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Yarrow, British Columbia

Edited by
Esther Epp Harder, Edwin Lenzmann, and Elmer Wiens

Esther Epp Harder Edwin Lenzmann Elmer Wiens

Biographies and Obituaries

Preserving history: A grave concern

by Penny Lett

Volunteer labor transforms overgrown Yarrow cemetery into a place of pride

More than 1,000 plots in
the historic Yarrow cemetery
have been restored through
volunteer labor and donations.

Yarrow was one of the first
Mennonite settlements in the
Fraser Valley.

The unfiltered summer sun highlights names like Wiebe, Thiessen, Warkentin, Epp and Reimer. The absolute brightness makes the Yarrow graveyard at the end of Hare Road seem almost cheerful.

And it is a nice place.

Now "This was all overgrown blackberry bushes," says Susie Derksen. "And over here was a swamp. And back there the trees had to be taken down because they were dropping stuff on the graves." Mrs. Derksen along with Mary Froese and Erma Wiebe worked more than two years to raise the funds required to repair and clean up the cemetery that is their heritage.

The 82-year-old widow walks proudly between the neatly-spaced rows of her home-town's dead. From time to time to ease an ailing hip, she leans on Mrs. Froese, her life-long friend and committee mate.

"My mother and father are just over here," Mrs. Derksen says pausing briefly by their headstones. 'And my husband is back there." Mrs. Froese also has relatives, two- generations, interred there.

The two seniors appear almost untouched by the intense heat as they walk the length and breadth of the cemetery telling of how it was, and pointing out how it is.

"I've been here since 1928 and I know many of these old timers," Mrs. Derksen says waving a much-worked hand across the scene.

Nineteen twenty nine is the earliest grave. There were several died that year. Maria Peters, wife of Dave Peters died at age 28 that year: Heart condition. And she left three little girls. I used to babysit for them."

As an adjunct to the Yarrow Mennonite Brethren Church's 70th anniversary this year, the trio of women, along with the official cemetery committee, worked tirelessly to upgrade the more than 1,000 plots.
Five hundred were completely redone. Caved-in cement covers were removed, soil - yards of it -was added to level the ground, headstones were cleaned or replaced.

It all took money. And the women raised it. At least $50,000.

They wrote letters. They contacted descendants. They organized. And they nagged.

The start seemed slow, but soon pride for the present and respect for the past infected many. Enthusiasm and participation grew.

"Initially there had been a lot of talk, but no action," says Mrs. Derksen. "We raised about $50,000. That alone shows people really do care. And we've already had so many people say 'thank you."

Now when relatives close or far come to the quiet, tucked-away spot they are greeted by an appealing park-like setting. A raised garden surrounds a new cemetery sign. Benches are strategically placed to encourage a moment of contemplation and quiet reflection.

What had been a depressing, almost embarrassing place is now almost uplifting.

"Doing this has given us all a great feeling of connection to the past," says Mrs. Derksen. "I feel grateful we could do it and I didn't have to die thinking I'd have to go to that place that was."

The duo complete their tour pause a moment, then head slowly through the crisp white metal gate.

"The old gate that was here I wouldn't have had in a cow pasture," Mrs. Derksen vows as it swings closed behind her. "We helped keep history from being lost. It just should have been done 20 years ago."

Mrs. Froese laughs and nods appreciatively.

"Cherish your family for they are your treasure —

A storehouse of riches,

Wealthy beyond measure."


Yarrow Cemetery List October 2010

Yarrow Cemetery, Hare Road

Entrance to the Yarrow Cemetery

Graves on the left — shaped like a bed with a pillow for the headstone;
Modern graves on the right after the restoration — headstones placed on cement runners

Graveside Service of Katharina (Martens) Derksen (1965)

Mennonite Historical Society,
Memorial Cemetery Tour (May 14, 2005)

Old grave stones on baby graves

Headstones on cement runners


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