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One man's lifelong quest to find the grave of a Saskatoon pioneer

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Obert Friggstad never imagined that buying a house on St. Henry Avenue in Saskatoon’s Exhibition neighbourhood would lead to a lifelong fact-finding mission.

Friggstad lives near the Nutana Cemetery, home to roughly 150 graves of Saskatoon’s early settlers.

“The question of where is Nevil came up in discussion,” said Friggstad, referring to Nevil Pendygrasse, who died in 1887 — just four years after Saskatoon became a city.

The surname may sound familiar to those in Saskatoon, as there’s a street named after one of the first pioneer families to receive a plot of land in the city.

Nevil Pendygrasse (Courtesy: Obert Friggstad)

Friggstad and his wife Connie bought their first home here in 1972 and they were curious about the house, built in early 1909. They heard stories about Nevil, including that he fell off a ferry while crossing the river shortly after arriving from Ireland.

“He drowned just a few weeks before his mother and sister came. She sent the boys ahead to find a place to live in Canada and this is where they ended up.”

He connected with two grandnieces of Nevil Pendygrasse, the daughters of Nevil’s brother Harold, who built the house.

“I quizzed them one day, would you like to find Nevil’s grave?”

Friggstad says he had no idea if or where Nevil was buried.

He contacted the city archivist and cemetery officials.

“That helped my pursuit of more history of that family,” he said.

He searched cemetery records, which lead him to the cemetery steps from the house on St. Henry Avenue, at the Nutana, or Pioneer Cemetery, as it’s known.

Being an engineer, Friggstad used his drafting skills to cross reference the historic map of plots at the cemetery.

“I overlaid that overtop of the actual pencil sketch to see how close they are, and they’re relatively close considering it was a pencil drawing way back when,” he said.

All that work led to locating the spot where Nevil was buried, and in 2018 Nevil Pendygrasse finally got a grave marker on the far west side of the cemetery, closest to the river where the very first burials were done according to Friggstad.

Now he is open to help others find out where their family is and made a proposal to the city — knowing there are 29 potential burials at the cemetery.

“It’s a proposal to identify all known burials that have no known marker,” he says.

Friggstad now gives presentations through the Marr Residence where he explains his work and his findings to the public.

He realizes this is a sensitive topic and wants to ensure it’s sanctioned by experts before revealing any other historic information pertaining to burials at the cemetery.

Now, he’s fulfilled by the family connection that he’s made with the place where Nevil rests.

“I ride my bike on the riverbank through the park and always make a path through here. I come through and say hi to Nevil and carry on home. It’s just another family connection I’ve made.” 

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