Jack White Goose Flying

The late 19th century saw the establishment of a residential school system in Western Canada designed to "civilise" first nation people and teach them trades and skills necessary for assimilation into European based society. The subject of residential schools remains controversial and emotional. The scene of a number of alleged and actual abuses (both physical and cultural), the residential schools have had an impact on the shared histories of both first nations and white societies through to the present day.

In 1899, Jack White Goose Flying, a young student from the Peigan Nation near Brockett, Alberta, died of tuberculosis at the Calgary Indian Industrial School. His disease had progressed so quickly that there was no opportunity to send him home before his death (as was the practice) and he became the only person to die at the school. He was buried on a hill above the school overlooking the Bow River: his grave piled with stones and surrounded by a white picket fence. There his grave remained, outlasting the school at which he had been resident. The name of the young man buried in the grave, and his story, had been forgotten to most, but his grave still remained.

Jack White Goose Flying's grave in 1956
Glenbow Archives NA-5600-7939a (photo by Jack De Lorme)
 Eventually the ever-growing City of Calgary began to encroach on the solitary grave on the prairies. On June 7th, 1956, newspaperman Tom Moore wrote an article about the grave in the Calgary Albertan in an attempt to re-discover the name of its inhabitant. At that point, as Moore points out in his article, power lines had been run through above the grave and a gravel pit had been dug within about 10 feet of the deteriorating picket fence. The grave, however, had always been respected by those working in the area and remained, for the most part, undisturbed.

People responding to Moore's article had not been able to identify the person resting in the grave (although one old timer thought his name was John White Goose) and the story of the grave remained mysterious. Eventually, Senator James Gladstone, another former student at the Calgary Indian Industrial School, brought the grave to the attention of his son-in-law, local historian Hugh Dempsey. Dempsey had been involved in an attempt to save some of the old school buildings and took it upon himself to maintain the grave and find out the history of its inhabitant. With the help of another former resident, Percy Creighton, Dempsey uncovered both Jack white goose flying's name and story. Dempsey painted the fence surrounding the grave and erected a new marker honouring the young student.

By 1968, industrial development in the area of Jack's grave (now designated as 58th Avenue & 11th Street S.E.) was proceeding at such a pace that the future of Jack White Goose Flying's grave seemed uncertain at best. Hugh Dempsey, along with his colleague Rev. David Carter, decided to make arrangements to have Jack's remains transferred to the Peigan First Nation Reserve, to take Jack home. Thinking that, after such a length of time, there would be few remains left, the two began excavation of the grave. They discovered, however, that the gravel in the soil around the grave had provided enough drainage that Jack White Goose Flying's coffin remained intact. It became obvious to Dempsey and Carter that moving the grave would require a great deal more than had originally been thought. At the same time Chief Maurice McDougall and the Peigan Band Council decided against moving Jack White Goose Flying's remains to the cemetery on the reserve as none of Jack's relatives were still living in the area. The Band Council gave its permission to move Jack's remains to another existing cemetery and to donate the fence to Heritage Park (a local historical village).

The site of Jack White goose Flying's original grave as it appears today

By 1971, the destruction of Jack's grave was imminent. Dempsey and Carter, with the help of city Alderman John Ayer. Worked to secure the proper permits to have the remains moved to one of the city cemeteries. At the same time The City of Calgary Land Department was quite aware of the grave and the necessity to do something to either preserve it or move it to a cemetery. The Land Department purchased a plot and, on September 30, 1971, the remains of Jack White Goose Flying were re-interred in Queens Park Cemetery, with the Reverend David Carter officiating at the ceremony.

The story of the grave of Jack White Goose Flying speaks to our humanity. It shows how even in the City of Calgary, a city not known for its desire to preserve its past, a lonely, solitary grave can demand great respect from many people. When I was a teenager in the late 1960s, my friends and I used to "hang out" around Jack White Goose Flying's original grave. At that time, I was impressed by the fact that the grave had been cared for so well after all those years. I now know who was caring for it and the pains that were gone through to respect the person interred therein. Had this story happened today, the outcome may well have been different, and Jack White Goose Flying may have found a different final resting place but, none the less, the same respect would have been shown his grave over the years and he still would be remembered today.

 Special thanks to:

  • The City of Calgary Cemetery Office (as always)
  • The City of Calgary Archives (who, quite accidentally, came across a file on the subject)
  • The Glenbow Archives
  • Hugh Dempsey and David Carter for filling in some of the details

The final resting place of Jack White Goose Flying

This page dedicated to the memory of Barry Hilton Nesbitt who first showed me the original burial site and who now rests in an unmarked grave not far from Jack White Goose Flying.

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