How Mountain View Cemetery is Connecting Families

30 Jun 2014
Posted by mschwartz

        What started out as a restoration project has led to the discovery of people and stories long forgotten. In October 2012, Shirley Barnett initiated the Jewish Restoration Project at Mountain View Cemetery with the backing of The Schara Tzedeck Cemetery Board.  The purpose of the project was fourfold: research and document the names of all those interred in the cemetery, stabilize and restore the headstones, refurbish the grounds and add amenities and educate the community with walking tours and educational programming.

         This cemetery consecrated in 1892, was the only Jewish cemetery in Vancouver for 34 years and is the key to unlocking early Vancouver Jewish history. Names of families like Gintzburger, Melekov, Letvinoff or Forcimer have left an unforgettable mark on the Jewish community, yet sadly there are no family descendants living now to continue their legacy. Nevertheless, there are other families whose relatives are living and passionate about being connected to their early pioneer roots. Descendants of Zebulon Franks, Sarah Haniford, Abraham Grossman, Baby Kulimovitz, Israel Camerman, Abraham Grossman and John Herman, to name a few, have come forward to get involved in this historic restoration project.

           As a result of research and documentation, it came to light that as many as 145 burials were not marked, and of those, 50 were babies. Consequently, a ceremony was held in October 2013 to recognize these 145 people with the placing of temporary markers at each gravesite. The City of Vancouver, which owns the Mountain View Cemetery, including the land which the Jewish section occupies, kept records of all the burials, which is why we know the name and location of each grave. The ceremony was very well attended and with the publicity surrounding this event came descendants who until the present time did not know they had family members buried at Mountain View. These descendants have come forward to be involved in this restoration work, from making a donation to placing a permanent stone where there wasn’t one.

         Historically, this project has ignited much curiosity and interest. There are regularly scheduled waking tours through the cemetery, highlighting the lives once lived by these pioneers. King David High School students have researched some of these pioneers and were pretty amazed by what they discovered. One student discovered a family member buried in this cemetery that he/she was not aware of.

         With the advent of the opening of the new cemetery in New Westminster in 1926, Mountain View became second choice and somewhat forgotten. As is the custom, in the early 1900s patriarchs of the families would reserve a number of plots for family members, until such time as they were needed. Years passed and people moved away leaving a large number of unoccupied reserved plots. Genealogical research into locating descendants of the owners of these reserved plots has been rewarding in some cases, with family members discovering they now have a historic connection to Mountain View Cemetery. In other cases, with no descendants to claim ownership, some of these plots will eventually become available for use. This cemetery, very rarely used nowadays, is being rejuvenated and will once again be a “living” and “working” cemetery.

           Amenities include a “Kohanim” bench outside the gates of the cemetery, as well as 2 benches inside the gates, a replication of the historic entrance gate, garden walls on either side of the entrance gate, a washing basin and pebble basin, and pathways and family plot curbing uncovered and restored.

           A state-of-the-art technology program known as “Admired Life” is being incorporated into the workings of this cemetery. This program will enable a visitor to the cemetery access to information about a person buried there via smartphone.

           Funding for this restoration project has come from community foundations, government grants, private family foundations, and individual donors. The goal is to fund the restoration work needed now as well as provide for maintenance of the work in perpetuity.

 For more information please contact:

 Myra Adirim – myra.mvc@gmail.com  

 Shirley Barnett – sbarnett@dayhu.com