WILLOW BUNCH CATHOLIC CEMETERY IN COUNTRY

(1 ½ miles east of Willow Bunch, Sk.)

(1882 – 2024 — 142 years of records)

This location was first used as a burial site on May 2, 1882 for Mr. Joseph Lafournaise who died on May 01, at age 25. A Mrs Josephte (Pelletier) Amyotte preceded him in death in February, 1881, but she apparently was not interred in this cemetery until May 7, 1887!

In any case, the site was originally a minute part of the open prairie, and it only became formally known as SAINT IGNACE-DES-SAULES CEMETERY in 1889, time when the local Roman Catholic Parish was inaugurated as such.

The cemetery is located 1½ miles east of Willow Bunch on the bottom grid-road, and about a half mile south on the side-road; it lies immediately south of the unmarked site which later became known as Bonneauville.

In actual fact, land in these parts was only partially surveyed by 1886, and prior to that no one was unduly concerned about such things as borders or land titles. Not surprisingly, this burial site was later found to be situated on land claimed by and afterwards owned by Trefflé Bonneau who homesteaded the quarter section on July 14, 1909. Consequently it was expected, and often recounted by Bonneau family members, that Trefflé had donated the large area of the cemetery to the Catholic Church, as perpetual burial grounds.

On April 3, 1998, in an effort to verify said gift of land, Mr. Gilles A. Bonneau (grandson) initiated a search of things concerning the cemetery in the Land Titles Office in Moose Jaw, Sk. The title shows that the land in question was “eventually” purchased by “La Corporation Episcopal Catholique Romaine de Regina”, but whether or not an actual exchange of money took place for the purchase price was not verifiable.

In fact, though Mr. Bonneau homesteaded the quarter section in 1909, it appears he did not pay for it until June 25, 1917. At that time the land, less the six acres comprising the cemetery, was valued at $1,000.00. And, on February 12, 1918, “La Corporation Episcopale Catholique Romaine de Regina”, by order in council #4936, took legal possession of the cemetery site, the six acres being valued at $150.00. Nevertheless, it could not be determined at the Land Titles Office whether or not the purchase price was actually paid by the church, or if the sum was a gift from a certain benefactor. In any case, the fee of $150.00 was so noted!

LAND LOCATION: Following is the legal description of the St. Ignace des Saules Cemetery: All that portion of the South East Quarter of Section Seventeen (17), in Township Five (5), in Range Twenty-seven (27), West of the Second Meridian, in the province of Saskatchewan, in the Dominion of Canada, more particularly described as follows: – – Commencing on the Eastern Boundary of the said quarter section, Eleven (11) chains and Seventy-two (72) links, north from the South East corner thereof: thense Northerly along the said Eastern boundary, Eight (8) chains and Fifty-seven (57) links to an iron post: thense on a bearing of Two Hundred and Seventy degrees and One Minute (270° 1′) Seven (7) chains to an iron post: thense on a bearing of One Hundred and Eighty degrees and One Minute (180° 1′) a distance of Eight (8) chains and Fifty-seven (57) links to an iron post: thense on a bearing of Ninety degrees and One Minute (90° 1′) a distance of Seven (7) chains more or less to the place of beginning, containing Six (6) acres more or less.

That said, it is expected that Reverend Pierre St. Germain (who built a chapel nearby in 1883) chose this eastward sloped hillside for a burial site because it presents a beautiful panorama of the surrounding countryside. It certainly is a beautiful setting in which loved ones may rest from their labours while waiting for the coming of the Lord!

Though this first cemetery was more or less sidelined from 1906 until 1918, time when the new Catholic cemetery within Willow Bunch was more particularly used, it nevertheless continued to be used occasionally throughout the years. However, during the Spanish Influenza of 1918, use of the cemetery within town was discontinued, save for two burials in 1919, and all burials (for those of the Catholic persuasion) again took place in this country-side cemetery.

At some point in the cemetery’s history, probably after the Catholic Church took legal possession of the site in 1918, a large wooden cross was built (about 12 feet high with arms six feet across) and fixed in a cement base in the center of the grounds. Throughout the years, severe weather took its toll on the cross, causing it to rot at the base and it fell down. It was soon re-erected in the same cement footing, only 16 inches shorter. This happened several times until the cross became about as wide as it was high.

In 1987, several like-minded citizens took it upon themselves to erect a new cross, made of steel, in the original cement base. It stands 15 feet high and seven feet across. The cross was painted white, as was the first, with red reflectors being added at the top and at the end of both arms. Also fashioned in raised black letters and placed at the top center is the inscription “INRI” (JESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM), signifying “JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). Those involved in this project were: Gerard Mondor – purchased the metal, Bernard Delorme – designed and fabricated the cross and inscription, Gilles A. Bonneau & Janvier C. Bonneau – transported material from M.J. to W.B. & sanded and painted the cross, Philippe Cayer – transported the cross to the cemetery, and Emile Campagne & Daniel Mondor – assisted in its erection. Also, the Town of Willow Bunch graciously supplied the cement for the base. This cross should stand well beyond our time!

In about 1992, a wire-mesh fence was constructed on the north and east sides of the cemetery, at a cost of about $7,000.00. That same year, Paul Piché purchased and donated the necessary material to construct a new ornamental metal gate for the entrance. He and his son, Robert Piché, designed and fabricated it on their farm and they, along with son-in-law Claude Dionne, installed it on site. Decoratively inscribed within the surrounding framework of the gate are the words; across the top, “St. Ignace-des-Saules Cemetery”, and evenly divided on each side, “Willow Bunch”. They also installed a good sized cross top center, and smaller ones on each of the outer posts.

Also that year, with the assistance of parishioners, the cemetery was re-surveyed, a new plot map was made and new metal survey stakes were fixed in place. The cemetery books were also put in order, that is, as much as is now possible since the original plot map was not properly maintained, and is nowhere to be found.

Those people listed in the Master File with “Yes” by the notation “Site Marker:”, have a headstone/marker and their burial spot was located. All other people have no known headstone/marker and their burial spot was not found.

All headstones in the cemetery were checked in person by Gilles A. Bonneau on December 22 & 23, 1997. Afterward, Mr. Bonneau and his brother, Janvier C. Bonneau, painstakingly typed in all the particulars for each entry, with Gilles doing the final editing.

All names have been further checked, by Gabrielle Granger and Gilles A. Bonneau, against the St. Ignace des Saules cemetery register, for accuracy and to include those people without a headstone. Moreover, Mr. Bonneau thoroughly checked the Willow Bunch R.M. #42 records for any people entered there, and Robert Forest searched the Internet for all else.

The first burial at this site took place in February 1882, and the most recent burial is likewise listed in the Master File.

The books for this cemetery are kept in St Ignace des Saules Catholic Church in Willow Bunch. They’re also accessible in the Willow Bunch Museum and on the Internet at www.willowbunch.ca . For cemetery plots, please contact  Denis Lesperance at 306-640-7985 or Emile Desautels at 306-642-0018.

For a current total of the number of people buried in this and/or other cemeteries, please access internet heading “Cemetery List“.

On July 25, 2005, a large bronze plaque, upon which is inscribed the names of 544 people buried without a marker, was erected at the entrance of this cemetery, courtesy of Willow Bunch Métis Local #17. The plaque was dedicated to their memory and blessed by Rev. Ron Andree on Sunday July 31, 2005.