Cemeteries are a place of solace. All people, regardless of wealth, status, religion or creed are equals within a cemetery. It's a place of remembrance, respect and reconciliation. If you visit a cemetery, you are visiting the graves of lost loved ones. These may be children, pioneers, rebels or everyday people. Every grave has a story, and all are longing to be told.
Because of this, cemeteries are a library of knowledge. They hold the lessons of our past, and the wisdom of our future. As the leaves change and the days get shorter, cemeteries attract a much different crowd than that of just historians and family members. With autumn crisp in the air, cemeteries fill with thrill-seekers and paranormal believers. There is a fine line between what is and isn't acceptable within a cemetery and those who dabble into the affairs of the afterlife know this all too well. Few people go into cemeteries looking to disrespect the graves; instead, most are just hoping they can answer their own questions about life after death.
Not all cemeteries are haunted, but each holds their own stories. Keep this in mind while you read this article. If you end up visiting any of these sites, remember to step softly, speak quietly and respect the surrounding graves. You might not be as alone as you think.
1. Yorkton Cemetery - Yorkton
Of all the cities in Saskatchewan, Yorkton seems to love their paranormal side the most. In 2005 the Yorkton Centennial Committee put on The Haunts of Yorkton, an interactive haunted tour of the city. The tour continued through 2006 and 2007 and ended up winning the Community Award of Excellence. One location on the tour is the Kiwanis Kiddie's Playground, across the street from the former Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital. Stories claim empty swings in the playground would swing back and forth, teeter-totters that thump up and down and merry-go-rounds would spin even though nobody was using them. The playground is one of the most well-known haunts in Saskatchewan, but few know why.
In 1953 the Yorkton Enterprise wrote that a woman, while digging a sewer trench in the area, uncovered a skeleton not far from the hospital. This discovery of the body began a discussion where Yorkton's original cemetery once was, and it appeared nobody in the town knew the answer. Cemetery records show that graves were moved from the old cemetery to the new one in 1896, so it must have existed before then. As word of the mystery spread, one man from British Columbia stepped forward. He said he remembered the old cemetery and that it sat next to the Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital – right where the playground is today.
Yorkton's new cemetery is a place of great interest, and the city offers self-guided walking tours that visits 28 different locations throughout it. Each location shares its own stories, and helps preserve a time in Yorkton history that is long lost.
One such story is that of John Hole. Hole moved to Yorkton in 1905 and opened a John Deer implement business. He was known throughout the town for his sense of humour and often frequented the local bars. One of his shenanigans includes riding a horse into the bar instead of dismounting it. While peculiar to read about today, it was a fairly common stunt – and the participant usually still got their drink.
His wife Jane had no problems going inside the bar to retrieve him if he had overstayed his welcome – an action illegal for women at the time. John usually left with her but wasn't afraid to speak his mind either. One time, after a heated discussion, John drove themselves and their vehicle into a slough. He then turned to his wife and said, as the surrounding water seeped into the vehicle, "Now, you can sit here and cool off."
His legacy was cut short in 1907 when he took his own life.
Another story is that of Samuel Foster, a New Brunswick native. He worked as a skilled axeman and gained such a reputation he had a street named after him. He was a proud Liberal and vocally disagreed with much of the political landscape, earning him the nickname "Old Grit". This came to a head in 1901 when Foster was 70 years old. The town had proposed a new avenue which would intersect his street. It would be named "Tupper Avenue" after a Canadian Father of Confederation, Sir Charles Tupper, who was a Conservative. According to Dr. Swallow's book Ox Trails to Highways, Foster was "allergic to Conservatism". After Tupper Avenue was christened, Foster would go out every night, remove the street sign and put up a different sign name of his choosing. Foster would do this several times, but the city was unabated and Tupper Avenue's name remained.
In 1917 Foster would pass away, but in a cruel twist, his obituary would list his final address as being not on Foster Street, but on Tupper Avenue.
With such colourful characters, nobody would be surprised if John Hole or Samuel Foster were still hanging around and causing mischief in the cemetery. However, I've been told by city staff that the only thing that goes bump in the night in this cemetery is the raccoons.
2. One Eye Cemetery – Strasbourg / RM of McKillop
Of all the cemeteries on this list, this one has the eeriest of names and by far the least information about it. Also known as the Last Mountain Cemetery, the One Eye Cemetery rests in the rural municipality of McKillop – although it once belonged to that of Strasbourg. I have called both communities and have been told neither of them knew much about this cemetery – other than McKillop cuts the grass.
P.A.S.T. Saskatchewan investigated the cemetery after several paranormal reports. The story is that a young woman was in the cemetery at night when a marble slab, 4 inches thick and 10 inches high was thrown at her. The stone made an incredible impact and frightened her as no human can throw something of that size. She turned to leave the cemetery, only to hear unseen footsteps following her, even after she returned home. The P.A.S.T team followed up with this story and visited the cemetery to do an investigation. Their episode will their Season 3 show on Access 7 on October 17th, 2017.
Upon hearing this story, I had my friend reach out into the community to see if anybody else had experienced such things. Stories came back of lights flying around the cemetery, gates opening and closing on their own, disembodied voices and one occurrence of something bumping the side of their car door.
If there's something in the cemetery, it doesn't seem to like visitors.
3. St. Henry's Kronsberg Cemetery – Dysart
Of all the cemeteries on this list, St. Henry's is the most controversial. Listed in Ghost Stories of Saskatchewan 3, by Jo-Anne Christensen, this cemetery is said to be one of the most haunted in the province. Various paranormal activity has occurred here, with the most famous being a strange mist that engulfs the cemetery at night. The passage in Christensen's book focuses on the experiences of Calling Lakes Paranormal Investigators (CPLI). They claim to have seen black figures crawl across the ground in the mist and hooded shadows dart between the headstones. A recording left there overnight heard a variety of unexplainable sounds such as walking, drumming, chanting, singing, laughing and talking. There are also reports of a winged "guardian" that flies around the cemetery to protect it. The passage concludes that there could be a portal or gateway in the cemetery that allows for the passage of spirits.
After reading this passage, I called the town of Dysart to inquire further. They told me they knew nothing of the claims but gave me the phone number of a farmer that lived nearby. I called him and asked if the cemetery was haunted. The farmer laughed and said "no, that's ridiculous". For 84 years he has lived near the cemetery and never had he experienced anything of the sort.
I tracked down a member of CPLI and asked them about the cemetery. They haven't gone out there in years, but the individual I spoke to stood by what they experienced. They confirmed the cemetery is incredibly active.
I then visited St. Henry's Kronsberg Cemetery myself. I spent over an hour in the cemetery walking among the headstones, and I experienced nothing. The scariest thing I saw was a garter snake.
Upon posting my pictures on Facebook, one individual reached out to me in private and shared this picture. It was all the proof they needed that the cemetery wasn't as empty as it might look.
4. Wolseley and Greenville Cemetery - Wolseley
To many, Wolseley is a sleepy town an hour outside of Regina, known solely for its swinging bridge and historic buildings. But, as with any small town, things aren't always as they seem.
P.A.S.T. Saskatchewan investigated this cemetery several years ago and claims a very intelligent spirit resides there. Using spirit-contacting technology, they could communicate with the spirit and ask it direct questions and commands. To confirm it was a spirit and not nearby residual energy, they combed the area and determined there was no power lines going above or below the cemetery. Cory from P.A.S.T told me later that whatever is inside that cemetery makes him very uncomfortable.
I called somebody else who is familiar with the cemetery and asked if there had been any reports of hauntings there. They told me under the cloak of anonymity that many people have reported hearing growling coming from inside the cemetery at night.
From there I contacted an archivist who specialises in Wolseley's diverse history. While he had never heard of anything paranormal happening inside that cemetery, it also wasn't the first one the community had. The original cemetery was The Four Mile Cemetery located just outside of town. Around the turn of the 20th Century, a prairie fire tore through the area and burned away all the wooden crosses, leaving only a few stone markers behind. The town had already opened the new cemetery, so they stopped using the old one. Private citizens continued using it until the 1950s where it was left maintained, but unused.
Another point of interest in Wolseley is their Provincial Court House building, which was constructed in 1893, and is the oldest surviving court house building in the province. While the courthouse has many stories, one of them is especially out of the ordinary. In 1907 the community was shocked when six-year-old Rosa Mohr went missing while tending cattle near Candiac, a community 20 minutes from Wolseley. She would be found the next morning by George Harris. Her body had been thrown into a slough, stabbed in the neck and mutilated.
The police would soon arrest 30-year-old Sam Pryor. Pryor was brought over from Britain as an orphan and was placed twice in an insane asylum in Brandon, Manitoba. Harris – the same man who found Mohr's body – ran into Pryor in town the day of the murder and noticed he was distressed. When asked why, Pryor responded with "Well, I'm in trouble, the greatest trouble I ever was in. If the jury say I did it, I am in trouble. If they say I didn't, I may get off."
Pryor would incriminate himself further under interrogation by the Royal North-West Mounted Police. He would say he came across a little Russian girl that teased him for being a "crazy Englishman" and proceeded to stab her. He would then take her body and throw it into the bluff. When asked why he would do such a thing, he said it was because he "hated Russian people".
Pryor would be found guilty, but only because of his confession. The eyewitness testimony of the events that day made little sense, the bloodied clothing taken from Pryor didn't match what he wore the day of the murder and forensics couldn't conclude that the blood stains on his clothes were human at all, only that they were mammal.
Pryor was sentenced to hang, but because it was determined he was only partially insane, he was placed in Alberta Penitentiary until he died. Rosa Mohr is buried in Greenville cemetery, just south of Wolseley.
5. Batoche Cemetery - Batoche National Historic Site
Batoche is the former capital of the original Provisional Province of Saskatchewan. It was here Louis Riel declared a new province, and where he had his final battle before being arrested and tried for treason. Batoche also marks the first place the Gatling Gun was used in battle in Canada.
Although the Metis were outnumbered and outweaponed during the Battle of Batoche, they still held on for four days. When the Canadians charged the town, stories say Metis leader Gabriel Dumont single-handedly hold them off for over an hour, allowing others to escape. Eight Metis would die the first day of battle, and eight more would die the following days. Riel's oldest solider, at 93-year-olds, Joseph Ouellette, was killed on the final day of battle. His final words, while the rest of the militia was retreating, were "In a minute. I want to kill another Englishman."
The Canadians would win the battle and take the town, dissolving the province of Saskatchewan for 20 years until it was formally created in 1905. Today the cemetery marks the graves of the Metis that fought there, along with that of Ouellette.
Gabriel Dumont is also buried in the cemetery, but he did not die in battle. As the rebellion ended, he fled to the United States and was captured by the U.S. Calvary. They considered him a political refugee and let him go. In 1886 he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He would live in New York, make speeches across Quebec about the rebellion, would visit France and Winnipeg, and eventually return to Batoche.
The Batoche cemetery has plenty of history, dating over a decade before the rebellion occurred there. Today it is a National Historic Site, one whose history is old as our province itself. Of all the cemeteries you can visit this October, the Batoche cemetery belongs at the top of your list. While there are no reports of paranormal experiences here, it wouldn't be surprising if some of the Metis refused to rest in peace.
6. Battleford Cemetery - Battleford
As the former capital of the North West Territories, Battleford was once the most powerful city in Western Canada. Several events shaped the town, including the Siege of Battleford in 1885, let by Chief Poundmaker and Chief Big Bear during the North-West Rebellion. As they attacked the town, over 500 citizens fled to the nearby fort. The town was raided, food and horses were stolen, and houses and shops were burnt down. The Battleford Industrial School was also sacked. Six settlers would die during this siege.
Nearby Frog Lake had their own massacre during the rebellion, and eight more settlers would be killed. Once the rebellion ended, these rebels would be brought to Battleford for trial and charged with murder. Judge Charles Rouleau saw the convicted men and proclaimed "every Indian and Half-breed and rebel brought before him after the insurrection was suppressed, would be sent to the gallows if possible." He then sentenced the six men, plus two other Metis men, to hang all at once. No translation of the decision of the trial or their fate was ever provided to the men.
Prior to the hanging, children from the sacked Battleford Industrial School were brought to watch so they would be "taught a lesson". These children would witness the largest mass hanging in Saskatchewan history. After the execution, the bodies would then be buried in an unmarked grave near the fort. It would take until the 1970s for the bodies to be finally relocated.
The town cemetery was established in 1874 and had segregated plots for people of different religions. In the 1950s it became too difficult to manage so it was handed over to the city. They then removed the old segregation boundaries and filled in the empty places before expanding. Many records were lost during the moving of cemetery ownership, and more were lost to fires during the following years.
The Battleford Cemetery sits on the edge of the North Saskatchewan River and is still in use today. The climate has taken its toll on the banks of the river and graves that once were safe are now at risk of falling into the valley below. A "fault line" was declared in the cemetery and over 80 graves were relocated. I spoke to the man who oversaw the project and he said some of the graves were as old as the cemetery themselves. He told me one story about a casket they moved that seemed extraordinarily light, so they opened it to find only a set of gold teeth remaining.
Other graves have been relocated in the cemetery as well, such as graves that belonging to earlier Metis people. These graves were carefully supervised by police and professionals to ensure respect was done during their move. Upon examination of the caskets, they were found to contain Roman Catholic crosses and First Nation beadwork and relics.
This cemetery has the ingredients of everything a haunted cemetery would need. From sieges to mass hangings to the relocation of over 100 graves, if you were looking for restless spirits they would be here. However, when I asked the historic site staff if there were any hauntings in the cemetery, I was told they had "no idea".
Cemeteries are a place of memory, but also of stories. Every grave demands respect and every grave is worth learning about. Not all these cemeteries are haunted, but each is fascinating in their own way. Do you know of any cemeteries you'd like to add to this list? Tell me about them in the comments below.
This article would not have been made possible without the assistance of The City of Yorkton, Ghost Stories of Saskatchewan 3 by Jo-Anne Christensen, The Town of Strasbourg, citizens of Strasbourg, the R.M. of McKillop, P.A.S.T. Saskatchewan, The Town of Dysart, farmers and citizens around Dysart, Calling Lakes Paranormal Investigators, The Town of Wolseley, Wolseley historian Stephen Scriver and his research around the Rosa Mohr murder, The Batoche National Historic Site, Bernadette Leslie of Fred Light Museum, Don Light of North-West Historical Society, Leila Brodner and countless other individuals.
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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The past few weeks have been really busy for me, with a lot more time at the office and a lot less time travelling. Thankfully, the weekend is just around the corner and with it comes the possibility of a two day vacation. Having traveled to Lac La Ronge earlier this month, I've been thinking more and more about these short trips and how rejuvenating they can be.
Unfortunately, I haven't done as much travelling around Saskatchewan as I'd like, so I wasn't sure what the best places to visit were. There were of course the obvious choices such as Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, but I wanted someplace remote, yet somewhat close. For this project I approached some of my fellow travel bloggers and I got some ideas of what to go do and see for a weekend. I went through their ideas and came up with this short list of 5 weekend destinations in Saskatchewan.
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When I started my blog, I wanted a place to tell stories. I wanted a place where I could keep memories and show them off for people later. My earliest entries on my blog are from 2011 (published in 2014), right after my trip to Europe. They're messy, they lack detail, and they are full of inaccuracies. Not the mention the wretched photography.
So, there's only been a slight improvement since then. Hahahahaha.
Four years later, my blog has become my hobby, my joy, my escape and my work. I spend hours writing content for my blog. I spend hours editing pictures, researching details, and adjusting content for SEO (search engine optimization). It's a full-time gig, and just the other day I published my 200th article. After 200 times of doing something, you'd think the articles would get easier, but they really don't. Each one is unique unto itself, and each one is a special time in my life that I shared with my readers.
Ever since visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg last summer, I've wanted to include more about First Nations culture on my blog. Being of European descent, I often feel I am culturally blind to First Nations culture, and I noticed a severe lack of it in my writing. In fact, I feel in past articles a lot of my focus has been on European history in the New World, with only a side note regarding First Nations history. Now, I am trying for there to be more equal representation in my blog.
To finish off my #BucketlistAB series, I thought this article would be the perfect place to flip the tables, and instead focus on First Nations culture, with a European side note. Sometimes it is impossible to talk about one without the other, but I tried to focus more on the First Nations people and their story in this article. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.