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Cemetery tours unearth stories behind those interred in graveyard

Museum Interpretation Curator, Aimee Greenaway stands beside one of the tombstones at Pioneer Cemetery in Nanaimo. - Nicholas Pescod
Museum Interpretation Curator, Aimee Greenaway stands beside one of the tombstones at Pioneer Cemetery in Nanaimo.
— image credit: Nicholas Pescod

Nanaimo is home to many unique things, such as the Silly Boat Regatta, Bathtub Race, plenty of sports teams and of course the Nanaimo Bar.

However, the Harbour City is also home to Pioneer Cemetery, British Columbia’s third oldest cemetery and was once the final resting place over 150 people.

For a limited time this summer the Nanaimo Museum is offering residents of the Harbour City a unique guided tour of the cemetery, which is located on the corner of Comox Road and Wallace Street.

Museum Interpretation Curator, Aimee Greenaway said the cemetery is the final resting place of an American Civil War veteran, Crimean War veteran and many other interesting people.

“I think it is one of the more interesting parts of Nanaimo,” Greenaway said. “The cemetery is this little hidden piece of downtown that has all these stories tucked away in it.”

One of those stories is of Samuel Sargent, who died in Nanaimo as a result of injuries in suffered during the Crimean War in Russia. “He served in the British Royal Navy in the pacific,” Greenaway said. “He was injured in the battle and The ship [he was on] came to Esquimalt because it was part of the Royal Navy they were refueling and getting supplies.”

Eventually the ship made its way to Nanaimo to collect coal. That’s when things took a turn for the worse for Sargent. “His head injury was getting worse and worse and by the time they got to Nanaimo, he had passed away,” Greenaway said. “So it was really just kind of a coincidence that he ended up in this area.”

Sargent is believed to be the only Crimean War war veteran burried in North America. His story is just one of many that will be told during the 45-minute long tour through the cemetery, which can be a bit tricky to notice.

“I think a lot of people drive by it and think it is a greenspace,” Greenaway explained. “It has got these really nice retaining walls, but you actually have to go up close to see that there are cemetery markers.”

The Pioneer Cemetery tours are scheduled to be held on Aug. 14 and Aug. 28 at 1:30 p.m. The tour costs $10. For more information please call 250 753-1821 or visit www.nanaimomuseum.ca.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com
Twitter: @npescod

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