Obituary Guide

Plenty of Local History to be Seen at Cemetery

Brandon Sun,  August 15, 2022

David McConkey

A great way to connect with your community is to get to know your local cemetery. And books, online resources, walking tours and personal visits bring to life the stories of those buried there.

A great exploration of Manitoba’s cemeteries is the two-book series “Every Stone a Story: Manitoba's Buried History.” Published in 2008 and 2009, the books were written by the father-son team of Charles Brawn and Dale Brawn. Charles specialized in travelling the province taking photos of headstones and Dale in researching. The books grew out of a Brandon Sun column penned by the Brawns called “Digging Up History.”

The “Every Stone a Story” books chronicle a wide range of the intriguing citizens who enlivened our province’s history. People featured range from community builders to rogues and criminals and the victims of accidents and disasters.

With vivid detailed descriptions, informative photos and extensive footnotes, the books make compelling reading as well as serving as a local reference. Unfortunately, the books are now out of print. But they are available at the Brandon Public Library and other libraries throughout the province.

The Brandon Municipal Cemetery is as old as the community. After the city’s founding in 1881, funeral homes and the cemetery itself were among the first businesses to be established. In 1906, the City of Brandon purchased the cemetery, which had been privately owned and operated. The city then expanded the site by buying other nearby property, a process that has continued over the years. Today, the cemetery has nearly 23,000 interments.

You can search for any burial using the City’s online search tool. In addition to the location in the cemetery, there is often other information, such as newspaper obituary and photo of the headstone. Note that there are gaps in the information available, especially for the early years.

An informative walking tour of some of the fascinating stories from the cemetery has been created by Cemetery Administrator Sandy Jasper and the City’s Innovation, Technology and Communications department. You can follow the tour online from the comfort of your own home or by going out to the cemetery. The online tour can be accessed on your phone at the cemetery using a QR Code posted at each entrance and outside the office.

Jasper and I have developed three guided walking tours that we presented earlier this year and will again this fall. Information and registration is available from the City’s Parks and Recreation Services department.  

After a pandemic hiatus, “Gossip in the Graveyard” returns on the Sept. 10th - 11th weekend. The program is sponsored by Brockie Donovan Funeral Home. Tickets are $20; proceeds go to Westman Dreams for Kids.

“Gossip” is a two-hour interactive theatrical production. Actors from the Assiniboine Theatre Company portray characters from the past, at their gravesites. Go ahead – you can ask them questions and chat with them about their life and death.

There was a special “Gossip” moment 10 years ago: Kaye Rowe was performed by Diane Nelson. Rowe died in 1995; now Nelson is also gone as she died two weeks ago. Both graced the community with their vivacious style and writing in the Brandon Sun. During “Gossip,” right at Rowe’s grave, one legendary Brandon personality channelled another. What a wonderful memory!    

A cemetery is public property and while visiting there one should comport oneself in a dignified manner. But a question may have arisen in the minds of readers. Is it somehow disrespectful to enjoy sauntering through a cemetery or to enjoy taking in a program about the dead?

Dale Brawn addressed that question at the Brandon book launch of the first “Every Stone a Story.” He noted that we often avoid talking about the dead – or visiting cemeteries – because we don’t wish to seem disrespectful. On the contrary, Brawn asserted. Telling stories about the deceased and making the cemetery a familiar place are ways of remembering and honouring those who have lived and died.

The Brawns put their welcoming philosophy into practice in life and – now – in death. Charles Brawn died in 2017 at the age of 93. The Brawn family headstone in the Brandon Cemetery is special as it forms the shape of a bench. You can visit it at Section 27, Block D, Plot 118.

You are invited to get to know your local cemetery. You can browse “Every Stone a Story,” visit in person, do online research and attend walking tours and presentations. And if you are at the Brawn headstone in the Brandon Cemetery, you are invited to pause, relax and take a seat.

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See Also:

Tours, Book Bring Cemetery to Life

Murder and Mayhem in the Brandon Cemetery

More Stories of Mayhem from the Brandon Cemetery

Get to Know Your Local Cemetery

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