Jon Townsend lit candles for Ymir’s Clements and Bernette Grotkowski

COLUMN: Ymir couple’s headstone unearthed

Nelson’s Jon Townsend got a surprise recently while rebuilding a staircase. The piece of marble holding up the stairs was a headstone.

Jon Townsend got a surprise recently while rebuilding a staircase at his Rosemont home. The stairs were on top of a piece of marble, which he lifted to move, only to discover writing on the bottom.

“I flipped it over and see it’s a headstone,” he said. “It creeped me out because I’ve been standing on it. It was the first step going into the trailer — wooden stairs built on an upside-down headstone.”

It read: “Grotkowski/Clements 1924-2008/Bernette 1930-2009/In Loving Memory” and had images of a hummingbird and flowers on either side.

There were no flaws in the stone that he could see, so he was puzzled how and why it ended up there. He has lived in the West Gore St. home for two years.

He went online and looked up the name Grotkowski — fortunately there aren’t many — and called the lone listing in BC, which turned out to be Clem’s sister-in-law in Ymir, Deirdrie. Her late husband was Clem’s older brother.

She was just as baffled by the headstone. Clem and Bernette are buried in Salmo, and their grave is marked with an identical stone — except for one thing.

Bernette died in 2010, not 2009. So this marker was presumably a discarded error, but how did it end up supporting Townsend’s stairs? Neighbours told him a previous tenant used to work in the monument business, but she left long ago.

Even if you didn’t know the Grotkowskis, you’d recognize their home on Highway 6 if you ever drove by it while Clem was alive: the front yard was filled with windchimes, whirlygigs, and other whimsical devices that he fashioned and sold.

Clem was profiled in Larry Jacobson’s book Jewel of the Kootenays because he worked at the Emerald mine in the 1950s and ‘60s.

He was born in Poland, moved to Canada as an infant and grew up in Webster, Alta. He came to Ymir in 1955 to work in a sawmill on Porcupine Creek, but the owner went broke, so he went to work in the mines. He also logged, cut fence posts, and worked for the Ministry of Highways.

He and Bernette, who was born in Sexsmith, Alta., were married for over 60 years. They had seven children, a dozen grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.

Deirdrie came with her truck to get the headstone from Townsend last week, but before that he lit candles for the Grotkowskis on their faux headstone, feeling uneasy about the whole thing.

“I’m not religious but I guess I do believe somewhat because I kind of freaked out. We’re not stepping on their names anymore.”

Deirdrie will ask the rest of the family what they think she should do with it.

“If you can find two strong men to get it out out of the back of my pickup, I really don’t need it adding to my gas bill,” she joked. She’s thinking of getting rollers and inching it onto the ground and then flipping it up against her garage door.

“I don’t need it in my back yard, but it won’t be bothering anyone.”

ANOTHER GRAVE MATTER: The chances of ever finding the Slocan Valley’s lost Cody cemetery, which I recently wrote about, are even more remote than I first thought. Two people independently told me last week that the cemetery was covered in a rock slide, probably more than a century ago.

Frances (Fanny) Remillard died in September 1897 and her infant daughter died less than three months later. They were both laid to rest in Cody, which at the time served both that community and nearby Sandon. Once Sandon incorporated at year’s end, another location was found for a new cemetery.

Fanny’s niece, Patricia Waters of Nelson, told me that according to her father, a rockslide covered the cemetery. Fanny’s great granddaughter, Gail MacArthur, said the same thing.

About all we know of the cemetery’s location is that it was alongside the trail en route to the Freddy Lee mine. The remote spot was chosen because the first man interred there was struck and killed by lightning in 1892 and it was too difficult to get his body out.

Subsequently, two avalanche victims and a young boy were also buried there.

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