A Grave Mistake: Trying to reunite families with loved ones’ remains

FERNIE, B.C.- Fernie residents are on a tireless search to reunite families with their loved ones’ missing remains, which were unearthed during decades of construction.

John Gawryluk and Corlyn Haarstad have spent the last 15 years trying to find evidence that nearly 400 once-buried bodies were displaced by development in the mountain town. Through cross-referencing obituaries, databases and maps, they realized that many of the burial sites and grave markers were disturbed by construction, including the building of an elementary school four decades ago.

“At first you think it has to be a mistake,” Haarstad says. “But when you start to put the pieces together and they’re not in the cemetery but you have the documented proof that they’re buried here…where [are they]?”

“Bulldozer operators remember pushing headstones over, and when you dig through there and you see there’s a bone here and a bone there of different people…c’mon,” adds John Gawryluk, from Cherished Memories Funeral Services.

A multi-million dollar neighbourhood has since been built in the area, and Gawryluk gets emotional when thinking of who was buried there.

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“It’s very disturbing when you are the person responsible for physically seeing these people,” he cried. “It’s not right.

“Looking at the bodies, the skeletal remains of these people, it hits you. They’re people.”

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His son, Josh, says it’s something town residents have known about for years.

“They were a brother, mother, father, sister, babies. They’ve been forgotten and lost in our backyards under our houses and under our schools,” Josh Gawryluk says. “There’s stories of friends playing in gopher piles, and finding bones.”

A committee is now trying to find a way to track the bones with archeological assistance, and plan to erect a public monument. A radar crew has also been hired in hopes of determining where the remains are, and those results are expected at the end of the month.

Those with relatives whose graves are missing can contact the Lost Souls Project on their Facebook page or email