Jack Knox: The thriller of the tombstone in the backyard

“There’s a tombstone in my parents’ garden,” began the email from Kate Whyte. “My grandfather passed it down to my dad about 20 decades back, but it didn’t belong to him. In reality, it does not belong to anyone in my family. It belongs to a girl named Isabella Stockand and we feel it is about time that Isabella went home.”

Very well, if that opening does not seize you, then you, like the aforementioned Isabella, have no pulse.

Victoria-lifted Whyte, now a Vancouver photographer, shared the tale this past 7 days right after diving into a thriller that goes again to the 1970s. That is when Margaret Speers, a friend of her grandmother, purchased a house on the Gorge, just one in which anything about the overgrown lawn didn’t seem to be fairly proper.

“The garden’s stepping stones and steps had been paved with slabs of marble that appeared just a minimal way too uniform to be standard paving stones,” Whyte wrote. “Out of curiosity, and with the assist of my grandfather, they flipped a couple of them over to have a seem. On the backs ended up inscriptions: dates, names, sites of start. It was distinct that these have been tombstones.”

Pause right here to imagine your have reaction to these kinds of a discovery.

In this scenario, Whyte’s grandfather, a person with a eager desire in record, made the decision to retain a single of the stones he experienced turned about.

“That was Isabella,” Whyte states.

A subsequent Every day Colonist tale in 1975 claimed a neighbour remembered a contractor using the headstones from a pile of slabs that experienced been in the municipal works property for as extensive as any person could remember. The markers, the story reported, may well have been kinds that didn’t suit into the allotted space when tombstones were being uprooted from the previous Quadra Avenue cemetery and crammed into its jap edge in the early 1900s.

The 1975 tale explained that in 1861, chain-gang convicts had dug up the markers and (most of) the human continues to be from a cemetery at Johnson and Douglas — 1 where by hogs have been acknowledged to root up the ground — and relocated them to Quadra Road and what we now know as Pioneer Sq..

Alas, the new web site experienced drainage issues: From time to time, graves “would be so full of h2o that someone would have to stand on the coffin in the grave until finally sufficient earth experienced been shovelled in to keep the coffin down.” The tombstones in Speers’ yard could effectively have been kinds remaining in excess of from the transformation of that troubled graveyard into a general public park.

Yrs later Whyte’s father Keith McLaren, who has authored a few of textbooks of a historical mother nature, took one more run at the thriller, but observed only small information and facts. It was the pre-Internet era. All he knew was the tombstone was for Isabella Stockand, who was from Scotland and died at the age of 44 on Aug. 28, 1867. McLaren observed evidence she could have been a home owner, relatively of a rarity for a girl in that period, but that was about it.

There things stood until eventually this summer. Just after currently being handed down to McLaren, the tombstone invested the final few of a long time in his North Saanich backyard garden, the place Whyte remembers it leaning in opposition to a rock with tendrils of clematis curling all around. “I can assume of even worse spots for a stone to be put,” she wrote, “but a thing about it has never ever sat proper with me.”

So, a pair of months in the past, she took to Google. There, she uncovered a 2015 Vancouver Sun column in which a Manitoba male named Rob Dixon discovered himself as Stockand’s wonderful-wonderful-grandson. He had learned the fate of her headstone from that 1975 Day-to-day Colonist story and was ticked off about it currently being employed as a paver. He also stated that were being he on the West Coast, he would try out to find it and reunite it with the grave of Stockand’s partner, in Ross Bay cemetery.

Alas, when Whyte tried out to track down Dixon this summertime, she learned he died a couple of a long time back.

Even so, he did go away at the rear of additional aspects in that 2015 Solar piece. Isabella’s husband’s name was James. She experienced daughters, 1 of whom was born at sea all through the family’s 5-thirty day period journey aboard the famed sailing ship Norman Morison the Stockands were being among the earliest European arrivals when they disembarked in 1851. (Pause, all over again, to assume of obtaining a baby underneath these kinds of instances.)

Then McLaren identified an archival report with extra evidence that Isabella had certainly been buried at the Quadra Avenue cemetery. And just after Whyte posted anything on-line, background sleuths weighed in, with a person publishing pictures of Stockand descendants in Cumberland.

Whyte learned Isabella had had eight children. A web page dedicated to descendants of Orkney Island settlers, of whom Isabella was 1, led to a get in touch with with a excellent-excellent-great-granddaughter. She explained to Whyte about the daughter who had been born to Stockand at sea, and who at age 16 in Victoria married a Scotsman named David Ross. He died right after they moved to Scotland.

John Adams of the Previous Cemeteries Society of Victoria proved to be a gold mine of info. Records display Isabella had been buried in the Roman Catholic element of the Quadra Road graveyard, which had been divided into sections for Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Chinese and other folks, he informed Whyte.

“In 1873 Pioneer Sq. was closed and Ross Bay Cemetery was opened,” Adams wrote. “A handful of households moved bodies to the new cemetery and a number of tombstones have been also moved (probably with out the bodies), but the frustrating bulk remained at Pioneer Square. The outdated cemetery turned overgrown and vandalized.

“In 1908 the City of Victoria Parks Office took what it imagined was a progressive phase by clearing the outdated website. This concerned relocating about 150 tombstones to the eastern edge of the ground, whilst leaving a dozen of the most impressive monuments in place. The other tombstones were being buried onsite or taken to the city works yard. The grounds were being then graded, grassed, and new pathways were place in put. It was then that the identify ‘Pioneer Square’ was adopted and the place was declared to be a town park, even although 1,300 bodies are continue to beneath the grass.”

Adams wrote that right after 1908, vandalism to the 150 stones in Pioneer Sq. was plan.

“In the 1990s the Old Cemeteries Society received permission to take out most of the intact kinds to storage, exactly where they continue being. A handful are still in place and ended up cleaned up by the town a handful of several years ago. The stones that were being taken to the town operates lawn ended up dispersed, evidently to close friends of metropolis employees,” he wrote.

“We have documented various smaller groupings in non-public households and yards. The biggest grouping (now properly in storage) was in a patio close to Admirals Highway in Saanich. I recall looking at some others close to Royal Oak Burial Park and on Eastdowne Highway in Oak Bay. I envision the Isabella Stockand stone is from the kinds dispersed from the town operates garden that had been taken from Pioneer Sq. in 1908. It under no circumstances would have been at Ross Bay.”

That matches what McLaren understands. The Admirals patio appears like Speers’s house. The Eastdowne handle would have been his father’s, wherever Isabella’s tombstone was stored in the basement.

Where by will that marker go subsequent? Probably to Ross Bay, wherever Adams has helped slender the place of James Stockand’s unmarked burial plot. Possibly to Pioneer Sq., where Isabella’s stays continue being. Or perhaps one of her descendants, whom Whyte has contacted, will want to have a say.

At minimum it won’t be flipped upside down and utilized as a paving stone.

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