Dead tell their tales during cemetery stroll

Salmon Arm Museum curator Deborah Chapman again take participants on her popular, annual "Speak of the Dead" tour this Sunday.

  • Oct. 1, 2013 7:00 a.m.

The life of Agnes McGuire is on the slate for the 2013 cemetery tour

Salmon Arm Museum and Haney Heritage Village curator Deborah Chapman is up to one of her favourite fall activities – preparing to take people on her annual tour, “Speak of the Dead.”

She’s reviewing the cast list, checking her candidates, making sure all are still available, and preparing for a walk through one of the prettiest knolls in Salmon Arm, the Mt. Ida Cemetery.

This year the walk falls on Sunday, Oct. 6. The air will be crisp, the leaves starting to turn colour. It is a beautiful spot, chosen by early pioneers, and recently recognized for its historical importance on the Salmon Arm Heritage Register.

The cemetery was purchased from Mr. Jas Allen in 1894 and one former cemetery caretaker believes that Mrs. Agnes McGuire was behind the purchase. The story goes that McGuire wanted somewhere to bury her dead. Her headstone is in a family plot with her husband, Alexander, and son Charles.

In his book Historic Routes, author Denis Marshall writes that when Sarah Agnes Hudson McGuire alighted from a Canadian Pacific Railway coach at the Salmon Arm Station in 1892, she could be forgiven for having second thoughts about claiming a dubious legacy.

The land was bush and McGuire had been left a desolate looking log building “general store” and less than a quarter section of land. The community was only 200 souls and she had been raised in Montreal.

McGuire had her three youngest children in tow, Sam, Arthur, and Maude. Waiting for her were her older children, John and Emily, who were already settled in Salmon Arm.  Charles, their older brother, had passed away two months earlier and Mother McGuire was his heir.

The matriarch had arrived. No one questioned where the absent Mr. McGuire was. Agnes was a forthright and capable woman, used to being on her own. Alexander was an engineer, always away working on the railroad. He did show up eventually, several years later, according to youngest daughter Maude.

McGuire set to work converting her son’s trading post into a respectable general store. She continued with the contract for postal service.

The location was decent. The settlement, where people lived, was down the Salmon Valley Road and clustered around 30th Street SW. The farmers had to come to town to ship their milk by train, purchase supplies and get their mail.

Thinking ahead, the astute business woman saw potential for a townsite. She sold lots to others and a community began to emerge. When the town was officially surveyed in 1906, she named the six streets: Shuswap, Okanagan, McLeod, Alexander, Palmer, Harris and Hudson.

Survey completed, McGuire sent her son, Jack, to speak to council about a proposal. She asked permission for an exemption of sorts – to only pay farm value taxes on the lots for five years or until they sold. In the meantime, the grounds were to be used as a common.

Then Agnes McGuire sweetened the offer with a free lot for a municipal hall. When the council accepted her deal, the Salmon Arm townsite became official.

Join Chapman for more stories on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. in the old section of Mt. Ida Cemetery. Cost of the program is $7.50 and includes a cup of hot chocolate.

Space is limited, so call 250-832-5243 to reserve your spot.


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