Hardly anyone knows more about Dawson’s cemeteries than Ed and Star Jones.
These days the Joneses live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They don’t commute to Dawson in the summer as often as they used to but then, as Ed says, they used to be able to make the trip for $600 and you can’t do that any more.
Back in the 1960s, when Ed was a teacher at what would later be called the Robert Service School, he and Star got interested – obsessed might be a better word – with Dawson’s history.
With a little prodding from Allan Innes-Taylor, their focus was drawn from downtown and setting up little displays in the windows of abandoned buildings, to the cemeteries along what is now called Mary McLeod Road, but was then better known as the AC Trail or the Dome Road.
“He brought us up here, gave is each an axe and said ‘I want you to clear this cemetery’.”
Ed gestured to the stand of trees behind and to the east of the Yukon Order of Pioneers Cemetery, just one of about five distinct sites on the high side of the road.
At that time, in 1963, he said, the cemetery looked like a tangled mass of scrub brush and trees.
Today it looks more like a cemetery, with grass that is mowed at least twice each year.
Early graves marked by wooden boards occupy the fenced lot, as do newer gravesites, some with elevated headstones and some with the newer style of markers flush to the ground.
Outside there is an attractive tin-roofed shelter containing a directory that gives a history of the cemeteries on both sides of the road and a map explaining the boundaries and origins of each.
Ed and Star moved on, but kept coming back. For the last 14 years they have dedicated much time and effort to Dawson’s cemeteries, obtaining grants from various agencies to do their work.
They also have their own plot picked out in the cemetery that they have worked so hard to preserve, and will be buried here.
When a contingent of young Jewish men arrived a few years ago to build a fence around the Jewish Cemetery, Ed taught those city boys how to build a fence.
This summer the Joneses installed a bronze plaque in the small yard, listing the names of the five men known to be buried there. It sits beside the weathered wooden version, made with leftover fencing material that has been there for some years.
The Yukon Historic Resources Fund covered the cost.
The other big project this summer was the revival of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Cemetery. The concrete memorial obelisk was cleaned up (but not restored to its original white) and a new bronze plaque was mounted listing the names of the six members of the order who died fighting in the Great War (WWI).
This plaque, and the new gold eagle which sits atop the monument, were funded by the Yukon Historic Resources Fund.
Members of the Whitehorse Legion, Branch 254, and six members of the RCMP, joined with the Joneses and half a dozen others at a rededication ceremony on August 13.
Ed would like to be able to identify more of the grave sites along the Hillside Cemetery, on the down slope side of the road. Most of the head boards were destroyed in a fire in what Ed thinks was the 1940s.
The cemetery might hold over 1,208 graves but only about 250 have been identified for certain. Ed and Star have their work cut out for them.