Thanks to a pair of retired Telus volunteers active with Vernon and District Family History Society, a shortcut through a portion of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery is now blocked by a pair of monuments that honour those buried in that one particular row.
Gilda Koenig and Alice Lee were able to raise money and have a pair of large rocks donated to commemorate 41 souls buried in a row off Birch Street, between Fir Street and Walnut Street, people who died in Vernon’s B.C. Provincial Home for the Aged on Mission Hill, which operated between 1948 and 1961.
“As we were cleaning up the cemetery, we noticed vehicles driving over the graves, and that upset us,” said Koenig. The ladies put up plastic markers indicating gravesites but that still didn’t stop people from driving across the graves to get to another portion of the cemetery.
There are 377 of the close to 500 people who died in the home buried in Vernon’s cemetery. Only about 70 of those have markers. Most are in unmarked graves.
The original site of B.C. Provincial Home for the Aged was an old military building off the Vernon Army Camp that opened in 1948. It operated until 1961 when it became Dellview Hospital, and operated as a care facility until 1976 when Dellview was torn down and the current Polson Extended Care Unit was built, opening in 1982 and remains in operation today.
People from all over B.C. were cared for at the B.C. Provincial Home for the Aged.
“A lot of men I’ve read about came this way, leaving their families behind to search for gold in the Monashees, and then simply ended up being transients,” said Koenig. “They never went home, they became street people, became ill and whenever space opened up in B.C., they were sent to these facilities.”
Added Lee: “We’ve looked at the death registrations and there’s no information on them. No father’s name, wife’s name, nothing, not even where they were born. It’s a real hunt to trace anybody to find a family member. There’s nothing there.”
Lawrna Myers from the society said as people aged in the mid-20th century, there was nowhere to put somebody who had medical problems or who were on their own.
Essondale Hospital in Coquitlam was the provincial mental hospital, but a lot of people who were housed there didn’t have mental problems. It was the only place that had the medical facility to house them. Thus, Homes for the Aged were built, including the one in Vernon.
“In today’s terms think of Noric House or Gateby, the more advanced care facilities,” said Myers. “That’s where men and women would go if they couldn’t look after themselves or they had nobody else to look after them.”
On behalf of Koenig and Lee, Telus donated funds toward the 500 volunteer hours each woman attained working on the project. Lynx Earthworks and Westridge Quarries Ltd. donated the rocks and the engraving on each rock – “In remembrance of those who died in the BC Provincial Home For the Aged 1948-1961” – was handled by Caufields Engraving Ltd.