When the first Quaker families moved to Argenta in the early 1950s, they figured a cemetery was a vital part of a community — until then, residents buried their dead in Kaslo or further afield. So they formed a cemetery board and the government agreed to set aside some land.
But it wasn’t until 1967, when well-loved local character Charlie Beguin died, that the cemetery was actually used. Those who knew Beguin recall him today as a kindly, quiet, stooped old farmer — an appearance and disposition that belied the fact he was involved in the community’s darkest moment: in 1922, he shot and killed his brother-in-law, who had repeatedly assaulted Beguin’s wife.
Charged with murder and tried in Nelson, Beguin was acquitted by a jury who believed it was justifiable homicide, although the verdict was condemned by the presiding judge. Beguin had the chutzpah to ask for his rifle back, but the judge refused.
That was one story related Sunday as Argenta marked the Day of the Dead, honouring those in its picturesque woodland cemetery and other longtime residents who have since departed.
Organizer Deb Borsos said the inspiration came when it occurred to her that many relative newcomers may not know much about those buried in the cemetery.
“It seemed a shame to gradually lose the memories of who people were and what they had done while living in Argenta, since it is so interesting and rich in stories from all over the world,” she said.
She came up with what she called a “memory loss prevention program,” modeled on Day of the Dead celebrations in Latin America. Borsos and Noemi Kiss collaborated to add “Argenta style” touches.
Since Beguin’s burial there have been over 50 more in the cemetery, many adorned with unique markers and epitaphs. The latter certainly applies to Eric Bacchus, who homesteaded at Birchdale, south of Johnsons Landing. He adhered to a strict schedule, eating meals at exactly the same time every day, so when he died in 1973, friends marked his grave with his sundial.
Other heartfelt elegies before a packed community hall came from Ted Pollard and David Stevenson, who each paid tribute to their parents, the first Quaker immigrants to Argenta. George and Mary Pollard and John and Helen Stevenson left California after refusing to sign a loyalty oath, which required state employees to renounce any association with communists.
John and George, now buried in Argenta, were two of the five original cemetery board members. (Ted noted that he and wife Judy actually have nine family members buried there.)
Yvonne Boyd talked about her grandparents, Ruth and Bob Boyd, also among the earliest Quaker families, while Rik Valentine described his family’s rude welcome to Argenta in 1955 — their overloaded bus slipped off the narrow road — and how his parents once pulled him out of school to spend a winter in rural Mexico, where they got caught up in a Federales raid.
Several local singers and musicians performed and Kiss led a community choir in pieces reflecting cultures represented by those in the cemetery. In addition, Day of the Dead traditions were borrowed from other places, including papel picado (cut paper decorations) and memorial altars.
Two of the latter were dedicated to people in the cemetery, one to those who lived in Argenta but are buried elsewhere, one to animals, and the last to lost buildings and amenities that shaped the community’s character, like the old school and hotel, and even the 1970s ski tow.
At the end, residents walked to the cemetery and placed tea lights on individual gravemarkers, which glowed into the night.
“I was delighted so many came and took part,” Borsos said. “It was one of the more successful truly ‘done by community for community’ events I’ve seen and I’m inspired to encourage more of this in future, as well as being very happy that I live in such a great rural community where events like this take place.”