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The St. Hilda’s Pioneer Cemetery and Memorial Garden is located on the unceded ancestral swiya of the shíshálh Nation.

One hundred years ago, in January 1923, settler Thomas John Cook made some land available as a Sechelt community burial ground. He did this as a matter of urgency, since four-month-old Regnheld Evelyn Davidson had just died in the tiny Sechelt Inlet community of Doriston. Regnheld’s parents rowed their baby’s body, wrapped in a blanket, the nearly thirty kilometres to Sechelt, but no dedicated burial site was accessible to them nearer than Vancouver.  Now Cook stepped in to help.  In addition to donating the land, he himself built Regnheld’s coffin, dug her grave, and read the burial service. He then surrounded the grave with a cedar fence in protection against the ever-encroaching forest.*

Soon afterwards, a second little girl was interred nearby. Toshiko Konishi, whose parents farmed along the western shore of Sechelt inlet, had died in a tragic accident in August 1922.  Her father, Jimi Konishi, and Thomas Cook were good personal friends, which perhaps helped the Konishi family to decide to entrust her remains to the burial ground.  A Buddhist priest came from Vancouver to conduct the funeral service for Toshiko, and eventually the graves of several members of the Konishi family were grouped together inside an iron fence, with two ornamental cherry trees to mark the area.

The two children’s graves instituted a new cemetery for the Sechelt community. In its early years, settler Helen Dawe remembered, children placed wild flowers there in remembrance. Other burials followed, and as time went on, Cook grew concerned to ensure that the ground would be kept up as he himself aged. In 1928, he registered a 1.6 acre (0.7 hectare) block of land known as the Shorncliffe subdivision, that included the burial ground, with the Land Registry in New Westminster.  He felt that he could trust the Anglican Church to take care of the cemetery, and in 1930 he donated the block to the Synod of the Anglican Church. In 1936 Archbishop Adam Urias DePencier dedicated the first St. Hilda’s Church building.

Eventually, as the community grew, the space available for burials proved insufficient, and St. Hilda’s opened a memorial garden for cremated remains. The first burial of ashes there took place in 1989, and by the year 2000 the garden was full. The church then created a second garden, which is also now reaching near capacity (plans for a third memorial garden are taking shape). 

The two memorial gardens are marked by large wooden Celtic crosses that bear brass plaques naming those whose ashes are interred there. These gardens continue the tradition of the community cemetery and many members of the wider community have found their resting place there.  The names of those interred in the cemetery and the memorial garden can be found by searching the website “Find a Grave” at's-pioneer-cemetery.

On Sunday, November 5, St. Hilda’s rector, the Rev. Stephen Black, will conduct a service to commemorate All Souls Day that will begin at 10am, and will include a prayer in the Pioneer Cemetery and Memorial Garden.  All are welcome.

*Thomas Cook’s granddaughter, Helen Dawe, recounts these and following details in Helen Dawe: Helen Dawe’s Sechelt (Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1990) 148-49.


Views of the cemetery with Regnheld Davidson's grave








[1] Thomas Cook’s granddaughter, Helen Dawe, recounts these and following details in Helen Dawe: Helen Dawe’s Sechelt (Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1990) 148-49.