In the heart of Saskatchewan, between the villages of Strongfield and Loreburn a bit over 100 kilometres south of Saskatoon, is located a cemetery established in the beginning of 20th century. It contains 34 graves, all of them probably having a Finnish-Canadian buried in them. But only six of the graves are named.
Audrey Harris, a third generation Finnish-Canadian from Saskatchewan, explains the history of the cemetery that still some time ago was unnamed.
– Not long ago we put up a sign on the cemetery that says ‘Finnish Heritage Cemetery’. Before that it did not really have a name.
Harris, who lives about 50 kilometres from the cemetery on the other side of the Saskatchewan River, has been maintaining the cemetery for some time now. Before that her late father with his relatives looked after the cemetery.
– After my father died, nobody looked after the cemetery. Later, the municipality workers burned the weeds from the cemetery and in the process the wooden crosses were burned too, Harris explains.
Harris says that the municipality has not showed any interest in maintaining the cemetery, unlike in many similar cases in the province. Therefore her mother, whose Finnish father-in-law and Audrey Harris’ grandfather is buried in that same cemetery, and Josie Jackson, who also has relatives there, decided it was time to take over and so the Harris and Jackson familes took responsibility of the it.
The Mystery of the Unnamed Graves
According to the information Harris has gathered, the Finnish Heritage Cemetary was founded in 1904. It was used until the 1920s.
– For what we have gathered, two persons were buried there also in the 1930s and two in the mid-1940s. And none after that.
Last summer, Harris had the cemetery surveyed, according to which it has 34 graves - with only six of them named.
– I went through all the homestead records of the area to find out who were the Finnish settlers who lived in the area in the early 20th century. I also did a research of the people that we know moved away later on. And so I ended up with a list of the names of the people that might be buried to the cemetery.
Harris is working on to find out who are buried in the unnamed graves. Her intention is to put up a plaque with the names of those people. After all, it is almost impossible to find out who is buried into which of the unnamed graves.
The Cemetery To Be Used After Decades
On the other side of the Saskatchewan River, where Harris lives too, is a fairly active small Finnish community consisting of large families. Like Harris, many of them are the descendants of the Finns who settled on the region about hundred years ago.
Based on last summer’s survey, there is still plenty of unused space in the cemetery and no other obstacles for using the cemetery were found either.
– Many have said that, when the time comes, they would like to be buried there, Harris says.
The first one to be buried to the Finnish Heritage Cemetery after these decades will be Audrey Harris’ sister.
– My sister passed away in March because of a brain tumor. She always wished that she would be buried there, the same cemetery where our grandfather is too. Honouring her wish, we are going to bury her there this June, Harris says.