(Every time I post a title like that, someone corrects me. I heartily invite such corrections!)
In August of 2019, Andrew and I spent a weekend in the West Reserve. One of my objectives was to visit the oldest cemetery in Altona. I had no idea what it would be, but surely the shiny new-looking cemetery on Highway 30 was not it. I asked a local friend, where is the oldest cemetery in Altona?
I expected the answer to be that the oldest cemetery in Altona is, well, in Old Altona.
When I had looked at Altona on Google Maps, I could see there was Altona, but then just south, there was Old Altona, with its street at an angle. The original village site! The Harms-Rempel Historical Atlas of the West Reserve calls it “Darp Aultneiv”. Surely that must be where the oldest cemetery is!
I was shocked and confused to discover that no, there is no cemetery there (still not fully convinced though) and also, Old Altona and Altona are completely separate.
Ha, just kidding. I have the Altona book here, and it confirms that the village was there first (est. 1880), and officially ceased to exist in 1898, though the villagers continued to live, well, as a village. They didn’t move away from each other, which is fascinating to me. Meanwhile, the town of Altona was born in 1895, with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway at a site just half a mile north of the darp. Out of the seed of the CPR, a town burst rapidly out of the prairie… and folks called it Altona. (This, I think, was not a coincidence.)
The book is very clear, that “the village would never become part of the town”.
When I googled “find a grave old altona cemetery”, the only cemetery that showed up is the new one on Highway 30, south of Altona. So I guess I’m not the only one who didn’t know about this cemetery then. I mean, I’m pretty sure everyone in Altona knows about this place. But out-of-towners such as I, do not.
The old cemetery is in the heart of Altona, right next to Friesens Corporation. This is kind of disappointing to me, because I was hoping to find remnants of Altona past, in that strange old Darp Aultneiv with its angled street harkening back to a time before our grid road system.
Instead, here I was, in a cemetery that makes perfect sense.
It is satisfyingly old, though, for a prairie town.
So, join pre-pandemic Andrew and I as we stroll through the Old Altona Cemetery! (Is that what it’s called?)
In writing this, and in dipping into Altona: the Story of a Prairie Town, two things occur to me. First, that I need to investigate Old Altona a little more closely. And second, that I need to actually read this book!