Located not far from Writing on Stone Provincial Park, Masinasin Alberta is nothing today and even at its peak (if there ever was a peak) was never much of a town to begin with. On the lonely and expansive prairie there is precious little to say there was ever anything here. In fact, this place was unknown to me until I stumbled across an post written by fellow history explorer Cody Kapcsos.
In the article Cody documents the works he’s done to the long neglected Masinasin Cemetery. Completely forgotten about, the yard is overgrown and a mess and even standing in it one would be hard pressed to know there were in a cemetery. Home to eleven graves, prior to Cody’s work only a few still had headstones and most of those had either sunken or fallen over. Only one was still standing.
Of the markers the oldest date found was 1909 (Amanda Bell 1845-1909) and the most recent 1921 (Drusilla Ennis 1832-1921). A very sobering headstone belongs to a baby, Phoenix Earl Foss, who lived for a single day in 1915. So sad. These three markers are stone as mentioned and the only ones left – it’s assumed any others were wooden and have since rotted away. It’s possible some of these unmarked graves either predate or postdate the ones mentioned.
Cody has taken it upon himself to be sort of a caretaker for the site and has done work to help lift and straighten settled and toppled headstones. He’s located unmarked graves (by their depressions) and has given them simple crosses he made himself. He’s also made an archway sign but has not installed it yet. This is very inspiring and the respect he shows for this place is quite amazing given his young age.
In talking with Cody, the Alberta Government is aware of the site but seems disinterested in helping with the costs associated with cleaning it up. Since there is no one noteworthy there and since it’s not considered historically significant, they are content with leaving it in an overgrown state.
In the pictures one can see how close some graves are to the road. It’s doubtful however if many people driving by even notice. I guess a lot of tulips grow wild in the yard perhaps descendants of escapees from flower vases that likely adorned the graves.
In addition to the sign Cody has yet to install, the place could use a good mowing and some additional tidying up.
No evidence can be found of a Masinasin townsite and it’s more likely the name was used to define the locale rather than a specific settlement. Even so there was a school and I have seen one picture showing a post office. At one time the cemetery was home to a church, now long gone. It’s not clear if there ever was a store or any other businesses here, but it seems doubtful. If it there was a town it would be one of the few that was not located on a railway line. In those days a town without a railway was a town with a bleak future.
The region was originally named Milk River Valley but the name was changed to Masinasin in 1941.
From the cemetery one has a clear view of the Sweetgrass Hills across the US border in Montana. A anomaly, they tower above the sounding plains and can be seen for some distance. A sacred site to the Blackfoot people, the hills are home to plants not typically seen on the prairies, Douglas Fir being an example of this. The species is more more often associated with the Rockies to the west and outside of isolated pockets like this, is rarely seen in the region. The term Blackfoot seems to be more used in Canada and Blackfeet in the US, but in any case the names are interchangeable.
Masasinasin means writing on stone in the Blackfoot language and the namesake provincial park is located not far away. Home to some interesting first nations rock art, and other interesting bits, it is protected heritage site and is on our list of places we’d like to visit.
The photos and some text seen here are compliments of and copyright Cody Kapcsos. This young fellow is very passionate about both recording and preserving history and you can see more of his work here. Cody lives in Lethbridge Alberta.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Location: Masinasin Alberta near Writing on Stone Provincial Park.