The Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

Vernon’s First Cemetery

An unassuming plot of land off of Alexis Park Drive is all that remains of Vernon’s first cemetery. The Pioneer Park Cemetery, as it is now known, was established in early 1885 on 52 acres of land donated by Vernon’s first white settler, Luc Girouard. Up until then, the closest cemetery was located at the Okanagan Mission, and with a growing population, Vernon was in need of its own facility. Girouard’s fellow pioneer E.J. Tronson was the main driving force behind the establishment of the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

 

The Pioneer Park Cemetery is accessed from 35th Avenue off of Alexis Park Drive in Vernon. The cemetery is on the right approximately 100 metres along 35th Avenue. Photo and directions courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

A state of Disrepair

In July of 1885, the first body, that of one-year-old John William Hozier, was laid to rest in the site. But only ten years later, in 1895, the cemetery was in a state of disrepair, with the fence rotting away. Conditions improved somewhat in 1898, when a source of water was located near the cemetery which allowed for the planting of flowers.

 

A New Cemetery is chosen

However, the site was ultimately deemed inadequate, and, in 1901, G. Milligan offered the city five acres of land on Pleasant Valley Road for the establishment of a new cemetery. A year later, the Pleasant Valley Cemetery was ready for use. Starting in 1913, bodies were exhumed from the Pioneer Park Cemetery and moved to the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.

 

Preservation and Commemoration

Details of tombstones at the Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

In 1932, some Vernon City Councilors suggested that the old cemetery should be preserved out of respect for the early pioneers who established it. Once the deeds to the land were transferred from the Girouard Family, city crews were sent it to improve the cemetery’s appearance and to restore any remaining tombstones. In 1973, the site was turned into a park, and named the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

Although you might not recognize the park as a former cemetery with just a cursory glance, the lives of those who were buried there have not been forgotten; a memorial plaque at the park’s entrance bears many of their names, and members of the Vernon and District Family History Society are working to compile a complete burial list.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

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