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Trail Blazers: Burying the dead in a young townsite

Trail Blazers is a weekly feature in partnership with the Trail Museum and Archives
The city’s first cemetery circa the late 1920s. Photo: Trail Historical Society

In recognition of All Souls Day, this week Trail Blazers looks back to the formation of the city’s first cemetery.

Situated roughly where ‘C’ lot now sits at Teck Trail Operations, the townsite of Trail interred its first soul in October 1895, when Rodney Robinson succumbed to his injuries after falling into the Columbia River from the S.S. Lytton.

An American with no relatives or prospects in the young town, Mr. Robinson was cared for by Colonel Eugene Sayre Topping, who covered all funeral and burial costs.

“The death posed a conundrum for Topping: the townsite lacked a cemetery,” explains Sarah Benson-Lord, manager, Trail Museum and Archives.

“The smelter was not yet operating, so Topping identified some land on the bench above town to develop a cemetery.”

One month later, another tragedy would befall both the town and those who settled it, Benson-Lord continues.

“Frank Hanna Jr., son of Topping’s partner Frank Sr. and Mary Jane, died of typhoid fever at the young age of 16. His grave marker hangs on the wall in the museum today.”

Burial records were not maintained in the city until 1922, at which time the Tadanac cemetery was impacted by burgeoning smelter operations.

“Plenty of folks were dismayed by the state of the cemetery by that time, due to the lack of maintenance and its proximity to a growing and noisy industrial site,” Benson-Lord notes.

In 1932, Mountain View Cemetery on the Rossland hill was opened and the first person was interred in April.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that the city took a hard look at the old Tadanac Cemetery.

In October 1957, under the leadership of beloved Alderman Buddy DeVito, all remains were exhumed and moved to the Old Trail Cemetery, across the highway and below Mountain View.

Over four weeks, 1,134 remains and a First World War memorial were carefully and respectfully removed from the earth and re-interred up the hill, at a cost of $28,350 (about $300,000 today).

The Old Trail Cemetery features some of the original surviving grave markers at the back of the lot, with embedded markers sitting atop remains.

This photo (a portion of a larger panoramic image) was taken around 1928 and coincidentally captures a burial taking place in the foreground.

Benson-Lord adds, “The next time you’re driving the hill to or from Rossland, or maybe parking in ‘C’ lot at Teck, consider the people who came before us in our little town and the interesting journeys they took in both life and death.”

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Sheri Regnier

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