Dedicated volunteers from the Sooke Lions Club have been keeping the Sooke Harbour Cemetery neat and tidy for more than 30 years, and they’ve never charged a cent for their services.
Today, at least one volunteer goes to the cemetery a few times a week for general upkeep, and once or twice a year, a larger group is organized to do more involved landscaping work.
There is little to do to keep things looking good aside from mowing the lawn, picking up deadfall, and filling in graves as they sink into the ground. In 1989, when the club first began working in the cemetery, this wasn’t the case.
“The roads were not surveyed, there were no curbs, it was full of gravel, there were bushes everywhere, it was one big mess,” said Mike Thompson, a Lions club member.
“People had been driving across graves because they were not marked when I first went in there. I almost fell through one of the graves because it had sunk so much.”
Thompson said the club had been aware of the poor state of the cemetery for some time. When an opportunity came up in 1989 for the club to apply for a community improvement grant from the province, it decided it should be used to overhaul the cemetery.
Thompson said volunteers and contractors worked to install and overhaul everything from irrigation systems, lawns, bushes, fences, and even new paths and curbs through the property for nine months worth of weekends. In all, the project cost $70,246, or more than $135,000 in today’s dollars.
“It was a huge project, but we had a work party there every weekend. It didn’t matter whether it rained or anything. We just did it,” he said. “The folks in Sooke appreciate it, and it’s what we do. It’s important.”
As for why the club and its volunteers continue to play a significant role in the cemetery’s upkeep today, Thompson said it is a mixture of pride and a desire to do good for the community. He said given its location on Sooke Road, the cemetery is one of the first things people see as they approach the Sooke centre, so it should look good to give a good first impression.
Keeping it in good shape also goes a long way in encouraging people to give the property the respect it deserves.
Gerry St. Laurent, a club member who spends the most time working in the cemetery, said in the five years he has been helping with maintenance, he regularly has people stop by when they see him working and offer to help out for a bit or to drop off refreshments and thank him for his work.
”I’ve had a few people come and thank me for looking after their grandparent’s grave and that sort of thing,” said St. Laurent. “There is always something to do. I’ve been in Lions for almost 28 years, four different clubs, and this is just one of my donations.”