June 13th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 24
Submerged cemetery deserves upkeep
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Ian McKenzie Photo
The Bellevue Union Cemetery floods with springtime runoff. This summer, the municipality will be installing a rock drain to mitigate the flooding. This photo was taken on May 4, 2018.
Pass Herald Reporter
Each spring for as long as Ian McKenzie can remember, a section of the Bellevue Union Cemetery became an underwater sanctuary.

It's a seasonal occurrence, with springtime runoff causing the northern third of the cemetery to flood.

The Crowsnest Memorial Society, of which McKenzie is a member, says that this is disrespectful to the people buried there as well as their families and they would like to see this issue solved.

"The municipality is the land owner, so they have the responsibility, but we have the interest. The main point is that cemeteries don't generally have an advocate because the people that are in cemeteries are pretty silent," says McKenzie.

The Bellevue Union Cemetery was established in 1916 and McKenzie calls it a "repository of history" for the historical citizens buried there.

"These people were not just our family, but also our pioneers. There are most of Bellevue's historical citizens are buried there. It's quite significant," he says, adding that one of the bandits from the 1920 Bellevue Café Shootout is buried there.

McKenzie concedes that while he is sympathetic towards the municipality's situation of balancing a budget while providing programs and services, this issue has been going on for long enough that an immediate solution is warranted.

"It's not a municipally provided service that people see every day. This is not an easy problem and I know that the municipality has a tough job running this town, but it's embarrassing. I understand why it's at the low end of the priorities, but I think the time has come to do something about it," says McKenzie.
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According to McKenzie, the Crowsnest Memorial Society has received requests from family members of those buried in the Bellevue Union Cemetery asking for photographs of their ancestor's headstones, but they are unable to provide it as the monument is under water.

"There are people that are upset. Another member [of the Memorial Society] indicated that someone from Saskatchewan went up one side down the other over the situation," adds McKenzie. "He was quite upset that his relative's grave was flooded."

Up until approximately two years ago, the municipality has been draining the water at the cemetery once it flooded, which Chief Administrative Officer Patrick Thomas says is standard practice. However, following provincial legislation changes in 2016, the municipality is obligated to go through a lengthy and costly process to acquire a permit to conduct draining of this sort.

This has forced them to look for other solutions.

This late spring or summer, the municipality will be installing a rock drain, which would intercept and mitigate future flooding, or at least the majority of the future runoff.

"We would dig a large hole, fill it with coarse rock and then backfill it and put a grate on the top so that the water can drain in. The rock provides a basin for it to go in and it dissipates into the ground. They work well in the course soils that we have around here," says Thomas.

According to Thomas, this solution has been in the works since 2016, but since all the land surrounding the cemetery is private land, liaising with the land owner and reaching an agreement was a lengthy process.
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Neither McKenzie or Thomas know the exact cause of the flooding.

"It's hard to say what new springs could have developed increasing the flow," says Thomas. "It is outside our control to know what has caused this."

However, the area surrounding the cemetery is a low point surrounded by rock bluffs, creating a natural catchment area susceptible to flooding when spring runoff is high.

Thomas adds that another potential cause may be due to upstream mining operations that affected the way water is deposited in that area.
The Bellevue Union Cemetery is now a memorial cemetery only, with no new burials accepted there.

In 2017, the municipality conducted an assessment of their cemeteries and is working on prioritizing work to rehabilitate all the facilities to ensure that they are well-maintained memorial places.

"At the current state of sales, there is approximately a 15- to 20-year stockpile of plots prior to any expansions on the existing cemeteries," says Thomas, adding that the municipality is already considering where future expansions could occur beyond the 20 years.

The municipality has eight cemeteries with active burials, three Catholic and five Union.
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June 13th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 24
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