New Westminster school cemetery is no recent discovery
As a researcher exploring institutional histories in B.C., I have become familiar with the cemetery on which the high school was built [“ New West schools approved”, April 26–May 3]. Far from being a recent “discovery”, it has been known to school and government officials throughout the school’s operation, though actively downplayed.
The cemetery was New Westminster’s first, operating from 1879 to 1920. It includes the historic graves of early white settlers and a large Chinese burial ground—both of which the City of New Westminster has recognized. But its acreage also includes burials of inmates from two large institutions that employed many New Westminster residents—the now demolished provincial prison and the provincial hospital “for the insane” (later repurposed as the Woodlands school).
The site also accommodated burials from New Westminster’s early Sikh community, and likely served as a burial ground for First Nations people who originally occupied the area. Though education authorities are not eager to acknowledge it, this particular patch of land offers a fascinating window into the social and political history of colonial New Westminster and earlier indigenous use—an excellent teaching resource if ever I saw one. Yet it remains unclear how authorities will recognize its important historical legacy or pay the respect due to all those buried on the site.
> Pat Feindel / Vancouver