I seem to have a thing for old graves. Especially those that have been somewhat forgotten.
My sister pointed out that part of it stems from an enjoyment of history, mingled with the passion of the stories of individual lives. And I think it is those stories, and a desire that they not be completely forgotten that attracts me.
When I worked in Fort Providence along the mighty MacKenzie River I had the opportunity to contribute to one of those stories, and a small role in connecting one man's grave site with his family. Shortly before I was transferred here I was in conversation with a fellow at the front of the detachment. He pointed off across the road, which was also RCMP property on the bank of the MacKenzie, and asked "Did you know there's an old grave over there?"
I didn't know, so I wandered over and sure enough, tucked into the edge of a small parcel of shrub was the depression of an old grave with the remnants of an old, unmarked, cross laying on top. I've long felt that graves, especially isolated ones, should be marked. We deserve to have our finally resting places noticed. I started working on finding out more about the man that had long laid in that sod.
Information was sketchy. A few people that I talked to knew bits and snippets of the story, most never even knew it was there. The basic details that came out was that the grave was that of an American, who fell off a barge or sternwheeler at Mills Lake, down stream from Fort Providence, and drowned. Because of the cost he was buried locally, because he wasn't Catholic he wasn't buried in the local graveyard. It fell to the RCMP member stationed there at the time to bury the man (and depending on who was telling the story the man's dog as well).
My goal was to have enough information to put up a proper headstone and a fence around the grave, but before any of that could be done I was transferred, and I passed the torch to the other members of the detachment, and the community. I never found out if it had been done.
Until recently. A short time ago I received a message from a friend in Fort Providence letting me know some news on the grave. Not only had the grave been marked some years ago (thanks to community members and the work of the detachment), but the fellow's daughter was coming up to visit her father's grave for the first time.
As it turned out, the stories I learned had many of the details right, but not all. The man buried there across from the detachment was not American but a man from Alberta. Robert Lee Wilson was a trucker from Alberta who was on a barge at Mills Lake when he was hit in the head, knocking him into the water. He died in the accident, leaving behind a wife and four children.
The family never got a chance to visit the grave site, and only had a photo of the already deteriorating grave taken in the '70s by an Uncle. Three of Wilson's children passed away, but finally, this summer, Wilson's last surviving daughter got the opportunity to travel north and stand at his grave. Thanks to the community and people of Fort Providence she stood not at an almost forgotten depression in the ground, but at a marked and maintained grave.
And that makes my grave concern all the worthwhile.