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St. Joachim Cemetery is the oldest graveyard in the city, after the Edmonton Cemetery.  (Jessica Nelson)

Graveyard myths and secrets

The bare-bones truth about Edmonton’s oldest cemetery
By Jessica Nelson

GRAVEDIGGERS don’t work just with shovels anymore. They use backhoes – and sometimes, in the really old cemeteries, a skull is unearthed.

The Edmonton Cemetery at 118th Street and 107th Avenue is the oldest graveyard in Edmonton and was established in 1886. It is the resting place of many notable pioneers, including Emily Murphy, a Canadian women’s rights activist, who was one of the Famous Five. The maintenance for this cemetery is typical. The grass is to be kept short and flowers are well fertilized.

“It’s very much just keeping up with the weather,” groundskeeper Shawn Hamm says.

It’s the age of the Edmonton Cemetery that causes bones to be dug up. Things shift and settle, and sometimes city workers come across unmarked graves. Over the years, the city has had an “abundant documentation of discoveries of human remains,” according to archival documents.

The Edmonton Cemetery is twinned with St. Joachim Cemetery – which was established in 1888 on land donated by the Groat family and served the St. Joachim Parish. There are only three twin cemeteries in Edmonton. The graves in the Edmonton Cemetery are oriented east and west, while the graves in the Catholic St. Joachim Cemetery are oriented north and south.

Apart from the occasional bone that gets unearthed, there have been issues with vandalism, something that occurs in cemeteries throughout Edmonton.

“They usually have someone on patrol around Halloween, because it’s a cool place to go hang out,” Hamm says.

The Edmonton Cemetery has a mausoleum which was built in the 1930s and contains more than 100 crypts. There are myths surrounding the mausoleum in the groundskeeping world.

A former caretaker was in the mausoleum and got spooked by something. He quit the next day and would not tell anyone what he saw.

“The mausoleum is fancy,” Hamm says. “It smells like rosewater. It’s like being in a church. There’s this big rug in the front when you come in.”

The rug wasn’t always there. It hides a huge burn mark on the stone floor., which is also mired in myth, but this time with regards to the Hell’s Angels.

“Apparently, they had an initiation test where they would break into the mausoleum and then open one of the graves, and then you had to crawl in and lay down next to whoever is buried in there, and give the body a kiss and get out. That is what I’m told.”

Hamm says he doesn’t have much personal experience in the mausoleum, but that doesn’t mean the myths don’t spook him.

“It’s got something scary that scared some poor caretaker. It was a part of some weird initiation rite for a while for Hells Angels – allegedly. There is a room that looks like Freddie Krueger was born in it … Well, it’s just a really old furnace room and it looks creepy.”

Hamm says he has had only one experience that has startled him.

“I was once scared by someone who was skateboarding. It looked like they were hovering.”

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