The ghost in the library

Mounted on the wall of the Waterdown Library are two marble tombstones associated with the early history of the village. The markers commemorate Alexander Brown and his wife Merren Grierson, the first settlers in the area that was to become Waterdown.

The spelling of Merren Grierson’s name on the monument reveals an error that explains why these stones are no longer in the Union Cemetery on Margaret Street – the engraving incorrectly records her name as Marion. When these stones are compared with the large polished granite monument for the Brown family now in the cemetery, the correct spelling of her name has been used.

From the monument inscriptions and through research at the Flamborough Archives, the story of these early residents can be told. Alexander Brown was born in Dumfriesshire, Scotland in 1776, and emigrated to Upper Canada in 1802, supposedly as an agent for the Northwest Fur Company in York (Toronto). When the company was dissolved, Brown and his future wife and brother-in-law, James Grierson, settled in East Flamborough Township.

Brown purchased property from Crown Patentee, Lt. Alexander MacDonnell, 800 acres that stretched from the Fourth Concession to the shoreline of Burlington Bay. Reputedly called the “White Man of the Mountain” by First Nations people of the area, he was the first settler in the township to locate on the escarpment, constructing a sawmill on the Grindstone Creek, near the Great Falls, which attracted others to the area and the beginnings of Waterdown.

One Sunday afternoon in May 1978, while walking along Nelson Street, two residents noticed cemetery stones lying on a lot being redeveloped for new houses. Enquiries revealed that they had been used as a pathway to an outhouse on this former property of Jacob Burkholder, caretaker and gravedigger for Union Cemetery.

After the stones had been carefully cleaned, the inscriptions were still legible, probably because they had been laid face down. How they arrived at the Nelson Street lot is still a mystery, but Mr. Burkholder probably rescued them when they were replaced by Alexander Brown’s descendants in the 1950s, who noting the mistake in Merren’s name, and wishing to have other members of the family remembered, replaced them with the present granite marker.

The stones were taken to the Flamborough Municipal Office for safekeeping. Later in the year, to ensure their preservation, arrangements were made by the Waterdown Centennial Committee and the Wentworth Library Board to have them placed on an interior wall of the former East Flamborough Township Hall that was undergoing renovations to become the present Waterdown Library.

Associated with the tombstones is the legen that Merren Grierson’s ghost haunts the Library – but that is a future “From the Vault” story.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, September 16, 2005.

Editor’s note:

When plans were being drawn up for the new Waterdown Library on Dundas Street, there was never any hesitation—the tombstones had to move with the Library. As the Flamborough  Archives was being included as a partner in the building, it was felt that the best place for them to be housed was within the Archives.

Thanks to the determination of Councillor Judi Partridge,  Hamilton Public Library Director Karen Anderson, and  Facilities Supervisor Mike Sands, money  and experts were found to move, restore and remount the tombstones. They look better than ever.

The ghost is part of the Library’s history.  Now that the tombstones are in the Archives, has she moved with them?


Your Cart