Meanskinisht Cemetery and Former Church Site at Cedarvale
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Meanskinisht Cemetery is a 1.0 hectare level plot of land on a bench above the Skeena River in the community of Cedarvale, about 70 km north of Terrace and 18 km west of Kitwanga, in northwestern British Columbia. Marked and unmarked graves, some enclosed by decorative fences, are surrounded by a mixed forest of poplar, birch, hemlock, cedar and spruce. The property is legally described as Lot 1, District Lot 7, Plan 1319, Cassiar Land District. It includes the cemetery and the former site of two mission churches associated with the cemetery.
Located on a high bench on the south bank of the Skeena River, Meanskinisht Cemetery is valued for its spiritual, cultural and historical significance, particularly as the burial site of the founders and members of Meanskinisht Mission.
The Meanskinisht Cemetery is significant for its connection to the Meanskinisht Mission, a utopian, cooperative, Christian community. Originally a Gitxsan First Nation settlement, Meanskinisht (meaning 'under the pitch pines') was founded in 1888 on opposite banks of the Skeena River by Robert Tomlinson Sr. Tomlinson, a medical missionary with the Anglican Church Missionary Society, arrived with his family after serving at various missions in northwest BC including Metlakatla with his mentor William Duncan. Though he would resign from the Church due to conflicts with its leadership, the experience inspired Tomlinson to model Meanskinisht after those missions. Tomlinson's vision of self-sufficiency and adherence to religious values attracted some First Nation people from surrounding villages to join the mission and follow its rules: attend church, send their children to school and renounce First Nation traditions. Community members farmed, sold garden produce, operated a general store and held the government contract to deliver the mail. A primary source of income for the mission was its sawmill on the north bank of the Skeena--the first sawmill in the area. In 1913, construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP) required the removal of the sawmill, resulting in the loss of the community's economic base. The GTP brought an influx of settlers and a change to the community's name: Cedarvale. Tomlinson's death that year, combined with these events, changed the community's spiritual nature and communal structure.
Meanskinisht Cemetery is significant as being representative of the missionary movement across Canada; at the same time the mission was unique in its resistance to the concept of the Indian reserve. Tomlinson was against reserve status for land adjacent to his mission and for many years he unsuccessfully petitioned the provincial government to allow First Nation mission members to pre-empt and own land. He finally resolved to lease 5-acre parcels of his own District Lot 7 to First Nation community members for 999 years. Without legal status, the leases were cancelled after Tomlinson's death. Some leaseholders were able to buy the properties from the Tomlinson estate and several are still owned by descendants of the mission's First Nation pioneers.
The cemetery is significant for its association with the community's two mission churches: an 1891 pioneer-style log structure and its 1907 replacement, a community-built, Carpenter Gothic-style church constructed from lumber milled at the community's sawmill and with stained glass windows from England. The churches' prominent position on the high bench next to the cemetery made each, in turn, a landmark of Tomlinson's "Holy City" until a fire destroyed the latter building in the 1950s.
Meanskinisht Cemetery is significant for its illustration of ways in which First Nation peoples renegotiated their identities and traditions after contact. The cemetery reflects changes in First Nation burial rituals, including granite headstones and fences within a maintained landscape. Traditionally, a burial was accompanied by a death feast, or potlatch. When the potlatch was outlawed in 1884, some First Nation people circumvented the law by adopting European-style memorials.
Today, only direct descendants of the mission's original inhabitants can be buried here. The Meanskinisht Historical Society, which operates a museum, also maintains the cemetery and consults on all burials that occur there. This connection between spiritual and historical values is significant to the past and future of the cemetery, and reinforces the faith-based history of the community.
Source: Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, Planning Department
The character-defining elements of the Meanskinisht Cemetery include:
Site, Setting and Landscape
- Location of the cemetery on a bench above the Skeena River
- Mixed native forest vegetation surrounding the land
- Flat topography
- Maintained lawn
- Rustic access trail
- Entry sign identifying private burials
- Decorative wooden and metal enclosures around some of the burial sites
- Mix of freshly-painted and weathered enclosures
- In-ground and vertical granite grave markings including those of the Tomlinson family
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.954
Community Heritage Register
Theme - Category and Type
- Building Social and Community Life
- Religious Institutions
- Peopling the Land
Function - Category and Type
- Religion, Ritual and Funeral
- Religious Facility or Place of Worship
- Religion, Ritual and Funeral
- Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, Planning Department, Terrace
Cross-Reference to Collection