where they believe the cemeteries are located. You can read about it here: Cemetery Site Information
What I found to be very interesting and had never heard about before was the story of an Indian Chef that has hanged in New Westminster and his body disappeared. Is it possible that he is one of the many forgotten souls buried in one of the cemeteries.
The following is from various articles done in 2008.
Is this resting place of Tsilhqot’in warrior Chief Ahan
Ahan was tried and convicted of murder for his part in a raid on a road-building crew near Bute Inlet. Twelve men were slaughtered in the raid and Ahan was hanged in New Westminster on July 18, 1865. Five other Tsilhqot’in men were hanged in Quesnel.
The attacks came after the Tsilhqot’in demanded payment from the roadbuilders who were using their land and were refused. It was when the roadbuilders took the women from the tribe and used them for their entertainment that was the last straw. War was declared.
When a government militia failed to turn up the war party, they sent messengers to the Tsilhqot’in seeking peace talks. But when they went, they were put in shackles.
The problem is now that there are no records of where he was buried. It is possible that Ahan was buried originally on the site of the jail where prisoners were hanged, but the Tsilhqot’in believe that Ahan was moved after his death, and that he may have then been buried buried on the grounds of the school.
According to Joe Alphonse, director of government services for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, “He is a hero to us and the province was ordered to find the remains of our people executed in the Chilcotin War and return them.”
There is a small chance that he is buried on the school grounds and they would like to have DNA testing done on any bones that are discovered in the grounds.
A historian hired by the school district was not able to locate Ahan’s final resting place. He did find that some remains were removed from the site of the old courthouse. But there is nothing that says who was removed or where the bodies were re-interned.
My final word:
While yes, there should be a new High School built, the people whose bodies were buried there need to be recognized and a memorial for all – the people buried in the Douglas Road Cemetery, then Chinese Cemeteries as well as the sections that were for the poor and institutionalized. Hopefully, everyone involved will be able to get together and remember the past while also build on the future with a school for children who could possibly be descendants of the people buried there.
The following is a picture of what is currently in the South West Corner of the property, which is where one of the Chinese Cemeteries is said to have been.