‘We have a problem’: Erosion reveals remains of settlers in Gabriola cemetery

'We have a problem': Erosion reveals remains of settlers in Gabriola cemetery
Photo courtesy: Jared Hooper
Erosion is unearthing bones buried over a century ago at Gabriola Community Cemetery.

The past is surfacing in a ghostly way on Gabriola Island as erosion reveals the graves of the community’s settlers.

As rolling waves and barking sea lions filled the air around the clifftop Gabriola Community Cemetery Tuesday, Jared Hooper said it was clear to him why the first settler laid his beloved wife to rest there.

It’s where stone markers bear the names of the community’s pioneers and settler families dating back to the 1880s.

“I find the place totally peaceful and calm, it’s beautiful,” said Hooper, chair of the Gabriola Cemetery Committee, in an interview with CHEK News.

But change is being forced on its peaceful plots, and it’s happening fast. The bank below the cemetery is receding eight inches from erosion each year, unearthing bones buried over a century ago and leaving many metres of ground lost to the water and beach below.

“We have a problem. It’s been going on for a long, long time,” said Hooper.

So much ground has been lost now that a dozen settlers buried closest to the edge are coming to the surface and in danger of being lost.

“The remains of these pioneers are getting exposed and it’s a shame,” said Janet Stobbs, archivist of the Gabriola Island Museum.

The museum has collections on those settlers who made a life on Gabriola, many arriving penniless from Ireland, England and Scotland in the 1880s. How they were later buried, without coffins and many without markers, revealed many stayed poor and humbled up to their deaths.

“All I can say is they were hard-working people. I think they were brave. I really do, coming to a strange land,” said Stobbs.

So Hooper wants to make sure those settlers are honoured as their remains emerge.

“That’s our responsibility,” said Hooper.

A net has been placed below the exposed bones to catch what falls, and the community plans to rebury the remains respectfully.

“We just have to let nature take its course and retrieve the remains that are coming out now and rebury them as respectfully and safely as possible,” added Hooper.

More remains are expected to fall from the cemetery bank in the coming years, and experts predict it will be continuous work of reburying the past of Gabriola all over.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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