Besides dead people, what else can a cemetery offer?
10 years ago Muddy Water Tours partnered with the City of Winnipeg to offer tours of Brookside Cemetery for their 125th anniversary. I was very excited to be considered as I had previously connected my research on the Vaughan St. Jail to this cemetery. Several executed men were buried in unmarked graves here. For the 125th anniversary, I was introduced to a number of fascinating historical stories and found that this place was not only a beautiful place to explore but also a treasure trove of local history and amazing biographies. For example, there is a family plot near the open grassy area where the former chapel use to stand. The Brown family has several small markers and one large family stone behind them. When looking closer you can make out under the lichen the word “Drowned” on three of them. I was quit intrigued so I wrote the dates and names down and decided to see if I could find something at the Provincial Archives on this story. Sure enough, this story made the front page on several papers. Why? Because of who their father was and the nature of the tragedy. Charles Brown was for all intensive purposes, the 1st city clerk( his father was ahead of him but only worked as city clerk a few years) in Winnipeg. Charles was well loved and highly respected and worked for the city for about 43 years. Many said his adoration of his children could be seen by the twinkle in his eye when he spoke of them. On August 11, 1906 Ferrisa Brown, his wife , took three of her children for a picnic lunch. To get to their destination, they needed to cross the Red via a paid ferry to end up at Elm Park. Unfortunately, the small craft capsized due to striking a concrete pile that was below the surface of the water. Several people fell into the water including the Brown family. The driver of the craft saw that Ethel Brown, 19, was hanging on the side of the craft and told him to “Save Mother!” Feeling she was secure, he swam to rescue Mrs. Brown. When he brought Mrs. Brown to shore he turned his attention back to Ethel and found that she was gone. On the third day the other two children, Myrtle (8) and Stanley (15) were drawn from the murky depths of the Red and brought home for the last time. Mother survived and the twinkle in Charles’ eye went out, he was so besotted with grief. On Ethel’s memorial beneath her name inscribed in the stone are her last words, “Save Mother.” You see, cemeteries have a wealth of information, stories of lives and experiences worth retelling. There’s more to the story which can be found in “Brookside Cemetery: A Celebration of Life. Vol 2. pg 21. I was very fortunate to have the privilege to donate that story to this book project as I learned that although it’s great to read and tell stories of those buried at a cemetery, it’s another experience to investigate and really get to know a person through research. Connecting the dots with other historical links is also a rush if you are at all like me. I discovered that there is a memorial plaque to this tragedy and the Brown family at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in downtown Winnipeg across from the library. All this by reading more closely a few small head stones in a lovely old cemetery! So the next time your in one, take your time and allow yourself the chance to have a close encounter with history!