Dedicated volunteers from the Sooke Lions Club have kept Sooke Harbor Cemetery clean and tidy for over 30 years, and they have never charged a penny for their services.
Today, at least one volunteer visits the cemetery a few times a week for general upkeep, and once or twice a year a larger group gets organized to do more intricate landscaping work.
There’s not much you can do to keep things in good shape other than mowing the lawn, picking up the dead, and filling up the graves when they sink into the ground. In 1989, when the club started working in the cemetery, this was not the case.
“The roads weren’t inspected, there were no curbs, it was full of gravel, there were bushes everywhere, it was a big mess,” Lions club member Mike Thompson said.
“People were driving through graves because they weren’t marked when I first drove in. I almost fell through one of the graves because it had sunk so much.
Thompson said the club had been aware of the graveyard’s poor condition for some time. When the opportunity arose in 1989 for the club to apply for a community improvement grant from the province, it decided that it should be used to renovate the cemetery.
Thompson said volunteers and contractors worked to install and overhaul everything from irrigation systems, lawns, bushes, fences and even new paths and borders across the property over nine months of weekends. In total, 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 every weekend. It didn’t matter if it rained or whatever. We just did it,” he said. “People de Sooke appreciate it, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s important.”
As for why the club and its volunteers continue to play such an important role in upkeep of the cemetery today, Thompson said it was a mixture of pride and a desire to do good in the community. He said that given its location on Sooke Road, the cemetery is one of the first things people see when approaching the center of Sooke, so it should be nice to give a good first impression.
Keeping it in good condition 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 that in the five years he has helped with maintenance, he regularly has people stopping when they see him working and offer to help him out a bit or drop off refreshments and thank him for his work.
“I had a few people come up to thank me for watching over their grandparents’ graves and that sort of thing,” St. Laurent said. “There’s always something to do. I’ve been a Lion for almost 28 years, in four different clubs, and that’s just one of my gifts.
Lions ClubSookeWest Shore