Using the most modern tools available, the Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC) has helped restore a hallowed historical site in Ootischenia.
As part of the Ootischenia Doukhobor Cemetery’s two-year restoration project, the Selkirk College-based research centre was contacted earlier this year to help with the tricky task of ensuring grave markers were returned to the proper resting place after significant landscaping was completed. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, a pair of Selkirk College co-op students completed the important project last month.
Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, Selkirk College co-op student Barry McLane completed an important mapping project at the Ootischenia Doukhobor Cemetery earlier this summer.
“They did a wonderful job and we are happy to have worked with Selkirk College on this project,” says Peter Zaytsoff, chairperson of the graveyard committee that also included Larry Stoochnoff and Peter Kazakoff.
An Important Cultural Landmark
The Ootischenia Graveyard is located just south of Castlegar and was established in 1889. The original cemetery was known as the Waterloo Cemetery and served the Waterloo mining camp until its demise in 1902. In 1908, the Doukhobor community became the steward of the cemetery and it has remained an important burial site since that time. There are more than 850 interments at the graveyard, many of them unmarked.
With time not treating the site well, two years ago the graveyard committee embarked on a project to restore the area with help from a Regional District of Central Kootenay grant.
McLane (left) worked with graveyard committee members (L-R) Larry Stoochnoff, Peter Kazakoff and Peter Zaytsoff on the mapping project.
“It was very difficult to keep it in a tidy state because of the overgrowth and nature taking its toll on the land,” says Zaytsoff.
The project hit a critical juncture when moving the gravestones was required in order to level the land and that’s when the SGRC stepped in. Zaytsoff was directed to the geospatial centre of excellence by a former Selkirk College employee and help was on its way.
“The SGRC has done a few projects with community organizations,” says SGRC Coordinator Ian Parfitt. “These are great opportunities for service learning by students and for Selkirk to engage with local communities.”
Field Experience Enhances Education
A pair of co-op students—Barry McLane and Christie Rajtar—were assigned to the project in May. The gravestone removal and replacement required the students to survey the original location using DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System) technology to pinpoint accuracy. Using the survey data and advanced GIS software, the students created a headstone replacement plan that allowed the graveyard committee to remove the markers with a high degree of confidence that they would be returned to their original locations.
“We felt a little extra pressure on this project due to the immense cultural and historical nature of the site,” says McLane. “We really wanted to honour these people and their families, and we made an extra effort to be completely accurate in our survey and marker replacement planning.”
McLane says projects like the one at the cemetery help make people understand the important applications of GIS technology.
Once the land was cleaned up and leveled, the SGRC team laid out a grid of pins in the ground, with each pin referencing a corresponding grave marker and its original location. This allowed the volunteer graveyard committee members to replace the markers.
“This project was a great experience and a very non-traditional application of GIS,” says McLane. “Projects like this make the often mysterious world of GIS understandable to everyone. The simple concept of moving something and replacing it in that exact location really resonates with people.”
In the spring, McLane earned a Selkirk College Advanced Diploma in GIS to go along with his Selkirk College Integrated Environmental Planning Diploma. Three years into his studies, the Squamish native will return in the fall to complete his Bachelor’s Degree in GIS on the Castlegar Campus.
“I’ve always been making maps and working with data, right from a young age,” says McLane. “My education at Selkirk has really opened up my eyes to the world of GIS and has provided me with focus down a career path that I love.”
Restoring Pride of Place
With the field work now complete, McLane will be providing the committee with an overview map and updated grave registry lists.
The Ootischenia Doukhobor Cemetery helps tell the story of the region.
As work on the important historical site nears completion, Zaytsoff says the graveyard can now continue to serve future generations.
“When we come down here to do some work, we also come to visit,” he says. “By the time we say hello to our past, it takes a long time to leave. There is more than 100 years of history here and it’s very important to our community. When we do the work here, it’s with all our heart and all our soul. It was hard work, but it’s not a difficult task.”