Cemeteries and Burial Grounds in East Gwillimbury
Today’s local history bite is relating to a few of the cemeteries around East Gwillimbury. Most of the sites here in the area are inactive and no longer burying people on their sites. These cemeteries date back to pioneer times, and thus many tombstones bear family names that are still around to this day. The three cemeteries which we will profile today are the Mount Albert Pioneer Cemetery, the Free Methodist cemetery near the Church in Hold, as well as the Queensville Cemetery.
Mount Albert Pioneer Cemetery
This pioneer cemetery is located on lot 11, Concession 8 in East Gwillimbury township, on the corner of Centre Street and Mount Albert Road in Mount Albert. The cemetery was originally part of a property owned by George Rear, a well-known local resident of Mount Albert. This land was granted to the Trustees of the Methodist Church in 1857, who constructed a small frame church on the site.
Burials took place here from the 1850’s to 1892. The graves show many family names that are still around in the area today, including Crone, Hopkins, Hollingshead, Rear, Shuttleworth, Smalley, and Waddell. By the early 1950’s the graves were in bad shape; they were subsequently cleaned and placed in cement along the back edge of the property. At the time of writing, the municipality is responsible for the upkeep of the cemetery.
Figure 1: Photo of the Mount Albert Pioneer Cemetery, on the corner of Mount Albert Road and Centre Street. Photo taken by author.
Holt Free Methodist Cemetery
This cemetery is located on the grounds of the Holt Free Methodist Church, on the west side of 7th concession road, just north of the village of Holt. On the 22nd of October, 1861, Kemp Thompson and his wife Ann donated 1/10ths of an acre for the express use of building a Methodist church and cemetery there. Before the construction of the Methodist church, it is thought that it was previously a burial ground for the members of Kemp’s family, as the earliest burial in this cemetery is in memory of Albert Thompson (son of Kemp and Ann).
On 17th of July 1909, John Hopkins, Thomas Cunningham, John Hogg, Horace Ramsden and William A. Shields, Trustees of the Holt Methodist Church in the Methodist Church of Canada, sold the church to Robert Graves, Thomas Rye, Thomas Glover, John Rye and Henry Crowder, who were the new trustees of the Free Methodist Church.
Today, the grounds of the cemetery are maintained by the church and its trustees.
Figure 2: Gravestone of Albert Thompson, son of Kemp and Ann Thompson, from the Holt Free Methodist Cemetery. Photo taken by author.
The cemetery in Queensville is one of the oldest cemeteries in East Gwillimbury. Established in 1874, it is geographically located on lot 23, concession 2, slightly north of the town of Queensville. The ornamental iron gate which used to mark the entrance to the cemetery on Leslie was moved to the northern border of the site. Immediately as you enter the cemetery you notice a strange octagonal building with a gabled roof; this is known as the “Dead House” or the “Round House”. Built in 1886, this building was used to store caskets inside it during the cold winter months. You might be wondering why this would be a problem; well, it is very hard to bury a body in the dead of winter when the ground is frozen over. Anyone who died over the winter would be stored in the Dead House, so that they could be buried in the ground when the spring thaw came.
Another interesting story about this unique cemetery: in the early morning hours of March 14, 1914, there was a violent windstorm which occurred in the area. Many power lines went down and allowed the phone wires from the Mount Albert Telephone Company and the Toronto & York Radial Railway to contact each other, creating a short circuit. A power surge travelled through the lines, setting fire to many homes and businesses in Queensville. The building that was the most damaged was the Township Clerk’s office and the Telephone Exchange, which produced a massive explosion and a devastating fire.
Many of the cemetery records stored in the Clerks office were burned; that’s why there are no records of who is buried in this cemetery before 1914. However, in this cemetery there are a lot of well-known family names, including Morton, Lundy, Weddel, and Doan.
The graves are maintained by the Cemetery board and staff, and they are still accepting applications for people to be buried on their grounds.
Figure 3: Front entrance to Queensville Cemetery, facing onto Leslie Street. Photo by the author.
Would you like to learn more about some of the other cemeteries that are located in East Gwillimbury? Let us know in the comments below!