Ghost walk gravesite

A West Kelowna cemetery with a suitably spooky background of burnt trees is the site of a ghost walk Saturday morning.

The highest grave in the Central Okanagan, fittingly, belongs to a preacher.

Way up in the hills above Westside Road, 579 metres above Okanagan Lake, lie the remains of the Rev. Philip Stocks.

His plot, closer to God than anyone else’s, is a tidy affair, fenced off and marked with a granite headstone. Stocks has had a mostly quiet resting place since his death in 1916, except for a few wild years back in the ’70s.

“For a while, there was quite a little hippie commune up there around his gravesite,” says Bob Hayes, an avid historian and genealogical researcher.

Tomorrow is Saturday, but Nov. 1 also goes by some other names — Day of the Dead, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day.

Historically and across several cultures, it’s been regarded as a fairly reverential day to remember those who’ve passed away, the leading figures of various faiths and one’s own relations.

But the mushrooming of Halloween and all its foolishness into a big commercial enterprise that supports weeks of buildup with costume-buying and party-planning has obscured this noble historical tradition.

To its credit, the Regional District of Central Okanagan is trying to draw a little attention to All Soul’s Day, and also spark some interest in local history. Tomorrow morning, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., parks staff will lead a guided tour of Gellatly Heritage Regional Park in West Kelowna.

Despite the time of the event, it’s being described as a “ghost walk” because participants, as well as learning about the pioneering Gellatly family, will be shown some of the graves that are contained on the property.

Throughout the Central Okanagan, there are dozens of little-known and little-visited graves, plots where people were plopped not far from where they dropped.

“For a long time, it was pretty common for people just to be buried on the land they owned, rather than in one of the few cemeteries that existed,” says Hayes.

He and other members of the genealogical society have spent several years working on a comprehensive reckoning of such out-of-the-way graves. It currently runs to 160 pages, and should be published within a few months.

It includes the location of the graves, the names of the various departed, information from vital statistics on their birth, death and family connections. There are also brief biographies based on sources such as the annual reports produced by the historical society and, in some cases, interviews with living descendants.

Despite the group’s diligent research, some mysteries persist. For example, whatever happened to the remains of James Dun-Waters, one of the Okanagan’s richest men, who owned all the Fintry delta and much upland property in the early 20th century?

His first wife, who predeceased him, is buried at Fintry, now a provincial park. His second wife was struck and killed by a car on Bernard Avenue in the 1960s. Dun-Waters never had children, so the whereabouts of his remains after his death in 1939 will probably never be known.

Hayes and the other researchers also uncovered the story of an Ellison chap known as “Old Man-Eater.” He got the nickname because he was believed to have resorted to cannibalism during an ill-fated mining expedition in the late 1800s.

When he died, Old Man-Eater was living in ramshackle cabin, half of which was underground. So his neighbours, perhaps thinking he didn’t deserve a more respectful burial, simply pushed the cabin in on him and left him there, Hayes says.

Of course, most of the stories in the graveyards tale aren’t nearly so gruesome. They simply recount the lives of our forebears, most of whom were ordinary people who worked hard to carve a happy life from a forbidding environment.

The Rev. Philip Stocks, for example, was an Oxford-educated minister who had a parish in Belgium when the First World War began in 1914. He and his wife came to the Okanagan to be near two of their five children, who had settled here years earlier.

Accustomed to well-furnished rectories and European churches of the finest architecture, Rev. Stocks nevertheless took to mountain living with gusto. He went for long hikes, hunted and ministered to other settlers.

“His sensitive and artistic nature appreciated the simple and healthy joys of the Canadian countryside,” says an account of the reverend’s life in the 1963 edition of the Okanagan Historical Report.

The reverend died on July 31, 1916, and was buried on his land. His tombstone says “Lord Remember Me.” In the end, that’s all any of us can ask.

Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter whose column appears Wednesday and Friday. Telephone: 250-470-0750. Email: ron.seymour@ok.bc.ca.

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