News Release

Historic Black Cemetery Restored With Help From Local Latter-day Saints

Bill Warwaryick, a member of the Barrhead congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is looking forward to the spring of 2024 when permanent markers will finally be installed in the historic Bethel Baptist Cemetery near Campsie, Alberta. Since 1997, the Barrhead Ward has led reclamation efforts of this historic Black cemetery.

Black Settlers in Alberta

In the early 1900s, Black settlers seeking a better life immigrated to Alberta from the United States. They subsequently established four communities in the province.

One such settlement is Campsie, a rural community in Barrhead County, northwest of Edmonton. A Baptist Church was built, and the Bethel Baptist Cemetery was established. During 1920 to 1948, 13 individuals are known to have been buried in the cemetery.

From about 1950, for an unknown reason, burials were no longer permitted in the cemetery, and the cemetery ceased to be maintained. The forest grew in over the graves. Over the years, all descendants of the early Black pioneers left the area.

Community Service

In 1997, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Latter-day Saint pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley of present-day Utah, Church leaders designated a worldwide day of community service. Congregations were invited to celebrate Pioneer Heritage Service Day by contributing 150 hours of service to their local communities.

The Barrhead Ward decided to highlight local pioneers by restoring the Bethel Baptist Cemetery. The ward members had known some of the early Black settlers and were friends with their descendants.

On July 26, 1997, a group of Church members brushed the cemetery site trying to locate the 13 graves that were marked with small, faded, funeral-home-style markers. It was a difficult task as most graves were concealed by thick brush. Eventually all 13 graves were discovered, and Church members began to maintain the cemetery.

Need for Preservation

A few years later, the Barrhead Ward took on a new project. They wanted to install more permanent grave markers at the cemetery, so they obtained aluminum plaques etched with names and death dates to place over the graves. Arthur Gibbs and Garold Adams, who had known members of the Campsie Black community, installed the plaques.

In addition to preserving the grave markers, Joyce Fraser, the family history consultant at the FamilySearch centre in Barrhead, knew the information needed to be preserved digitally. Fraser, who has been researching information about the Bethel Baptist Cemetery for many years, has been adding her discoveries to the FamilySearch website.

FamilySearch, a non-profit organization sponsored by the Church, provides access to information from 100 countries, including records of births, marriages, deaths, land ownership, censuses, probates, wills and more. These records can be accessed through the FamilySearch website or a network of 4,600 local FamilySearch centres in 126 countries. Fraser wants the descendants of those buried in the Bethel Baptist Cemetery to have free access to their ancestral history.

Interested in learning about the people interred in the cemetery, the Barrhead Ward invited Christine and Paul Beaver, two descendants of the original Black community, to give a presentation at the Barrhead Chapel in the fall of 2022. The presentation focussed on the Black settlement at Campsie and the individuals interred there.

On August 20, 2022, when local congregants went back to clean the cemetery, they noticed that the aluminum markers were beginning to fade, so they decided to replace them with more permanent stone markers.

Funds for Permanent Markers

When Family Community Support Services (FCSS) in Barrhead learned of the project to obtain permanent grave markers, they offered to lead the fundraising efforts to honour these early Black pioneers. On February 16, 2023, during Black History Month, FCSS held an event with Christine and Paul Beaver recounting the history of the Black community at Campsie and those interred at the cemetery. This event raised over half of the needed funds for the project.

Bill Warwaryick met with Christine and Paul Beaver to create the text for the grave markers using genealogical information the Beavers obtained through their research. The creation of the grave markers is underway, with installation of the markers expected in the spring of 2024.

The combined efforts of FCSS, community members, descendants of the Black settlers, and the Barrhead Ward congregation has been a unifying force to preserve this historic cemetery.

Read the Article in French

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.