We all have our hobbies, but Stephen Harrison has a pretty unique one.
The self-proclaimed “history nerd” has taken it upon himself to find the final resting places of all of the deceased premiers of British Columbia and photograph them for posterity.
Harrison, 30, said his passion started as a history student at the University of Victoria.
“I was walking through one of our local cemeteries here in Victoria, and I saw a few names that I recognized from my research,” he told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.
“So I got to wondering: where are the rest of our premiers buried?”
Stephen Harrison stands at the grave of B.C.’s second premier, Amor De Cosmos, in Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria. (Michael McArthur/CBC)
Answering that question has been a seven-year proposition, even taking him across the Atlantic. And it’s led to a B.C. political mystery he still hasn’t been able to solve.
Mystery of the 17th
John Horgan is B.C.’s 36th premier, and of his 35 predecessors, 26 are, well, deceased.
Harrison has been to 25 of those graves, but finding the final one, belonging to William John Bowser, the 17th premier, has so far proved impossible.
Bowser died in Vancouver in 1933.
William John Bowser was premier of B.C. for less than a year, but the location of his final resting place is an enduring mystery. (City of Vancouver Archives)
“He’s a bit of an enduring mystery. When I first started the project I read an obituary that said he had been cremated and his remains had been sent from Vancouver to Victoria to lie next to his wife’s,” Harrison said.
“I thought maybe they were scattered to the winds … but many people who are cremated choose to have their remains interred in a cemetery.”
But Harrison pressed on, eventually tracking down an obituary of Bowser’s wife that suggested her remains may not be in Victoria after all. The obituary said she died in Victoria but her remains were sent to Vancouver.
As a result, his search for the Bowsers’ resting place came up short.
Despite searching archives, genealogy websites, church records and more, he has not been able to find a conclusive answer to Bowser’s final resting place.
“We’ve got a mystery on our hands.”
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Sites now recorded
Some premiers were more challenging than others to find. B.C.’s first premier, John Foster McCreight required a trip to Hastings in England, for instance, where he passed away.
And the challenge of finding the graves in the first place all stemmed from a singular issue: no one seems to be keeping track of where B.C.’s top officials have been laid to rest.
“I was surprised that there was no record, for instance, of our first premier,” he said.
“There’s all these hobbyists and enthusiasts that I’ve found online, but even they hadn’t tracked down [Bowser].”
The grave of John Foster McCreight, B.C.’s first premier, is found in Hastings Borough Council Cemetery in Hastings, England. (@step_harrison/Twitter)
Harrison now has all of those resting places documented — mostly — and committed them to an article in his local paper, James Bay Beacon.
It has the locations of those graves and even the plot numbers should anyone want to retrace his steps.
With files from CBC Radio One’s On The Coast