By Erin Carpenter
mid-morning traffic drones along Macleod Trail, but up at the highest
Calgary’s Union Cemetery overlooking the roadway and downtown,
it’s barely audible.
This is where Don Sucha stands underneath the towering pine
trees, pointing out the gravesite of the road’s namesake, James Macleod — the
former North West Mounted Police officer who gave Calgary its name,
and for whom Fort Macleod is named.
He was a man of great integrity,” Sucha says. “He could well
have used his many connections in local politics and business to better
himself financially, but chose instead to dispense justice in a way that
earned the respect of all — European and First Nations people alike.”
Union Cemetery’s setting belies a colourful history — one
that Sucha finds endlessly interesting. Sucha is the technical co-ordinator
for the University of Calgary’s Nickle Arts Museum, and he
co-ordinates the practicum for the Museum and Heritage Studies
program in the
Faculty of Communication and Culture.
He also gives
public tours of cemeteries because he believes they are natural museums.
We have, for example, at The Nickle Arts Museum, coins, rugs, et
cetera,” he says. “Here, we’ve got collections of the
same sort. We’ve got the Mounted Police, there’s the field
of honour — the military section — there’s even a trade
union that has a section.”
cemeteries can teach a lot about local history. For example, just down
the hill from James Macleod’s grave, Sucha steps
onto a rise where a tall monument marks the grave of John Ware,
who died in 1905.
John Ware was a very famous horseman in Western Canada,” Sucha
says. “He was born a slave in North Carolina and he learned horsemanship
in Texas following the American Civil War, and came up here on
a cattle drive. He worked in ranches here, then got his own ranch.”
As a black
man, Ware faced prejudice. But when he died, it was
one of the biggest funerals Calgary ever saw. “He had gained everybody’s
respect as a horseman.”
A short distance
away is the grave of Alice Devolin Wood, a women’s
rights activist who died in 1908. She founded
the Calgary Rescue Home, which helped bring women off the street.
touring local cemeteries is an important way to learn about the past.
To that end, he
conducts tours for the public, historical groups
Calgary Newcomers’ Society.
cemetery business co-ordinator for the City of Calgary, says Sucha’s tours are invaluable.
“ With cemeteries being a key to our past, tours and other initiatives
to help people remember can only heighten our respect for our past
about the tours
Contact Sucha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find “Don’s Cemetery page” at
Union Cemetery (est. 1890) is one of five graveyards that make up “Cemetery
Hill”, along with Burnsland Cemetery, the Chinese Cemetery, the
Jewish Cemetery, Queen ’s Park Cemetery and St. Mary’s
Potter’s Field contains the remains of nearly 1,000 Calgary’s
early homeless and destitute people.
The first speaker of the Alberta Legislature, Charles Wellington Fisher,
is buried at Union Cemetery.
There are 14 Calgary mayors in Union Cemetery.
Simon John Clarke, an alderman who opened up his billiard hall and saloon
to Calgary ’s first council meetings, is buried at Union Cemetery.
Several of the families whose homes are displayed in Heritage Park are
buried at Union Cemetery: the Princes, the Thorpes and the Livingstones.
Henry Alexander Cooper, an eight-foot tall circus performer who died
while visiting Calgary in 1899, is buried at Union Cemetery.
Jack Fisk, who was executed for murder in 1911, is buried at Union Cemetery,
as is his victim, the judge who heard the case and the police
officer who took charge of Fisk ’s dog after the execution.
The Printer’s Union has a section at Union Cemetery, as does the
Many people of English, Scottish and Irish backgrounds are buried at
Union Cemetery. Burnsland Cemetery (est. 1923) across the street contains
more Slavic and Italian names, demonstrating when wider immigration to
Union Cemetery’s layout is Victorian, compared to the Edwardian
style of Burnsland Cemetery across the street, in which the
sections are laid out like flower beds.
Sources: Don Sucha, Alberta Family Histories Society Cemetery Index