Giving dignity to the dead B.C. tried to hide from view
By MARK HUME
Monday, July 18, 2005
NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. -- 'It's here somewhere," Pat Feindel said as she pulled at the weeds and tall grass that had grown up in a corner of the lost graveyard.
After a moment she found a simple headstone, and brushed dirt from the faded, concrete surface to expose the inscription: Leong, Sue, DIED, Oct. 19, 1950.
"Somehow this one got overlooked. It's one of the few that was never taken," said Ms. Feindel, who is part of a remarkable project aimed at restoring dignity to a graveyard that government authorities tried to erase from sight nearly 30 years ago.
The project is not simply a case of tending to a few neglected plots, but involves recovering the history of an entire graveyard that was all but wiped from British Columbia's memory in 1977, when the province authorized the removal of 3,000 headstones.
The stones had marked the graves of former inmates of the Woodlands Institution, a notorious asylum on scenic, wooded lands that slope down to the Fraser River in New Westminster that became known as the "prison for the insane" shortly after it opened in 1878.
"What happened," explains Ms. Feindel, a spokesperson for the BC Association for Community Living, "is that when Queen's Park Hospital was built next to the graveyard [in 1976] somebody decided that the elderly patients would be disturbed by looking out at headstones. So they tried to erase the graveyard."
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