Grave restoration shines spotlight on dark period of Vernon history

The graves of those who died while interned in Vernon during the First World War have fallen into disrepair. Jim Lenton/Global Okanagan

VERNON, B.C. – In a quiet corner of Vernon’s Pleasant Valley Cemetery a cluster of graves mark the final resting places of some of those who died while interned in Vernon during World War One.

During that conflict thousands of people who came from countries Canada was at war with were labeled enemy aliens.

They were interned at 24 sites across the country including in Vernon.

But the Vernon graves of those who died while interned here have fallen into disrepair.

Now the Vernon and District Family History Society has received a grant from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund to restore all the internee graves at the cemetery.

“It’s to acknowledge that these people were unjustly interned and unfortunately died during the internment operations, out of nothing to do with anything that they had done only where they had come from,” says Andrea Malysh a program manager with the fund.

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Eleven Vernon internees are known to have died.

Most succumbed to illness but one man was murdered.

Seven of those who died are still buried in Vernon.

Official records list basic information like names and dates of death but more research is being done on who these people were.

“It’s a period of our history that very few people know about. The internment camp was in operation for six years in this city. We had women and children also interred in this camp. A lot of people don’t realize that the men in this camp built some of the highways in and around Vernon,” says Lawrna Myers with the Vernon and District Family History Society.

The existing grave markers will be cleaned and new ones installed along with them.

There will also be a memorial plaque installed.

“I just hope that people realize that this was a period of our history that we need to remember, that we shouldn’t be forgetting about. We should care about these people. They were wrongly interned,” says Myers.

The revamped memorials will be revealed next May.

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