Somewhere along the line when I was asked to supply an organization with biographical material, I mentioned that my grandmother taught me to read by showing me the tombstones in Prospect Cemetery.  The fact that a mystery writer learned to read from tombstones has proven to be a tasty morsel for people who are faced with the task of introducing me, but it made perfect sense to my Nana and me. 

When I was growing up in the west end of Toronto, there weren’t a lot of green spaces where a very active little girl could just run and be safe.  My Nana Bart realized the potential of the cemetery very early in my life and we spent many happy hours there.  Often, she would often bring a book for us to read together.  One day I made the connection between the letters on the tombstones and the letters in the books and that’s how I learned to read.

Cemeteries have always interested me.  The insight they give into the harsh lives our ancestors lived can be heartbreaking.  Whole families dying one by one—of diphtheria, scarlet fever, influenza.  Young women dying in childbirth.  And, of course, far far too often, young men dying in battle.

Not all the tales cemeteries tell are sad.  When we first came to Calgary, a friend suggested that we attend Christ Church in Millarville and that after the service we visit the cemetery. Millarville is in ranch country.  Christ Church has a registered brand – M96.  The church was founded in 1896.  For many years, each fall a number of calves received this brand and were raised by various parishioners to be sold the following year.  The funds generated went to the operation and maintenance of the church. 

The tombstones in Christ Church cemetery show the joy the people in the area found in ranch life.  Many of the tombstones have photographs of men and women with particularly cherished horses embedded in the marble.  My favourite tombstone marks the grave of a married couple named Stockwell.  Their simple black marble tombstone has etchings of both Stockwells with their horses.  Underneath the dates of their births and deaths are the words “RIDING HIGH”.  Can’t ask for a better send-off than that. 

©2019 Gail Bowen.  All Rights Reserved.