Maple Ridge incorporated as a district in 1874. At that time, there were about 20 families scattered from the Pitt River to the Stave River, mostly homesteading along the Fraser. The cemetery was established in 1878 on land donated by two pioneers – George Howison and William Nelson. Each man donated a quarter of an acre at the back of their properties [near the Dewdney Trunk] with a 10 foot road allowance to run between the cemetery and River Road to the south where the Methodist Church was located.
A sum of $200 was assigned from community taxes to pay for the preparation of the land and its division into plots. These improvements included a deep drainage system and a perimeter fence.
The original part of the cemetery described above is labeled “1” in the accompanying diagram. According to an article written by Edmund Pope for “The Weekly Gazette” in 1929, the first burials were Kanakas [people from the Hawaiian Islands who worked at Fort Langley and then settled in Maple Ridge]. Edmund Pope was the first appointed commissioner of the cemetery as well as the first police constable.
The wife of land donor William Nelson was a Kanaka and so those were her friends and relatives. They were actually buried on the land before it was donated for the cemetery. There are no records of those burials or their exact locations but they were said to be in the extreme SW corner of area 1. The earliest headstone date is 1883.
By 1895. it was clear that the cemetery was too small and a further half acre was purchased from each of the original donors. That area remained unchanged for the next 20 years.
No records of internments were kept until 1897, though we do know a few of the names of earlier burials and even some locations if stone was used for the marker. The early records are spotty, as a result, in part due to not being fully recorded in the first place and in part due to a loss of records that occurred in a flood in about 1950. For quite a substantial list of people, we know they are buried in that original cemetery somewhere but have no idea of their exact location.
In 1915, the second cemetery [labeled “2” on the map] was purchased from an adjoining landowner. As it was in the “primeval state”, contracts were let for preparing the land and draining it. The first plots were sold in cemetery 2 in 1917.
Cemeteries 1 and 2 both contain substantial Japanese “precincts”. The population of Maple Ridge reached 30% Japanese in the 1930’s so they formed an important part of the community and its cemetery. Other ethnic groups, particularly the Chinese and First Nations, are barely represented as they were not welcome in this cemetery at first and later when Chinese burials were accepted, the practice was to exhume them after several years and return their bones to China. A separate First Nation cemetery was established on 203rd St. In later years, the cemetery “grew like Topsy”, adding area 3 in about 1950 and areas 4 and 5 most recently. The latter areas are primarily used for cremations.
The cemetery today is a lovely piece of property, well shaded by some very large maple trees that flank the entry pathway. There is a large map near the caretaker’s building but if you are searching for a particular grave, it is best to contact us at the Maple Ridge Museum first, particularly for burials before 1950. We have good databases for areas 1, 2 and 3. Graves without headstones can be very difficult to locate but we can provide small area maps showing the names and locations of surrounding headstones.