Wondering what the image above is? It’s a view of the Woodlands Memorial Garden, opened in 2007 to commemorate over 3,000 former residents of Essondale and PHI (later known as Riverview and Woodlands) who were buried in an institutional cemetery on the Woodlands grounds in New Westminster, British Columbia. This cemetery was no longer used after the late 1950s, but the graves of former institution residents remained, marked by plain flat rectangular gravestones. In the 1970s, the BC government “decommissioned” the cemetery and turned it into a “park,” removing all but a few of the gravestones but leaving the graves undisturbed. For two decades, those buried here were unacknowledged and forgotten.
In 1998, community living advocates rediscovered this unmarked mass grave and decided something had to be done about it. With government support, a coalition of community members – including parents and former residents of Woodlands – worked to create a memorial garden that properly honoured those buried on the site. Many grave markers were returned to the site and set into memorial walls, while commemorative panels inscribed the names of every person buried here. A sculpture called The Window Too High was added to signify the confinement and invisibility endured by those who lived in institutions. Newly updated interpretive panels throughout the site offer background information about institutions and the cemetery’s history.
The Woodlands Memorial Garden is at the north end of the Victoria Hill housing development in New Westminster, at McBride Blvd. and Columbia Ave.
Are you looking for a lost relative who might have been buried at the Woodlands cemetery? Here are two online sources to check: Find a Grave cemetery finding aid, and Michael de Courcy’s website about the Woodlands cemetery, Dead and Buried. If you want help searching for other sources and records about your relative, contact Pat Feindel (firstname.lastname@example.org).