Experience a graveside peek into Salmon Arm’s past with the upcoming Mount Ida Cemetery tour.
R.J. Haney Heritage Village’s curator Deborah Chapman is digging up stories for her tour on the prettiest knoll in Salmon Arm. The old section of the Mount Ida Cemetery is where Chapman likes to talk about the city’s early residents and lessons learned.
This year’s search started with an email to Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley. Brad’s uncle, Jack Shirley is buried in the family plot and Brad knows the family story well.
“My dad always said the headstone had the wrong year on it,” Brad commented when asked about this particularly heart-wrenching story. A little research confirmed the family history record.
“Last Saturday, towards the close of the afternoon, when the most of us were going about our ordinary duties, a drowning fatality took place which was of a most distressing nature,” the Salmon Arm Observer reported on June 23rd, 1921.
Twelve-year-old Jack Shirley, son of Mr. and Mrs. George Shirley, and his chum Jack Fergusson were on an adventure to the Kellington farm on the Valley Road. It was a Saturday, school was out, and Jack Fergusson’s grandfather was expecting them.
The lads reached the property, but detoured across a meadow at the back of the house. The banks of the Salmon River were overflowing. There was a log jam. Delighted, Jack Fergusson stripped down went in for a swim. Something startled him, he got scared and called for help.
Jack Shirley was a good swimmer and dove into the water fully clothed. Fergusson managed to grab a tree branch to save himself but Shirley was not so lucky. The water was icy cold. He was hot. Did he get a cramp? Imagine the horror as his pal watched Shirley sink. The river was 12-feet deep and the Shirley boy disappeared completely.
Tom Kellington and others dragged the river for the missing boy for two hours. When young Shirley’s body was found, someone administered artificial respiration for an hour. Jack Shirley was taken to the local hospital where further resuscitation efforts proved fruitless.
The Salmon Arm Observer reported that St. John’s Anglican Church was overflowing at young Jack’s service the following Monday. Twenty-four cars followed the casket to its resting place.
The Observer went on to report that floral tributes from friends and relatives were exceedingly numerous and beautiful. The most touching one came from Jack Fergusson. Its card read: “From his chum Jack. He gave his life for me.”
Young Fergusson’s message continues to this day. When doing rescue team training, Brad shows a photo of the Jack Shirley’s headstone.
“It is not uncommon for rescuers to lose their lives trying to save others,” said Brad, “And I don’t want any of our team to end up like Uncle Jack.”
Join Chapman for more stories on Sunday, Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. in the old section of Mt. Ida Cemetery. Cost of the program is $10 and includes a hot chocolate. Space is limited, so call R.J. Haney Heritage Village at 250-832-5243 to reserve your spot.