By Tim Kalinowski
It’s a sad fact that those long buried are forgotten after a few generations —especially if there are no living relatives around to maintain the graves. Names on the headstones lose their meaning. And the lives those names once signified are swept away in the onrush of history. That’s why most community and local cemeteries have a cemetery committee to ensure, at least, the final resting place of the long departed is maintained in a neat and orderly manner and that the names, which are often the only things which survive, are recorded and kept and the headstones cleaned of algae and moss to mark who lies there in eternal silence.
For the Gull Lake Cemetery Committee volunteers it is a constant struggle to keep the Gull Lake and District Cemetery neat and orderly and accessible to visiting relatives. It requires a significant investment in time and effort by local volunteers which is not always appreciated. Like many volunteer bodies the cemetery committee is struggling to attract younger volunteers to do the often challenging landscape and yard work required to allow the living to have a beautiful and peaceful resting place for their loved ones.
Jim Helyar, chairman of the Gull Lake Cemetery Committee, and his wife Mary do not originally come from Gull Lake, and they have no relatives in the local cemetery. They got involved with the Cemetery Committee through St. John the Baptist Anglican Church. And thus Helyar, who spends weeks at a time away from town working as an electrician in mines in the northern part of the province, uses his own scant free time to help maintain the Gull Lake Community Cemetery.
“When Mary and I were approached about it, we went out and took a look at the gravesites and the graveyard and that there was grass about two feet high that hadn’t been looked after for a long time,” explains Helyar. “We don’t volunteer for many things. So we looked at that and said let’s go for it.”
In the two years the Helyars have been involved with the cemetery committee a lot has gotten done. The committee bought new signs to mark out grave blocks and list the names of those buried in the blocks to make it easier for visitors to find relatives. They have new highway signs to mark the cemetery which is difficult to see from the road. They have begun pressure washing all the headstones to get rid of growths on the stone, and have bought new garbage cans and new benches. This year they have ambitious plans to cut back the wild tangle of bushes which surround the cemetery and those growing out of control over some of the graves.
“And it all costs money,” says Helyar. “You can’t expect to get it all done for free… No one thinks about passing away until that time comes. We can’t go canvassing because we are tied in with the town itself. So we kind of depend on the generosity of the community.”
In the next few years Helyar says a new need will have to be met as burial practices change and funeral costs get more expensive. More and more people are getting cremated, and their relatives would like to have a final resting place for the ashes. The Gull Lake Cemetery Committee is hoping to purchase a new 64 chamber columbarium to meet this need.
“A lot of people seem to be going for cremation more than burial these days. The maintenance is cut down to almost nothing for the relatives, and with the cost of funerals these days most are trying to go with cremation than trying to dig a hole and all that. Like anything that’s fairly new, it’s a little bit pricey. We’re looking at $24,000 for a 64 cubicle columbarium.”
Helyar is hopeful that Gull Lake and surrounding area citizens will help bring this much needed item to the cemetery and give funds to help pay for the new signage and all the other work which can’t be done by local volunteers.
“We’d like to fundraise for the columbarium as well as get donations for the cemetery committee itself to do the work at the cemetery with the signs for the blocks.”
Those wishing to make donations to the Gull Lake Cemetery Committee and the new columbarium can drop off those donations at the Gull Lake Town Office.
M. Kate Winquist
Publisher / Editor
“Your Southwest Community Newspaper”