"Memories of St. Mary's Live On"

article by T.W. Paterson - The Chronicles

"Anglican Church of the nativity of the Virgin Mary stood on this site on land given by Joseph Drinkwater of Somenos."

You know how it is: you drive by something a hundred times, always with the thought that, someday, you'll stop and check it out.

'Someday', for me, came last Monday when I finally found- made- time to check out St. Mary's Cemetery. This isn't Mountain View Cemetery, at Somenos and Drinkwater, but farther along Somenos. It's quite small and with its few trees is sandwiched between a private residence and farms. In reality, the cemetery includes the pasturage immediately behind it, which is too damp for burial purposes.

But there is no more St. Mary's- here, at least. A plaque notes that the "Anglican church of the nativity of the Virgin Mary stood on this site on land given by Joseph Drinkwater of Somenos. Erected in 1874, it was pulled down and rebuilt around 1909. In 1970 it was removed with its contents, and presented as a gift to Port Renfrew for an ecumenical church."

There's more of a story to it than this.

During transit, the original bell disappeared. The late Rev. Ian H. MacDonald, a former naval officer, thought of the frigate on which he'd served as executive officer for part of the Second World War. Scrapped in 1967, HMCS Swansea's bell was in storage at the Canadian War Museum. As "Canada's champion U-boat killer" had been built in Victoria in 1943, MacDonald thought that her bell would be doubly appropriate at St. Mary's- as a memento of provincial heritage and as a personal touch for himself.

He contacted the late Hon. David Groos, who'd also served in the Royal Canadian Navy, and it was arranged that Swansea's bell be loaned to the church.

As it happened, the original bell turned up, Rev. MacDonald had it reinstalled in St. Mary's belfry and that of HMCS Swansea was returned to Ottawa, where it's now on display.

But if historic St. Mary's is at Port Renfrew, its cemetery carries on here, on Somenos Road, facing Mount Prevost. Its oldest grave appears to precede construction of the church by two years, being dated 1872.

Its most eye-catching memorial is the ornate, even elaborate, wrought iron fence that surrounds the Drinkwater family plot, where Joseph, William and his wife Frances take their well-earned rest.

Other headstones are a mix of the old (upright) and the new (ground-level), marble, granite, concrete and bronze. One that must be unique, not only to St. Mary's, but other cemeteries, is the concrete cross of E.(?.)W. Leyland, 1853-1937.

Pte. J.G. Griffin, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who died April 4, 1926, aged 39, is another exception- he has two headstones. The first, of weathered white granite, has been supplemented by a newer on of pink marble that gives his name in full, James Gerald Griffin.

Something that is almost commonplace in older cemeteries is the prevalence of children's graves. Before antibiotics diseases such as scarlet fever, diptheria, even measles, were killers. Nathan De Colier, fourth son of I.W. and A. Sherman, was only two years, three months old when he died of unstated causes. He's "safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast."

Nicholas Richard Loggin- "my little son 'Dick'- who died in April 1926, two months short of his 14th birthday, also has the comfort of an eternal blessing: "Is it well with the child. It is well."

The grave of "Little Moonie," only child of Charles and Gladys Crane, Aug. 13, 1909-June 1, 1913, has been victimized by vandals, as have several others. Desecration is unfathomable, inexcusable but, it seems, inevitable.

There's even more tragedy than meets the eye at the bronze headstone shared by Hazel and George Robins, brother and sister.

They lived with their parents on the CNR where father George was the section man. Hazel, 17, and sister Beryl, 14, were bathing a mile and a half below Skutz Falls, Sunday, July 9, 1939.

Because neither was a strong swimmer and older sister June couldn't swim at all, they contented themselves with puttering about in shallow water.

They were joined by brother George, Jr. who happened by on his bicycle while returning from Deerholme and was drawn by their "happy shouts".

Ten minutes later, when Hazel stepped into deep water, she was immediately caught by the current: "Round and round it swung her in a great circle," reads the newspaper account, "that drew her closer and closer" to a small falls.

Trying to keep her head above water, she clutched desperately at the rocks as she was swept along, but she couldn't get a hand-hold. Beryl jumped in after her, and managed to grab her arm, but couldn't get a grip and Hazel, fearing for her sister's safety, repeatedly ordered her to go back.

Luckily for Beryl, she was able to cling to a rock and she watched in horror as Hazel was carried over the falls. When the others again saw her, her body was gently circling an eddy.

George, who was fully clothed, raced downstream and, although he, too, was a weak swimmer, plunged in. Within minutes, he was in trouble himself, either from cramps or the weight of his clothes.

In the meantime, Donald Galbraith, a friend of older daughter June, struggled to reach Beryl and Hazel but was overcome by exhaustion and had to be helped from the water.

There was nothing more they could do until help arrived but watch as the bodies of brother and sister gently drifted a mile down-river. It was George Robins Sr. who recovered his son's body, a fellow railway worker who retrieved Hazel.

Their funeral was held at St. Mary's Church, Somenos, with the Rev. Canon T.M. Hughes officiating. Six years before, the Robins had lost infant son Roy, also by drowning.

- printed with permission Cowichan Valley Citizen, June 15, 2003

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