For over 100 years, approximately 83 bodies have rested in a burial ground in the Ridgemont area of Fernie, until recently.
For years groups have been trying to protect an area known as the ‘Stork’ Cemetery, a piece of heritage land owned by the City of Fernie, currently overgrown, unmarked and covered in waste and compost.
Poking out of the underbrush are the remnants of monuments indicating the resting place of individuals including Doris Stork, the daughter of Fernie’s first mayor, Alfred Stork.
The area, located on a City greenbelt off Ridgemont Drive behind Ridgemont Place, has undergone several studies over the years, one by a certified commissioned archaeologist in 2012 who identified the burial spots of up to 83 people.
(Remnants of burial sites in the overgrown Stork Cemetary. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press)
In 2000, the Lost Souls Society in Fernie was approached by a number of families in Fernie looking for assistance in locating the resting place of members of their respective families. With no records of their deaths, the society undertook a research project to attempt to locate them.
The Lost Souls Society recently unveiled a plaque in the Ridgemont area listing over 350 individuals for whom there is no known final resting place. After years of consultation the society was granted support by the City of Fernie.
In a letter to Fernie CAO Norm McInnis in 2017, Lost Souls Society president John Gawryluk brought to his attention several issues surrounding the ‘Stork’ cemetery, which was designated by the Province as a historic site in 1979.
In his letter he raised concerns of the state of the site, as well as the erection of several fences by surrounding property owners encroaching onto the greenbelt. Furthermore, he explained that because of the state of the burial ground and presence of unmarked graves, the erected fenceposts could have very possibly been embedded into graves.
He stated that waste disposal on the historic site is in direct contravention of several municipal bylaws, and that the actions of surrounding residents could be construed as contravening several sections of B.C.’s Heritage Conservation Act, as the site is considered Historic by the Province.
In a response to a request for comment on August 19, 2019, City of Fernie interim CAO Don Schaffer said that, “…it is not permitted to use City property for the purpose of disposal of any type of waste, including compost. If it can be determined who has deposited the waste, the possibility exists that some type of enforcement action will be taken.”
In 2014, a GPR study of City of Fernie property was conducted by Radarscan Inc., of the ‘Ridgemont Area adjacent to ravine location, where several single family abutted to the treed ravine.”
The results indicated the following: GPR gridlines for data collection were run parallel to the treed ravine for approximately 30 feet along the south side of the treed ravine through the backyards of several residences.
“We were not able to collect data within the treed ravine area due to underbrush and trees,” stated the report. Several large rocks and roots of previously removed trees were found, but, “No artifacts were detected that had the signatures of previous old burial plots.”
The Lost Souls Society in turn insisted the City had the study conducted in the wrong location. To date the site remains unprotected.
(A grave is seen through a pile of waste in the unprotected Stork Cemetary, Fernie. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press)
In a request for comment from the City of Fernie, Interim CAO Don Schaffer stated on August 19, 2019: “The City recognizes the historical and emotional significance of the unmarked grave sites in the Ridgemont area, and supported the Lost Souls Society’s efforts to identify a suitable location for the monument honouring those individuals who were laid to rest in unmarked graves.
“Preliminary studies of the Stork Cemetery were commissioned in 2014 and those studies indicated more work would be required to provide an accurate assessment of the sites. In the meantime, City staff understand there are encroachment issues in this area and in others around the City and will consider the most effective way to deal with such encroachments and report back to Council on alternatives.”
City of Fernie mayor Ange Qualizza said that it is her priority to assemble all information that exists on the Stork Cemetery.
“It is my priority right now to assemble the information that exists right now on the Stork Cemetery and get the topic in front of Council for review. The topic of the Stork Cemetery last came before a Council in 2014, and it is important for this Council to have an opportunity to review what has been done in the past, and consider options for the future,” she said.
“We are hoping to have that information on a Council agenda shortly, so we can identify any information gaps that Council may consider putting resources into for a more complete understanding of the Stork Cemetery situation.”
(Phil McLachlan/The Free Press)