You are here: Home Museum Beat Latest Museum News Cemetery tours are an educational experience
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

L.A. Beat

Cemetery tours are an educational experience

E-mail Print

Wandering around a graveyard in the dead of night is how you’d expect a horror movie to start, but  the Galt Museum’s Belinda Crowson sees it as an educational opportunity — a way to step back in time and explore some of Lethbridge’s sordid history.

Belinda Crowson tells the story of Henry Taylor “Kanoose” the first notable  man arrested  by the North West Mounted Police. Photo by Richard Amery“I don’t try to freak them out, they freak themselves out,” said Crowson, after leading a group of southern Alberta teachers through St. Patrick’s cemetery on the north side of the city overlooking the highway.

It’s pretty easy to get freaked out by the ominous shadows of aged trees overlooking headstones silhouetted in the moonlight.

“It’s easy to get freaked out. We had deer in the first year, and all they could see was these glowing eyes and we’ve had porcupines in our third year,” she said. 

It is easy for ones imagination to get carried away, especially since Crowson will tell the enthusiastic  groups stories of suicides, unsolved murders, about Henry  “Kanoose” Taylor, the first man the Northwest Mounted police arrested for whiskey trading back in 1874.

“They  confiscated his whiskey, his horses and  a lot of his money. He hated the police ever since,” she explained.
 She hosts not only the spooky flashlight tours, but also tours during the day for families and classes of students.

 She was full of interesting historical tidbits, like the  nurse at Galt Hospital who lived at the hospital and passed away 39 years later— without taking a day off, and who was told not to go to church for fear of spreading communicable diseases, or the two nuns who have two different headstones,  in two different parts of the cemetery because the originals were lost.

 There are also more tragic tales of two young boys who died in a May blizzard,  another boy killed after he wrapped his arm around the reins of a horse, who was later spooked. She touched on tales of Lethbridge’s red light district, of some of Lethbridge’s more gruesome crimes, like the case of a man who was tarred and feathered by a group of vigilantes headed up by a police officer, because they blamed him for the suicide of  his landlord and who  was suspected of sleeping with his landlord’s wife.

 She pointed out the headstone of  Thomas Peter Kilkenny, not the beer brewer, but the Lethbridge man who simultaneously held both the jobs of police chief and fire chief for the town.

 She observed there were people buried in St. Patricks from all over southern Alberta, not just Lethbridge.

Then there were a variety of tales of coal mining accidents and suicides.Belinda Crowson stands surrounded by headstones including that of  police chief/ fire chief Thomas Peter Kilkenny. Photo by Richard Amery

“There are lots of scandalous stories in Lethbridge, mostly in the Catholic part of the cemetery,” Crowson joked to the group.
“I spent a lot of time reading obituaries from the Lethbridge Herald. I tried to find stories of people who died in every possible way,” she explained to her group.

 Some are more heartbreaking, like any story about children who dies, especially the children in blizzards and the horse accident.
So  since 2001, Crowson has spent October leading throngs of teachers, classes, and members of the general public who either want to learn about Lethbridge’s weirder, wilder side or just get themselves into the Halloween spirit a month early.
 While it is technically illegal to be in a  cemetery after dark, they have special permission from the city for these tours and respect for the families is a priority.

 While Crowson sticks to a set  script for these tours, she admitted she went off book for this Wednesday night tour which included teachers and Galt Museum volunteers who she has worked with before and pointed out some of Lethbridge’s especially weird and horrifying stories as well as jokes to share with the group.Belinda Crowson stands next to a headstone. Photo by Richard Amery
“I thought it was really cool,” said Taylor Fulton,13, a student at Lethbridge’s Gilbert Patterson school, whose parents brought her on the tour as a birthday present.

“ I like all of the different graves,” she said.
Some stories spoke to some of the teachers who will be incorporating some of them into their classrooms.
“It’s a great way to engage the students, and get them interested in the curriculum,” enthused Amy Korver, who teaches at W.R.  Mercer School in Taber, whose imagination was captured  by the tar and feathering story so much that she is going to incorporate it in her first year social studies class, and who took away some interesting stories about communism from  Crowson’s tour which she is also going to incorporate into her lessons.

Milk River Elementary School Teacher Nicole Freel, who is also a Galt Museum volunteer, thought the cemetery tours were a good idea for field trips for her students.

“It’s a really cool resource for people to get interested in history, especially kids in middle school to get them engaged and motivate them to  get interested in the curriculum,” she observed.

The tale of Henry Kanoose Taylor captured Copperfield Farms Colony School teacher Terri Hansen’s imagination so much so that she hopes to incorporate it into her social studies class. They don’t have such tours on the colony, where pretty much all of the residents are buried.

“We deal with a lot of different stories. We teach Canadian and U.S. history,” she said.
 Crowson chooses October for these tours because there is a proper amount of darkness at the right time of day for them (early evening around 7 p.m.)

“And March is too cold to do them,” Crowson said.
“It’s incredible for people to see this part of history,” she continued.
 They are  so popular, they sell out pretty quickly. She’ll guide between 20-30 people a day on these tours.
 This series ends this week on Oct. 24.

 A version of this story appears in the Oct. 26, 2011 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
 — by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
{jcomments on} 
The ONLY Gig Guide that matters


Music Beat

Lights. Camera. Action.
Inside L.A. Inside

CD Reviews


Music Beat News

Art Beat News

Drama Beat News

Museum Beat News