Obituary Guide

Tours, Book Bring Cemetery to Life

Brandon Sun, June 14, 2008

David McConkey

Three great resources bring to life the stories buried in our local cemeteries.

Gossip in the Graveyard, What Lies Beneath, and Every Stone a Story all inform, inspire, and invite us to connect with this part of our community.

Gossip in the Graveyard is a two-hour interactive theatre production that highlights some of the interesting people buried at the Brandon Municipal Cemetery.

Actors with 7 Ages Productions, under the artistic direction of George Buri, vividly portray people from Brandon’s past. Right at their gravesites.

Walking throughout the grounds, you stop at about a dozen graves. You see the people dressed as they would have been and hear them speak as they would have spoken. (You might even hear some juicy bits of gossip.)

You then can chat with them about their lives and deaths. People as varied as Kaye Rowe, Eleanor Kidd, and George Tackaberry.

Sponsored by Brockie Donovan Funeral Home, Gossip in the Graveyard is in its third year.

The acting is wonderful, and each year there are some new characters. So, even if you have gone before, go again! Book early as participation is limited. Last year, it sold out.

Reserve your $15 ticket from Kelly Lumbard, 204-724-2682. Proceeds will be donated to Westman Hospice.

What Lies Beneath is a self-guided tour of the Brandon Municipal Cemetery. Among the graves are those of George Brockie, Lucy Beaubier, and Flora Cowan. Brandonites will recognize many names from city streets, businesses, and other landmarks.

The What Lies Beneath tour can be taken online at the City of Brandon website. The virtual tour has a map showing where in the Cemetery you are, a photo of each gravesite, a picture of the individual (if available), and a description of their life.

You can also take the tour at the Cemetery. Booklets are available at the Cemetery office and at the Riverbank Discovery Centre.

A suggestion to the City of Brandon: put the booklet online as well. Then, those interested can print a copy for themselves and head off to the Cemetery at their convenience.

Every Stone a Story: Manitoba's Buried History is a new book by Charles Brawn and Dale Brawn.  (In the U.S.: Every Stone a Story.)

Developed from their “Digging Up History” column in the Brandon Sun Community News, the Brawns tell the stories of dozens of fascinating Manitobans. Each story features a photo of the person’s headstone.

Some of the people are nationally famous, like Brandon politician Sir Clifford Sifton, or author Frederick Philip Grove.

Others are more locally well-known, like town founders Squire Sowden of Souris, or John Davidson of Neepawa. Davidson’s headstone, by the way, was immortalized by Margaret Laurence as the “Stone Angel.”

Many others, however, are now essentially forgotten. Like the two thousand people buried at the former Brandon Mental Health Centre.

Every Stone a Story is a book about lives – and deaths. There is an ample amount of murder and mayhem as the Brawns colorfully chronicle numerous crimes, accidents, disasters, even hangings.

The well-written stories, the details, the photos, and the footnotes make this a superb book not only for browsing, but also as a local reference.

Here you can read about Alexander’s threshing crew fire in 1915, and Brandon’s snow train wreck in 1916 and Olympia CafĂ© fire in 1953.

Then there was the death of Lloyd Shields at an open air dance near Roseland, south-west of Brandon. He was killed by a bomb accidentally dropped by a training aircraft during World War II.

At the recent book launch in Brandon for Every Stone a Story, Dale Brawn made a thoughtful observation. He remarked that we often avoid talking about the dead – or visiting cemeteries – because we don’t wish to seem disrespectful.

On the contrary, he asserted. Telling the stories of the deceased and making the cemetery a familiar place are ways of remembering and honouring those who have lived and died.

With these three excellent local resources, we can get in touch with our collective history, our common humanity, and our community graveyards.

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