Metro’s 14 historic cemeteries total 66 acres in Multnomah County and provide an important service for families throughout greater Portland. Six of the cemeteries are still open for new sales.
The cemeteries are managed as active facilities, offering scenic tranquility and a unique window into the region’s history. Most were established between 1850 and 1870. The cemeteries are open to visitors and provide opportunities for historic research, bird watching and contemplation in a natural setting.
Many sections at many of the cemeteries are special, even sacred spaces to individuals, families and even entire communities. One of these, and one with a unique, troubling history among Metro’s cemeteries, is at Lone Fir Cemetery. The southwest section of the cemetery is where more than 2,800 Chinese and Chinese Americans were buried between 1860 and the 1920s.
No headstones or monuments mark the empty field. Metro is working to create the Cultural Heritage and Healing Garden to honor the memory of those buried at Lone Fir.
Hearing from community members at the Cultural Heritage and Healing Garden
As part of its work to create a cultural heritage and healing garden at what was formerly the Chinese section of Lone Fir Cemetery, Metro hired a research firm to better understand the site’s history. This November, Metro held three information sessions designed to share the research findings with the Chinese American community – and to gather ideas about how to move forward in the project.
“I really appreciate everyone who attended a session and provided feedback,” said regional planner Karen Vitkay, who is managing the project. “Especially given how traumatic some of the findings were, it speaks volumes that some community members came back to attend multiple information sessions so that they could keep discussing the project and its history.”
Attendees had many questions and recommendations for Metro. Several participants recommended that the final project include culturally significant trees and other plantings. Additionally, there were many requests for allowing the community to practice customary rituals for honoring the dead, such as burning incense and leaving offerings. Many participants expressed pain at the erasure of their history – as well as a desire to have that history shared in this memorial project.
“The way we can honor our ancestors is by telling their stories,” said one participant. “We came here with a lot of ingenuity and contributed to Oregon history. We need to acknowledge that history and celebrate what we have become.”
From: "Metro hears from Chinese American community members on memorial at Lone Fir Cemetery."