Archaeology and biology students at the University of Saskatchewan are getting hands-on experience, locating unmarked or shifted gravesites in an old Saskatoon cemetery with a variety of non-intrusive imaging and topographical technologies.
“This can be a practical benefit to the city to help us find out where they are,” explained University of Saskatchewan archaeology professor Terence Clark.
“As well, the graves along the bank were removed, but they’re not sure all of them were removed.”
Students say it’s been a thrill to be part of the project, saying it’s a welcome change from virtual learning and a chance to learn more about Saskatoon’s history.
The Nutana Pioneer Cemetery dates back to the 1880s when Saskatoon was just a small settlement. Its grave sites are not well documented and some of them have shifted over the years and are at risk of erosion or damage.
“What we’re doing for the city is just an amazing opportunity,” student Rayna Morris said Thursday. “And I think that it’s something people can really learn from.”
Student Spencer Lyons said the technology they are using and the increasing ease with which people can learn to collaborate with it give him hope for the future.
“This project has gotten me thinking about all the possibilities that I could go forward with and all the different things that I could do,” he said.
The findings could go much further than Saskatchewan’s borders.
Techniques and technology being used in the research could also be used to uncover more about the tragic history of the Canadian residential school system.
“I feel like we’re going to be able to really memorialize all the people that didn’t make it through those tragic scenarios,” Lyons said.
“I think it’s going to be very helpful to Indigenous communities just to be able to bring that to the public eye.”
Clark says the cross-Canada team’s goal is to map out all of the unmarked graves at residential school sites.
“(We want to) just make sure that there’s no further damage to these children and that they can rest in peace and that the community members can go and visit,” Clark said. “That they now know where their loved ones are.”
For now, they’re helping to map and build a much clearer picture of Saskatoon’s first cemetery and the students are excited to continue their work into the summer months.