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How Canadian Latter-day Saints helped restore a historic Black cemetery

New headstones, acquired by the Barrhead Ward in partnership with Family Community Support Services, will permanently preserve the memory of Black pioneers in Campsie

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Latter-day Saint pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, members of the Barrhead Ward near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, celebrated in 1997 by restoring an abandoned cemetery for local Black pioneers.

Now, 27 years later, they await the completion of permanent headstones for the site.

Ward members expect to install the new stone markers, engraved with up-to-date biographical information, in the spring of 2024, the Church’s Canada Newsroom reported.

The Bethel Baptist Cemetery is the resting place for 13 people, Black settlers who migrated from the United States and established four communities in the Canadian province of Alberta in the early 20th century, including Campsie in Barrhead County. The Campsie settlers organized a Baptist church and a cemetery.

Buried between 1920 and 1948, these individuals’ graves fell into disrepair after burials were no longer permitted there in the 1950s, and the surrounding forest grew over the graves.

When the Church designated the 150th anniversary of Pioneer Day as a worldwide day of service, members of the Barrhead Ward, who were friends with descendants of these Black pioneers, decided to restore the cemetery.

On July 26, 1997, a group of ward members located all 13 graves after searching through the brush. They placed a small marker on each grave and from then on began maintaining the cemetery.

A few years later, ward members Arthur Gibbs and Garold Adams installed new aluminum plaques for the buried, engraved with names and death dates. Ward family history consultant Joyce Fraser researched the people buried in the cemetery and began uploading the information to Family Search, where the interred individuals’ descendants could access the information for free.

In the fall of 2022, the Barrhead Ward invited Christine and Paul Beaver, descendants of Black Campsie settlers, to give a presentation on the history of their forebears.

When ward members returned to clean the cemetery that August, they noticed that the engravings on the aluminum grave markers were fading, so they began an effort to acquire stone markers.

Family Community Support Services in Barrhead learned about the ward’s project and offered to lead the fundraising effort for the stone markers. They raised over half the money through a Feb. 16, 2023, event with Christine and Paul Beaver, where they recounted the history of the Black community in the area.

The new markers will be etched with the latest genealogical information about each individual as researched by the Beavers.

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