A painted lady yet remembered

Janus: Cranbrook Then and Now returns for the fall, this week shining a red light on aspects of our history.

May Reynolds

the 1901 Canadian Census they are all single ladies between 20 and 27 years of age (with the exception of Jennie and Jessie, 33 and 37, respectively), living two to a domicile; one listed as “Head” and the other as “Lodger”. If the order of the names indicates anything then it would appear they all lived in a row on the same street very near Chinatown.

Hmmm, 12 young ladies, all single, living in six different houses all in a row. What can it mean?

The End: It is obviously a well-crafted tombstone. It stands proud in what appears to be a largely unused section of the Cranbrook Old General Cemetery. It is in better condition than the few others scattered nearby. Some are broken, some nearly illegible; some consist solely of Japanese characters etched into stone. If you are exploring and find yourself in this particular area you are standing in the oldest part of the Old General. It may look empty but if you have an aversion to walking on graves then it is best to step carefully.

This section of the cemetery now forms but a small part of the whole. It consists of five blocks with 46 plots in each; a total of 230 resting places. Of these, 18 are vacant, 38 unknown and two reserved. Of the other 172 plots there are a total of just 21 marked graves remaining. To put it another way, there are 210 unmarked pioneer graves in our original Old General Cemetery. Step carefully, indeed.

It is not necessarily a surprising fact that so few gravestones remain. Since the inception of the cemetery in 1900, it has often suffered from general neglect and abuse. It is however, somewhat surprising, if not downright ironic, that one of the last remaining gravestones would belong to a local prostitute by the name of May Reynolds. The irony is not in the fact that she is buried in this particular cemetery, although she is one of the few of her profession to have been so. What is unique is the circumstance surrounding her final resting place. It is, it may be said, a doubly-ironic tale. Tell you what; let’s have a look at her obituary published in the Cranbrook Herald on April 19, 1900:


“May Reynolds, aged 29 years, died Monday night last after a lingering illness caused from a complication of diseases and was interred Wednesday in the town cemetery. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. Mr. Lang, a large number of citizens attending.

The deceased woman was a sporting woman; her real name is unknown — it is better that way. Those knowing her say that she was evidently of good family; it may be some poor old father and mother are awaiting tidings of their lost child, vainly hoping that some day she will return and be a solace and comfort in their declining years.

The unfortunate woman was given a respectable burial, her remains being followed to their last abode by many, some of the Christian ladies of Cranbrook being in the cortege, also bringing flowers and placing on the coffin.

Let those without sins cast stones at her memory.”


The faded inscription on the tombstone reads: At Rest. Entered into eternal rest April 16, 1900. May Reynolds aged 29 years. Erected by her numerous friends to her memory.

Now hang on a minute. A respectable burial? Christian ladies in the cortege? An expensive memorial erected by numerous friends? Not quite the treatment of a lady of the night that one may expect and therein lays the double-irony: One of the last remaining gravestones of the pioneers of our city belongs to that of a local prostitute and furthermore, it was placed there through the efforts and with the blessings of many of the good folk of our community.

“Let those without sins cast stones at her memory,” states her obituary. The town of Cranbrook, in the year 1900, did in fact cast stones at the memory of May Reynolds. To be more precise, the people cast a single stone – made of marble.

The Beginning and the End:  Thus begins and ends the sad yet somehow uplifting tale of May Reynolds. There is nothing else known of her nor is there likely to be.

The Hook: Miss Reynolds was certainly not alone in her profession in Cranbrook at the time. “The Row” was as much a part of town as the business district, the CPR and Baker Hill.

There were other girls with stories of their own and next week Janus will feature three of them, those of Jennie Howard, Stella Duffield and Mrs. Lillian Shotwell who, tragically, was.


Jim Cameron

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