An Archive is the accumulation of historical records meant to preserve the history of an individual, organization, municipality or business. Very few—if any—will house tombstones.
The Flamborough Archives has two very unique tombstones on display and the story behind them represents the history and community spirit of Waterdown.
Alexander Brown came to Canada in 1802 and was the first agent for the North West Fur Company. In 1805, he and fellow immigrants James Grierson and his sister Merren settled in East Flamborough. Reputedly called the “white man of the mountain’ by the natives, Alexander Brown was one of the first settlers in the area.
He purchased 800 acres that stretched from the Waterdown area to the shore of present-day Burlington Bay. Shortly after, he built at least one sawmill and a home near the Great Falls on Grindstone Creek. He married Merren Grierson and they had three children -John, Mary Clarke and Alexander. He built Brown’s Wharf to facilitate the shipping of many of his goods on what is currently the site of La Salle Towers in Burlington.
A large polished granite stone in Union Cemetery commemorates the Browns and reads:
Born in parish of Glencairn,
Dumfriesshire, Scotland 24 December 1776
Emigrated to Canada 1802
Married Merren Grierson at Wellington Square, Canada 28th July 1806
Died on the homestead East Flamboro
9th August 1852
Merren Grierson wife of Alexander Brown
Born in the parish of Glencairn
Dumfriesshire, Scotland 22 February 1779
Emigrated to Canada 1806
Died 29th December 1863
This is a replacement monument for the two original tombstones. Those stones were ‘discovered’ on Sunday, 21 May 1978 by Mr. and Mrs. William R. Donkin while out for an evening stroll. The couple noticed the stones on a Nelson Street property that was being prepared for the construction of four new homes. Originally this property had been the home of John Burkholder, caretaker of the Waterdown Union Cemetery. The lettering on the inscriptions was still legible, probably because the stones had been laid face down to form a sidewalk to the outhouse on the Burkholder property. How the stones arrived there may never be known but possibly Mr. Burkholder rescued them when they were replaced by the larger monument.
On the following day, the Donkins happened to meet Mrs. Eileen Kennedy of the Heritage Society, and told her about their discovery. Fascinated by this news, Mrs. Kennedy went to the Flamborough Review office and asked John Bosveld, the Editor and Publisher, if his two sons could collect the old tombstones in their truck and take them to the Municipal Office for safekeeping.
Over the next several months, arrangements were made by the Waterdown Centennial Committee and The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society with the Wentworth Library Board and architect Carl Rieder to have them placed on an interior wall of the library. This building was the former East Flamborough Township Hall and as a Centennial project was being renovated to become the Waterdown Library. In 1979, as the interior work was completed, the Brown tombstones were mounted on the wall beside the elevator and their preservation was assured.
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.
After the tombstones were installed in the old library in 1979, the elevator took “unexplained trips all on its own” said head Librarian Mrs. Lorraine Eastwood. In the beginning, the library staff thought there was something wrong so the company responsible for the elevator installation was requested to come and examine the elevator. But both the manufacturer and the inspectors reported that there was nothing wrong with the mechanics or the wiring.
A representative from the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations which regulated elevators sat in front of the elevator for 2 1/2 hours waiting for it to do something, and it did nothing. “As soon as he was out of the door, it went up and down three times as if it was sticking its tongue out at him”. Library staff have looked for common denominators but nothing has ever been found. Over the years, (former) librarian Lorraine Eastwood noted that “the elevator makes more trips when the Library is not open or there are strangers in the building’.
The most publicized performance of the Library ghost occurred in February 1985 during a taping by Burlington Cablenet. They were taping interviews with Mrs. Eastwood and Flamborough Review publisher John Bosveld for future programs about Waterdown. As Mrs. Eastwood talked about the various library locations and how the tombstones came to be mounted on the wall, the elevator suddenly opened. Later, as Mr. Bosveld was being interviewed by Ms. Maureen Dawson, he mentioned the story about the discovery of the tombstones—and the doors opened again. When he finished, the doors closed and the elevator ascended to the second floor.
The wording of a new monument stone in Union Cemetery corrects the name of Mr. Brown’s wife from Marion to Merren, revealing an error on the original stones. It is widely believed that the ghost is Merren Brown, making sure that people realize her name was spelled incorrectly, and ensuring that people remember the role she and her husband played in the establishment of Waterdown.
The community of Waterdown has a connection to the tombstones and it was felt that the tombstones had to be preserved. 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?