Graveyards and commemoration of the deceased are extremely important, especially in Canada. For immigrants, burying one’s ancestors in a new land is like planting roots in new soil. It establishes a connection to a new home and a new homeland that has deep emotional resonance. For this reason, graveyards survive after churches are closed and destroyed. Grave blessings are arranged at graveyards that no longer have churches. In the Preeceville area, for example, after the Khram in the nearby Holy Trinity Church in Sturgis, the priest and the congregation head out to Preeceville, a town that no longer has a church, and do grave blessings in the cemetery there. When those are done, the priest and the congregation return to Sturgis for the blessing of the graves associated with the Holy Trinity church.
Because graveyards are so important, most are beautifully maintained even as the churches associated with them fail and are closed. The Pylypiv family, the descendants of one of the first immigrant families to arrive in Canada, have planted pine trees around the periphery of the graveyard associated with the Pylypiv church. The church itself is in ruins, but the Pylypivs are doing their best to keep the nearby slough, a body of water, from encroaching on the actual graves. In Plainview, the church is in a sad state of disrepair. The graveyard across the road is immaculate.
Ownership of graveyards.
Issues of ownership are important on the prairies, especially when churches cease to function. In those situations where congregations are small and financial resources are limited, what is owned by the institution of the church and what is owned by the congregation matters. Churches seldom purchased their own land. In most cases, the land was a gift of a particularly wealthy farmer or a childless family. Ownership of church property is often contested when a church is closed. The usual resolution is that the church building and the land on which the church stands belongs to the eparchy, while the cemetery is the property of the congregation.
Cemeteries as heterotopias.
Cemeteries, as spaces not fully under eparchy control, allow a great deal more parishioner expression than the church buildings themselves. Personalizing grave markers is common, especially in more recent times. In the past, the grave markers, often cement crosses built around a wire frame, were standard. This is partially because of emphasis on conformity, but available funds and materials influenced grave marker choice a great deal. More recently, grave markers are made of granite and accompanied with text and pictures. If the deceased really loved farming, a tractor in harvest season is pictured. Some tombstones say “gone fishing” and show a rod and reel and a large fish. A parishioner who loved horses is remembered with a coloured image of his favourite horse.