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

 

 

Group photo of a family of men, women and children who were internees in the Vernon internment camp during WWI.

The Vernon Internment Camp Opens

On Sept. 18, 1914, the Vernon Internment Camp opened on the site of what is now MacDonald Park. Around 1100 men, women, and children, mostly of Austro-Hungarian and German descent, passed through the Camp’s gates before it closed in February of 1920. They were stripped of their rights and deprived of their freedom, some of them even remaining imprisoned for several months after Armistice.

The Vernon Internee Headstones and Monument Project

In 2015, the Vernon and District Family History Society completed the Vernon Internee Headstones and Monument Project. This project, which was funded by the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, uncovered information about the 11 men who passed away in the Vernon Internment Camp. Their names were Mile Hećimović, Bernard Heiny, Ivan Jugo, Karl Johann Keck, Timoti Korejczuk, Leo Mueller, Stipan Šapina, Wasyl Shapka, Jure Vukorepa, Samuel Vulović and Wilhelm Heinrich Eduard Wolter.

All 11 were originally buried in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery, but four were of German origin and were later transferred by the German War Graves Commission to the Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener, Ontario. The other seven remain interred in Vernon. Thanks to the efforts of the Family History Society, all of their headstones have been restored or replaced, and their lives commemorated.

Woodland Cemetery (Kitchener, Ontario) marker for L. Mueller and W. Wolter.

Leo Muller

While the stories of all 11 men can be found here, one example is that of Leo Mueller, a German who came to Canada in 1906 and was naturalized in 1909. Leo and his wife Martha settled in Vancouver for some time, where he worked as a hairdresser. They had two children, a daughter and a son, who both sadly died before they were toddlers.

In 1916, Leo and Martha were arrested and interned in Vernon. Leo was injured during an altercation with a fellow prisoner and died in the Vernon Jubilee Hospital on July 12, 1919.

While Leo died from an injury, most of the other 10 men succumbed to illnesses including tuberculosis, pneumonia, heart disease, and meningitis.

We Will Remember them

With this weekend representing the 107th anniversary of the camp’s opening, we remember all who lost their freedom and—in the worst of cases—their lives in the Vernon Internment Camp.

Additional Resources

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator