Volunteers carefully scrub a restored historic grave stone

A volunteer group attached to the parish of Christ the Redeemer in Surrey is making sure that the one remaining active diocesan cemetery remains part of the diocese.

Assisted by a grant from the diocese, a dedicated volunteer parish team has been restoring and caring for the Christ Church Cemetery that dates to the 1880s.

The parish has two church buildings - a modern one on 57A Avenue where most services are held, and the historic 1882 church on

Old McLellan Road
used for special services, weddings and funerals.

Surrounding the old church is a 1.6 acre cemetery, to which time had not been friendly. Until last year, many of the memorial stones had subsided or been damaged by weather or vandalism.

Susan Waddacor, chair of the cemetery board, last year decided it was time for restoration. They began a $16,000 restoration project - three-quarters of the money came from a diocesan grant, the rest from past and present parishioners and others.

Some 28 monuments - each weighing as much as a ton - were reset. Broken pieces were fit back together with steel pins and epoxy, new bases were built, stones were found that had sunk. Most of the work was done in the oldest section, which has upright monuments - modern markers are laid flat for easier maintenance.

The work was carried out by J.B. Newall Memorials of Vancouver, Valley Custom Jackhammer, and Jed Spence, the parish's on-call cemetery worker - and by volunteers.

Why would so many find their ministry in tending a cemetery?

Susan Waddacor, the dedicated chair of the cemetery board

Patricia Horwell, the group's newsletter editor and secretary, there is value in connecting with the past. "I find the history very interesting," she said. Names of many of Surrey's early Anglican families are on the stones.

Others have a direct connection. Alan Clegg, assistant sexton, showed two adjacent markers were his parents are buried. "Every time I come to work here, I visit them for a moment," he said.

Waddacor said that the group hopes to start walking tours of the cemetery for small groups - including school children interested in learning about their community's history, and how a cemetery is run. "The historic part of the cemetery is a good example of the Victorian style, with its curbs and its memorial stones full of symbolism," she said.

Meanwhile the cemetery takes constant care. While only about half a dozen full interments and about the same number of deposits of ashes take place annually, the cemetery takes constant care. "Every week we walk the cemetery to make sure there is no subsiding of graves," said Horwell.

Over the past 120 years about 950 burials and interments have taken place at Christ Church Cemetery. Full burials now are only for parishioners and those families that have plots.

A new memorial garden area opened three years ago, designed by parishioner Catherine Kennedy, a horticulturalist and graphic designer, is available for the deposit of ashes to any Christian, Waddacor said.

There are pioneer cemeteries associated with several parishes - St. Hilda's, Sechelt, St. Oswald's, Port Kells, St. George Fort Langley. Most are either closed or now accept only ashes in a memorial garden. Often parishioners do tend them.

Other diocesan cemeteries have had their problems. One at Yale was closed to burials due to flooding many years ago, and a much larger, six acre cemetery in Chilliwack associated with several valley parishes may be sold because it has turned out to be too large to tend on a volunteer basis.

But the many hours of dedicated volunteer care at Christ Church Cemetery should ensure it will remain part of the diocese for many years.

For more information call Susan Waddacor at 604 542-0620.