Union Cemetery and Chinese Cemetery - Calgary, Alberta


Union Cemetery was almost the first public cemetery established for Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


In 1884 when Calgary was a burgeoning town hosting a population in excess of one thousand residents, the only public burial ground was a segregated section at the Roman Catholic Mission.

In 1885 the location of the first Protestant public cemetery was established at Shaganappi Point which later, in 1915, became the site of the current Shaganappi Point Golf Course.

In early days, graves were dug by hand with picks and shovels but the rocky slab terrain at Shaganappi Point soon prompted an alternate choice in 1890 which became the current 19.1 hectare (47.2 acre) site of Union Cemetery.

The task of transferring bodies of the interned at Shaganappi Point began in 1892 and was considered completed in 1912 after about a hundred bodies were relocated to the new grounds at Union Cemetery.  Many years later an audit discovered early record keeping was less than perfect.  There were bodies that missed being transferred and those souls remain buried beneath the ground at Shaganappi Point Golf Course.

So, in the event of unexplained presence, a golfing anomaly or an unexplained tumble which occurs while cross-country skiing, perhaps the event has been spiritually motivated.

The classical arch was designed by Parks Superintendent Richard Iwerson in 1912 and initially located near the Macleod Trail main entrance to Union Cemetery.  The arch has since been moved and now forms a focal point near the lower portion of Reader Rock Gardens.

In 1908, concrete blocks camouflaged to resemble sandstone were used to build the existing Union Cemetery Chapel and Mortuary.  Frozen ground meant caskets needed to be stored over Winter for burial in the Spring after the ground thawed.

Pews no longer occupy the Chapel area, but racks, where the coffins were stored, remain in the basement.  The Chapel and Mortuary continued in service until early 1960s.


Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

The Chapel and Mortuary at Union Cemetery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada


The section for deceased children is quite large on the hill east of the Chapel and Mortuary.  The ravages of Calgary weather are obvious throughout the Union Cemetery, particularly from early years when headstone composition was less formidable than current.


Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

A single headstone from the large section hosting children at Union Cemetery


Union Cemetery hosts the burial sites for long-established and influential families involved in early day influence on the growth and character of Calgary.


Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaUnion Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Although the largest Military Field of Honour is located across Spiller Road in the Burnsland Cemetery, a significant number of World War I headstones occupy the Military Field of Honour in Union Cemetery.


Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Resting place of Veterans who protected the preservation of our country


There are free tours of the Union Cemetery (and others) provided by the City of Calgary.  These are likely nothing short of absolutely fascinating for historical buffs so inclined.  It is important to examine the detail for dates, timing and tour beginning location.  The link is City of Calgary Cemetery Tours.

Toward the south-west side of Union Cemetery, a footbridge crosses over Macleod Trail to the Chinese Cemetery on the west side of the busy thorough-fare.  Ugly communication towers serve to locate the bridge.  The Chinese Cemetery is denoted with the CH marker.

The Chinese Cemetery dates back to 1908 and includes many of Calgary's early Chinese pioneers.  The cemetery is a historically significant reminder of an important contribution to the settlement and establishment of the City of Calgary.  Throughout Western Canada, the theme is recurring.


Chinese Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaChinese Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


The immaculate grounds which began their existence near 1908 include a Pagoda feature as well as a large and humbling concrete and granite historical Chinese memorial presented in both languages.


Chinese Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaChinese Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaChinese Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Calgary's Chinese pioneers contributed significantly to Western Canadian development while often facing hardship, racial discrimination and loneliness. Canadian laws from that time prevented bringing their families.

Without maintenance, many gravestones in the Chinese Cemetery deteriorated.

The City of Calgary took over the Chinese Cemetery in 1935.  In 1980, during LRT construction and  widening of Macleod Trail, workers excavating near the cemetery unearthed thirty-nine unidentified bodies, later reburied in a common grave.

Initially, the Hoy Sun Association considered restoring the damaged headstones, but decided to build a common monument to maintain the Feng Shui of individual graves.


Chinese Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


The return across the bridge over Macleod Trail on the return to parking near the Entrance Arch proceeds towards sweeping views over the ever-changing skyline of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Arrival at the back of the Union Cemetery Chapel and Mortuary begins a downhill finale past the Entrance Arch to the parking area.

Photographs for this post featuring the Union Cemetery and the Chinese Cemetery were captured near Reader Rock Gardens on Wednesday, July 20, 2016.