This past Saturday I decided to take in one of the many Okotoks Events mentioned in our August Happenings blog post with Remax Okotoks.
I arrived at the Okotoks Cemetery at 2pm for the Okotoks and District Historical Society’s Cemetery Tour not really knowing what to expect. I was among fourteen other Okotokians there to take part in the tour. The turnout was a pleasant surprise for both myself and our tour director, Karen Peters of the Historical Society.
I have lived in Okotoks for 17 years but know little of Okotoks rich history. I was thrilled to hear so many intriguing stories about the early settlers of Okotoks and area. Many streets in Okotoks are named after these early settlers, McRae, Lineham, Knowles, and Downey, just to name a few. Some of the early settlers still have family in the area, but many do not, and their graves have been lost and/or neglected from poor early record keeping. Some stones are in a bad state, with no family around once the headstones are damaged beyond repair they are removed and not replaced. There is a Memorial Stone at the cemetery in remembrance of many inhabitants without grave markers. There are over 180 unmarked graves including 24 children under the age of 4. New graves are no longer added to the oldest part of the cemetery to prevent disturbing any unmarked graves.
Karen regaled us with many fascinating stories about these early pioneers.
Alfuge Mounkes was a Missouri native whose stepfather took him and his brother to the nearest town one day, dropped them off and told them to go make a living for themselves. They were 8 and 10 years of age at the time! Alfuge and his brother eventually arrived here in Okotoks, following wagon trains all the way. He became a famous bronc rider, and a local rancher paid him $40/month to break his horses; that was a lot of money in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. Alfuge eventually became a homesteader here and raised a family.
Elizabeth Jane Duncan (1861-1950) was a well known hooked rug artist and farmer. Her husband was blinded in an accident in 1908 and she took over the running of the farm. Elizabeth was a self taught artist who pursued oil painting, woodcarving, leather, knitting, and many more creative arts. At the age of 85 she was still delivering eggs with horse and Bennett buggy. During the war years, she would get up early and hitchhike into Calgary to sell her wares.
Karen’s stories were so interesting I found myself wanting to learn more. It would be wonderful to see our Okotoks school children learning about their rich local heritage. I was very impressed with the four young men at the tour with their parents; they were engaged and asked thoughtful questions.
There was a lost grave that was recently rediscovered, much to the excitement of the family. The surviving son John Blakeman, age 91, asked whether it could be located. Karen very carefully researched and found a grave receipt from 1924 and was able to unearth the stone. It was framed by concrete with brass corners buried under about four inches of thick grass and dirt. If you closely look, you will see the name Blakeman, and Baby crudely carved in the concrete. The family has recently been given permission to have a new gravestone erected.
While walking around the cemetery, keep an eye out for lambs on gravestones as they mark a child’s grave; while a dove indicates a well-loved woman is buried there. These are just a few of the dozens of tales weaved of fascinating times gone by. Karen conducts tours during the summer months only, but you can pick up a booklet called The Okotoks Cemetery, A Walking Tour, and spend some time learning about our early families yourself. I plan on taking in the next tour, Okotoks Ghost Walk Tour, in October. If you would like more information on this or other tours conducted by the Okotoks and District Historical Society, please visit their webpage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sheila Hughes is the Operations Coordinator for Meagen Mackenzie, REALTOR® and Accredited Staging Professional with RE/MAX iREALTY INNOVATIONS.
Follow Meagen on Google