Pioneer Cemetery Reflections

Friday morning August 1, 2020:  I visited Millford Pioneer Cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried. The air was fresh following a brief thunderstorm and the grass sparkled in the early morning sunshine. This peaceful place is where I plan to be laid to rest.

In Wawanesa, the day before, I received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers in appreciation of meeting with the seniors there about my book For Elise. I placed a flower from it on my parents’ graves as well as on those of other loved ones. Memories flooded over me and my heart filled with thankfulness for the wonderful childhood I enjoyed growing up nearby.

And then I walked among other gravestones and thought of the grieving families who brought their loved ones to be laid to rest during the one hundred and forty years. The early families would have walked or come by horse drawn vehicles. I imagined them gathered around the grave with sorrow filled hearts finding strength in their faith and each other. I reflected on the changes in clothing, transportation, and circumstances surrounding the loss. Some were children and youth, husbands, wives, and elders. Time rolls on but grief in the loss of a loved one remains unchanged.

Some of the earliest graves along the west border of the cemetery are without stones. Unfortunately, the record of their graves was lost when the cemetery caretaker’s home was destroyed by fire. For example, Mr. Bellhouse, soon to become Postmaster at Aweme, lost a daughter at the end of winter of 1885. She died during a heavy snow storm. Here is what Mr. Criddle wrote in his diary about her passing.

“1885 March 29: Miss Bellhouse died. Terrible snowstorm April 2 to be buried in Millford. To read the service. A long slow drive through the heavy snow.”

But in fact the drive proved impossible and the funeral had to be delayed because we read: “April 11. Miss B’s funeral was perforce postponed till tomorrow as there was no seeing anything beyond 100 yards & the trails obliterated.”

The community was worried by rumours of trouble further west and Mr. Criddle goes on to comment on that news.

I quote: “There is a row up west, Prince Albert way with the Indians who have seized some Gov’t buildings & imprisoned a number of Mounted Police. Volunteers are going to the front from all sides – now numbering I believe 300 or 400 men besides 200 Police – while I hear that 4000 men are expected from Ontario. There has been a fight it seems already – the whites losing 12, the Indians 40 killed. What the cause of the outbreak maybe I know not, but a half-breed named Louis Riel, a well-known character, is the Indian leader & he says he intends to throw over allegiance to the Queen entirely. Let’s hope that for once we shall follow the example of our American cousins & shoot as many of the beggars as we can catch. We don’t want any humanitarian humbug out here, though it may be all very well for people who can put their toes on the fender in safety at home. Either we or the Indians must go out and – it will have to be the Indians sooner or later – so – let’s save time & money and say – sooner. As for the half-breeds – why – they combine the worst qualities of both French & Indian without any of their virtues.”

I need to make it clear Mr. Criddle’s words are not mine, nor were his views universally held as we read in Clearing in The West by Nellie McClung. Mr. Schultz taught at Northfield School, not many miles south of the Criddle’s and young Nellie Mooney was among his students. Nellie, later Nellie McClung wrote of her early life and included the chapter ‘Trouble in The North West’. She described her teacher’s sympathy and understanding of the native people.

Later that same spring Elise received a letter with news of her mother, Susannah Harrer’s passing June 9th. Her brother wrote “I have taken some ivy leaves from Mother’s grave in order to send them to you as a comfort for you, who, in a far distant land, have to weep alone over our common loss.”

Each time I visit my great grandmother Elise’s grave on the Criddle/Vane Homestead Park I place a piece of ivy there. This year I planted an ivy and when you visit please give it a drink of water.

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