NEWS

Veterans' graves restored at ghost town cemetery in Rockies

11/08/2014 04:46 EST | Updated 01/08/2015 05:59 EST
High in the Canadian Rockies, not far from the eastern slopes of Jasper National Park, volunteers are working to preserve the memories of people who lived and died in a now-abandoned community.

Mountain Park, Alta., located south of Cadomin and about 300 kilometres west of Edmonton, was once a coal mining town. But the community shut down when the nearby mine closed in 1950.

Mary Salzsauler was born and raised in Mountain Park. She remembers when all the workers and their families had to move away and find jobs somewhere else.

"When everybody left, the cemetery was kind of forgotten," she recalled.

It didn't take long before undergrowth started to cover the graves. Vandals knocked over and stole some tombstones. Campers and quadders used the wooden crosses for firewood.

That's why Salzsauler wanted to restore the cemetery.

"I've got family there. Lots of friends there," she said. "It's historical. And it was my hometown, too."

Highest cemetery in the Commonwealth

Since 1996, Salzsauler and the volunteers she helps organize have been working on what some people believe to be the highest cemetery in the Commonwealth.

"We had the original fences built back up. We've been repairing and painting them over the years … But every year we go up just to maintain the cemetery. You know, to cut down the buckbrush, clean it up, do painting. Whatever repairs have to be done."

She knows of at least 135 people who are buried in the graveyard.

People like John Scarritch, an Austrian miner who died after a rock blasting injury in 1913. There are two Slovenians and a Russian man who drank themselves to death in 1918. John Sankow died in 1927 when he had a reaction to the anesthetic someone gave him during a tooth extraction.

"It's historical," Salzsauler said.

'It's going to be there a lot longer than I am'

The volunteers have also built monuments for the 20 or so First and Second World War veterans in the cemetery.

Bill Davies helped with that construction. He moved to Mountain Park when he was five years old and is related to two veterans laid to rest there. His cousin Henry Forgie went ashore with the Canadians during the D-Day invasions and his stepfather Tommy Gates, an explosives expert, survived a bomb blast in Germany.

"Bringing their names back really helps to solidify their effort and solidify the cemetery," Davies said. "My boys, you know, when they see it, they say ‘ho-hum,' – but when they get up there and start reading and listening and whatnot, well, it changes their minds, I think."

Mary Salzsauler said the cemetery has become a bit of a tourist attraction. That's just one reason, she said, that Yellowhead County has promised her it will never be abandoned again.

"It doesn't need much care," she said. "Right now, it's getting to the point somebody can go in for the day and clean out the buckbrush around the gravesites … and do other cleanup jobs like painting, maybe whatever repairs are needed. And it should be good for years."

"It's been an accomplishment, I must admit. And it's going to be there a lot longer than I am."

She, too, plans to be there for a very long time.

"It's where I'm heading," she said, "when it's my time to go out."

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