The forgotten cemetery of the St. Vital parish (1879-1885) : a documentary and mortuary analysis
Hopkins, Colette Janelle
The Roman Catholic Mission of St. Vital was established in November of 1877 in Battleford, Saskatchewan by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. On the south bank of the Battle River, a small church was soon constructed and a cemetery was opened for the burial of deceased members of the congregation. For a time, this cemetery acted as the sole public burial ground for the growing settlement. With the commencement of the 1885 North-West Rebellion, the small cemetery south of the Battle River was abandoned, neglected, and forgotten. Instead, the St. Vital Parish opted to bury their dead in the newly established cemetery of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). The NWMP Cemetery was in close proximity to Fort Battleford, where the majority of Battleford's residents took refuge in the spring of 1885. In the fall of 1999, human remains and historic-period artifacts were uncovered south of the Battle River on the private land of Neil and Helen Dyck. Initial archival research identified the materials as the remnants of the St. Vital Cemetery, which was used for interment between 1879 and 1885. Archaeological excavation of the cemetery in the summer of 2001 led to the recovery of 30 individuals and associated cultural materials. Realizing the importance of data provided by archaeological materials and documentary evidence, the investigation of the St. Vital Cemetery was divided into two separate entities. Osteological and paleopathological assessments of the human remains were performed by a fellow graduate student, while a documentary and mortuary analysis was undertaken by the author. Cultural materials were used to confirm the antiquity and religious affiliation of the burial ground. In addition, the information provided by the cultural and skeletal materials was combined with data collected from various documentary sources to demonstrate the typical Christian burial practices evidenced at the St. Vital Cemetery. Most importantly, documentary sources shed light on the circumstances surrounding the abandonment and subsequent desecration of a sacred site.