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Local mysteries revealed: the history of the Powell House and Weyburn's first cemetery

Every town has its own mysteries, often related to historic sites and forgotten with time. But sometimes these old stories return to see the light of day once again.

Every town has its own mysteries, often related to historic sites and forgotten with time. But sometimes these old stories return to see the light of day once again.

Weyburn's historic Powell House is one of many century homes on South Hill, just down the street from two well-known landmarks, Moffat House and Eaglesham Manor. The Powell House is the only one of these houses on the Crocus Tour, which was inspired by Weyburn native W. O. Mitchell's "Jake and the Kid" series.

Many people do not know the history of this local landmark, but that may be about to change if local artist Jan Keating has anything to say about it. She has been digging into the history of Sarah Powell, who was born and raised in the home of her namesake, and is passing her passion for Weyburn's history to her daughter Trenna, an actress/playwright now living in Toronto.

"Trenna, my daughter, has written a couple of plays and she's working on this project right now," said Keating.

Trenna's plays get noticed, according to Keating. Her first play, written while attending the University of Regina, has been used as a learning tool at her alma mater, as well as the Universities of Saskatchewan and Toronto. "Valentine's Day at Bathurst Station" has been submitted to the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre and Trenna is working on having it published.

Her next project will reveal the plight of Sarah Powell. Born in 1908 to a family of six children, Sarah was educated at the Weyburn Collegiate before going to university. Sarah married Dr. Muhammad Fadil al-Jamali in 1933, an Iraqi, Arab, Muslim teacher who went on to become Iraq's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister and the man who signed the United Nations charters on behalf of Iraq in 1945.

The couple met at Columbia University in New York City, where both were attending. They were married after Sarah accepted a position in Baghdad, teaching English, and later went on to head the English Department at Queen Alia College in Baghdad. The couple had three sons, one of which was mentally challenged after encephalitis arrested his development.

Following a military coup in 1958, Jamali was imprisoned and condemned to death, fortunately the sentence was not carried out and he was released in 1961, but not before writing "Letters on Islam, Written by a Father in Prison to his Son" published in 1965.

Keating said she was intrigued by this story of a Weyburn woman in a foreign country, the wife of an overthrown prime minister.

"What interested me was thinking about this Weyburn girl with three sons, one mentally challenged. I think that was pretty scary for her, being in a foreign country alone, with her husband in jail," said Keating.

Keating has located the book written by Sarah's husband but continues to search for Sarah's book, "The Story of Laith and His Life after Encephalitis."

Keating said she hopes that her daughter's play will shine a light on Sarah Powell's story and hopes that one day it will be performed for a Weyburn audience.

"I think local history out there is being lost," said Keating. "I think that our youth need to know about the history of Weyburn and the people that made an impact during their time."

"The Powell family is from one of our heritage homes, their story is unique and no one was paying attention to it."

Another local historical landmark that has received little public attention is the site of Weyburn's first cemetery, a place where the bodies of local pioneers still lie, with no individual markers to denote their final resting place.

Little is known about the history of the Mountain View Pioneer Cemetery due to a fire that destroyed the cemetery's records. All that remains visible is a stone monument, listing about 60 names of some of the people buried there.

Former local Ian Horstmeier remembers the day that the City trucks came to remove the dilapidated grave markers, but even he is fuzzy about the details, despite growing up next door to the cemetery.

"I was awful young when they moved the bodies, but I do remember seeing trucks and digging," said Horstmeier. "It was in the mid-1970s."

Currently Horstmeier is living in Regina but he is renovating the home that his father Heinz built in the 1960s, in order to move back into his childhood home. Though he has heard the rumours for years that his house on Government Road is haunted, he claimed that he has not seen any evidence of this.

"Maybe it's the proximity of the cemetery, but I haven't noticed anything unusual."

Local mysteries can be easily discovered. It just requires a little "digging" for the truth.