The Village of Waterdown contains three cemeteries, all of which were established before Confederation in 1867.
The origins of the village, located on the Grindstone Creek and crossed by the historic Dundas Street road, dates from 1805 when Alexander Brown, a retired fur company trader was awarded land and established a small sawmill near the Great Falls. In 1823, Ebenezer Culver Griffin, an ambitious young industrialist, saw the potential that the Grindstone Creek possessed, and following his purchase of Brown’s property, had the land surveyed for village lots and constructed mills along the creek to serve the needs of the pioneer settlers.
The Union Cemetery
Located in an area known as Vinegar Hill in the North-east and oldest part of the village, the Union Cemetery contains over 800 monuments erected as memorials to early pioneers. A village school house was built on part of the property in 1827 and used by the Methodists on Sunday morning and the Presbyterians in the afternoon. The name Union Cemetery originates from another joint venture between the two churches when they agreed to share the cost of maintaining a burial ground in the village.
The cemetery property was purchased from E.C. Griffin by George Bush in 1843, but it was almost certainly in use before this transaction occurred as over a dozen stones date from the 1830s and Griffin’s name appears on the original cemetery plan which is undated. In 1846 this property at the end of William Street was transferred to the Trustees of the Waterdown Chapel and in 1849 another plot was sold by Absolom Griffin, a prosperous mill owner and brother of E.C. Griffin to the Trustees of the Wesleyan Methodist Church.
On January 1, 1877, the Trustees sold the cemetery property for $400 to the Waterdown Cemetery Company with the deed naming the property as The Waterdown Burying Ground.
As one enters by the old-fashioned, hand-made turnstile and goes to the north-west section, one can find monuments dating from the 1830s. Names of many pioneers families are to be found on tombstones together with that of Dr. J.O. McGregor who for over 50 years was a much-loved family physician in Waterdown. This well kept and tree-filled cemetery is owned and managed by the Cemetery Board of Waterdown and is still in use today.
St. Thomas Roman Catholic Cemetery
The origin of the St. Thomas’ Roman Catholic Cemetery is linked with the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in the Village of Waterdown. In 1846 Catholic pioneers had settled in sufficient numbers that a small wooden church was erected. Prior to this, the people who had settled in the area were served by priests stationed at Oakville and Dundas, and mass was often celebrated in homes.
Even though the land had been used for a church and cemetery for a number of years, it was not legally church land until 1852 when Mr. Thomas English who had purchased property from Alexander MacDonnell, generously donated it to the church. The land which is located outside of the western boundary of the village was not easily accessible from what is today known as Dundas Street. Memories of the old stone church are filled with stories of back-firing kerosene lamps charring the face of the illuminator, and a toilet facility located not only outside, but also across the road!
As the parish grew, the need for a larger and more centrally located church arose. By 1915 a new church building was completed and opened on Flamboro Street, in the village proper, a location removed from the cemetery. When the present structure was completed, the old church was allowed to fall into disuse and was eventually demolished in 1937.
The land continues to be used as a cemetery, and is managed today by the Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Hamilton, Ontario. The cemetery is entered up a long driveway with a canopy of maple trees which shelter this cemetery and serve as a reminder of the early pioneers who came here to make a new beginning. The earliest internment dates from 25 February 1847, although some monuments commemorate pioneer burials from as early as 1809. Among the notable monuments is one to Thomas English, the founder of this early village cemetery. The majority of the burials commemorate early village pioneers who came from counties in Ireland. Over 135 stones weathered with age and filled with inscriptions speak of love and devotion are still to be seen in this peaceful burial ground.
Grace Anglican Cemetery
The beautiful stone building of Grace Anglican Church stands adjacent to an equally beautiful and well-kept cemetery. The land located on the north side of the Village of Waterdown was a generous donation of Frederick Feilde and his wife Elizabeth Gildart Campbell in 1847. Frederick Feilde had served in the Napoleonic Wars with his father, Captain James Feilde, and his brother Fulford Feilde. The two sons came to Canada during the 1830s as typical half-pay officers who settled in Upper Canada. The land which was donated for a church, cemetery, and rectory was originally purchased from Absolom Griffin and his wife Harriet Smith.
The Anglican Church in Waterdown had a magnificent beginning under the inspiration and leadership of Rev. George Noel Higgison who was ordained to take care of the parish in the early years of the church. Even though land was available for a church in 1847, funds were not sufficient enough to erect a church building until 1860. Prior to this, worship services were held by Rev. A.P. Morris in the Township Hall. Only five years after the church was completed an expansion was necessary due to a growing congregation. In the same year the parish came under the guidance of Rev. H. Stringfellow, a southern refugee during the American War whose eloquent speaking skills attracted large crowds.
Among the over 300 headstones in the Anglican Cemetery lie many well-known men and women who took an active role in the undertakings of the early church. Men such as John Nicholson and James E. Eager , who were both delegates of the Synod and active promoters of the building operations, and women like Mrs. Annie E. Vance, the first President of the Grace Anglican Church lie interred here. The earliest recorded burial on a monument is that of Alexina C. Feilde, a child buried 10 September 1847. The Church record book holds numerous other dates including the first baptism on 20 June 1858, and the first marriage on 14 August 1859.
Today the cemetery is under the management of the Grace Anglican Cemetery Board. A plan of the cemetery and records of baptisms, marriages, and confirmations dating from 1858 are kept in the Church office. The parchment deed of the generous Feilde donation is held in the vault of the Synod office in Hamilton. Today the cemetery is still in use as a peaceful resting ground for past friends and family.
Map of the walking tour:
The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society
Research and design by Lori Dodman
Photographs by Maurice Green
Layout by Robert Wray