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History Corner: Pioneer Gravesites In Puslinch

By Marjorie Clark.

In the early days of settlement in Puslinch, families may have buried their dead on their farms, perhaps because cemeteries had yet to be established or possibly because inclement weather rendered travel impossible. A few cases are documented.

Although settlement began in the township in 1827/8, Crown Cemetery, north of Morriston and Knox Presbyterian Church Cemetery at Crieff, did not open as registered burial grounds until 1837. A perusal of the transcription of Crown Cemetery made in 1985/86 by the Waterloo-Wellington Genealogical Society reveals no gravestone with a date of death before 1837. According to a history written by the Cemetery Board and published with the cemetery transcription made by the Waterloo-Wellington Genealogical Society in 1994, Farnham Cemetery was opened when St. Michael’s and All Angels Church was constructed on the property outside of Arkell in 1839.

No documentation exists regarding the opening of the Killean Cemetery. When a transcription was made by the Waterloo-Wellington Genealogical Society in 1977, the earliest date of death, inscribed on a stone and still legible, was 1834. Likewise, Kirkland Cemetery (later, probably in 1855, renamed Howitt Memorial Cemetery) on the north-east corner of lot 10, concession 4. There is no documentation indicating its opening date. However, according to a transcription made by the Waterloo-Wellington Genealogical Society in 1985, the earliest date of death found on a stone was 1829.

Nor is there anything written on the beginnings of the Arkell United Church Cemetery, Puslinch Union Cemetery, on lot 5, 3rd concession or Ellis Church Cemetery, all of which are likely missing too many gravestones for the dates on those remaining to be a reliable indicator of when burials commenced.

Although it is possible and even likely, that some or all of the cemeteries in Puslinch were being used for burials before they were officially designated as burial grounds and that no stones were ever erected, it is also possible that anyone, who died previous to these dates, may have been buried on the family property. Markers that may once have existed in “unapproved cemeteries”, as they are now termed, have invariably disappeared. Given this possibility, however, any genealogist, familiar with Puslinch families, will testify that there are not many individuals, who are unaccounted for, as most names appear on cemetery stones.

In a paper entitled Puslinch Lake History, John W. Gilchrist wrote that, in 1874, while digging a well near the south shore of Puslinch Lake, the workers encountered an old grave, in which the body had been enclosed in wood. Upon enquiry, none of the early settlers knew anything about this grave. The conclusion was that, as native peoples had not used wood in burials, this may have been the body of some earlier explorer. John Gilchrist does not mention whether the remains were removed to a cemetery or reburied on the spot.

Five “unapproved cemeteries” are known to exist in the township:

Known as “the Welshman”, he lived on lot 13, rear concession 7 and lot 13, front concession 8 in 1827, before the township was surveyed and before the earliest of the other settlers in the vicinity. It was registered to him on Jan. 2, 1829. His name was reported by W. F. MacKenzie as Humphrey Lowarch and by James Laird, in his contribution to The McPhatter Letters, as Humphrey Loveradge. He lived on the lot for three years and when he died there (c.1830), James Laird stated that his was the first death in the township. John Hammersley, in his letter in the McPhatter collection, wrote that the Welshman was buried on his own property, in what became the orchard of the next owner, Adam Weir.

David Stirton, in an interview with Kate Conway in November 1899, said that two members of a Smith family died of cholera in Puslinch in early August 1834. They were buried on the top of a hill, on the road leading from the Stirton neighbourhood to Hespeler. This was the Accommodation Road cut from the western border of Puslinch to the Aboukir Road (later called the Brock Road) by Absalom Shade. These were the only roads in the township at this early date and the Stirton family lived on lot 9, front of concession 8 in 1834, which was not far south of where the Accommodation Road emerged onto the Aboukir Road at about lot 13. Since the Accommodation Road was, in places, circuitous and tracked through the middle of concessions 3 and 4, it is difficult to identify where these graves may be.

William Leslie, Postmaster of Puslinch Village Post Office wrote, for a history of Wellington County, that in 1848, there was a large emigration of people from Highland Scotland, many of whom settled in Puslinch. He stated that a great many of them died on the road and that some of them were buried on the property owned by John Marshall. This was lot 34, rear of concession 7 and lot 35, concession 7. In chapter 10 of Annals of Puslinch, 1850-1950, on Killean section, William McCormick wrote that these people emigrated from the island of Uist about 1849. Forty of them arrived in Killean of nearly double the number, which began the journey, as they were stricken with cholera on the voyage. They were members of one or more of the following families: McLennans, McDonalds, McPhees, McVicars, McGeachys or McLeods.

Although the stone piles that marked their place have disappeared, James and Grizelle Gregor, who died prior to 1866, were buried, on a hillside in the front field of their farm, lot 33, rear concession 8 in the Badenoch section. Descendants of James and Grizelle Gregor are aware of this burial.

The Lamont Family Cemetery, on a little hill, 100 yards from the north-east shore of Little Lake, was described in The McPhatter Letters by Thomas Lamont:
“The little cemetery previously mentioned was about 40 foot square, surrounded at one time by a handsome picket fence, painted white, built by my father, Peter Lamont between 1835-1854. This plot contained the remains of Joseph Lamont (1833), his mother and father, Mrs. and Mrs. Alexander Lamont and their son, Sandy. Then George Duncan (1854). 1856, July, Joseph Hardman – over his grave was the only headstone erected. In 1861, Mrs. Lamont, an aunt of father but the mother of Mrs. Janet Duncan. I attended, with my mother, the funeral of this woman. The procession walked the whole way headed by six men, who carried the coffin on three poles under it. In later years, the two above, namely, Joseph Hardman and Mrs. Lamont were removed and buried in Hespeler Cemetery. I suppose that the headstone of Joseph Hardman, July 1856, is the oldest in that cemetery. The remains of the others will likely repose, where they were laid by loving hands, till God’s trumpet shall call, “Arise, ye dead and come to judgement.”

The following from a March 12, 1925 article in the Hespeler Herald, entitled “Old Burial Places”, is in reference to the Lamont Cemetery:

“While plans are underway for the erection of a memorial to the pioneers of Waterloo County, there is a little graveyard on the Bond farm, near the small lake in Puslinch, which is in need of attention. This small burying ground is supposed to be the first burial place of that section of Puslinch and while most of the remains have been removed to other burial places, yet there are several graves still there. We understand there is a movement on foot to have this old burial place fenced in, trees or shrubs planted and possibly a stone put up to mark the first burial plot of Puslinch pioneers.”

In late November 2003, the Puslinch Historical Society heard a report of probable pioneer graves on the property owned and under excavation by the North American Construction Company in Morriston. The location was a lot at Highway #6 and Currie Drive, Morriston, directly north of the company’s office building. The gravesites were reported to be along the eastern ridge on the lot, about 100 feet in from Currie Drive and west of the first house in the Morriston Meadows subdivision.

The Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, Cemetery Regulation Unit stated that, despite the oral report, the Ministry had no mandate over unapproved cemeteries, where human remains have not already been dug up. As the discovery and reporting of human remains by contractors frequently means delay and possibly added expense, this after-the-fact policy does not encourage builders to report such finds. While the early settlers felt safe in burying their loved ones on their farm, under the 2003 interpretation of policy guidelines, bodies may not only have been bulldozed up but suffer yet a further indignity in having their bones dispersed again underneath a building, a parking lot or in sewage field.

Possessed of a reliable report, the Puslinch Historical Society set about to prevent these possible graves from being unearthed in an unseemly fashion. The Society solicited the co-operation of the North American Construction Company and notified Puslinch Township Council. After a search for a local archaeological firm, the Puslinch Historical Society was able to put North American Construction in contact with Garth Grimes, archaeologist with Detritus Consulting of Kitchener.

The equipment manager for North American Construction, contacted Garth Grimes to determine what would be involved in finding unmarked graves and Cemetery Act regulations, should human remains be discovered. The likely burial site was pointed out and work commenced very quickly.

On January 14, 2004, a 10 metre by 35 metre area was stripped of top soil with an excavator belonging to the company and a trench was cleared with a flat bladed bucket. Exposure of the subsoil interface revealed a homogenous light brown sand and clay subsoil.

In one area on the eastern side of the hill, some 5 to 10 metres from the spot originally pointed out, a somewhat irregularly shaped area of gravel and topsoil and sand was discovered, indicating disturbance of the sub-soil had taken place there. This feature partly extended into the wall of the trench. Excavation proceeded with the backhoe, peeling off 5 to 10 centimetre layers of sub-soil, until the feature was entirely exposed. It proved to be 1.5 metres to 1.8 metres in depth with fill composed of various sized gravel, as well as some large rocks along with sand and top soil. The profile of the feature was bowl shaped with clean edges, almost certainly a man-made historic feature based on the sharp contrast between the fill and surrounding material. It appeared that the original material was removed and the pit left open long enough for rain or run off to wash dark soil into the pit, before it was refilled. The base of the pit resolved into three individual basins, two smaller, approximately 30 centimetres wide and 60 centimetres long with a mean depth of 1.5 metres and oriented north by northwest; and a third larger basin oriented north-south and 60 centimetres wide by 300 centimetres long, with a depth of 1.8 metres.


However, no human remains or artefacts were found. What, then, did this indicate? The evidence suggests that two or three individuals were buried here and that over 50 years ago these individuals were exhumed and reburied in another location.

Based on research of obituaries recorded in the local newspapers, the individuals who were buried, previously exhumed and interred elsewhere may be two children of Peter and Margaret Gregor, who lived on the farm adjacent, immediately to the north. James Alexander Gregor, aged 5 years, died on March 18, 1870 and Lillie Catharine Gregor, aged 2 months, died on April 12, 1876. As well, Peter’s brother, Benjamin Gregor, aged 56 years, died on March 15, 1880. It was Peter and Benjamin Gregor’s parents, James and Grizel Gregor, who were buried on lot 33, rear concession 8 in the Badenoch area. Alternatively, they may have been members of the Stahl family, who lived on the farm, in the early half of the 19th century or they may have been settlers, who died as they trekked along the Brock Road on their way north. Mr. Grimes stated that settler burials on farms in Ontario are usually pre-1870 and that oral reports are of importance in determining these sites. Above all, the proper course was followed and the issue resolved suitably.

All of the cemeteries in Puslinch, with the exception of a newer one at Sunset Villa in Crieff, were burial places of the pioneers. The cemeteries within the township were and still are to large degree, indicative of the families, who resided in the particular community in which they are located. The larger Crown Cemetery served the surrounding communities of Aberfoyle, Badenoch, Corwhin, Morriston and Puslinch village. Crown Cemetery, Farnham Cemetery and Killean Cemetery were and are community-based and open to all. They continue to be administered by local volunteer cemetery boards.
On March 25, 1897, the Morriston correspondent wrote:

“A meeting of the Crown Cemetery trustees is to be held on Monday to inspect and lay out the summer work.”

Upkeep varied through the years with the conscientiousness of the board members. In Killean in early May 1891, a visiting family member found it necessary to burn some rubbish. It was a dry spring and as the plots were overgrown with long dry grass, the fire spread. Pails of water had to be carried from the nearby store to douse it. Despite this, much of the cemetery groundcover burned and it was with great difficulty, that the fire was prevented from spreading to contiguous fences and buildings. This incident caused the one remaining trustee, Peter Gilchrist, to call a public meeting before the end of the month. Two new trustees, Archie McKellar and Ronald McCormick were appointed to replace former trustees, Alex McCormick, who had died and John McMaster, who had moved to Michigan.

The Killean correspondent stated on Nov. 22, 1955, that the Killean Cemetery Board of Trustees held a meeting in the Killean School, at which appreciation was expressed for the excellent work done by Gordon Hewer. He had landscaped the grounds and cemented about half a dozen old stones, which had fallen down, back into place.

Another report from June 20, 1956, reads:

“The descendants here of the old pioneers buried in Killean Cemetery are holding a bee there next Saturday afternoon for the purpose of finishing the fence and cutting the grass.”

Crown Cemetery Board built a house adjacent to the cemetery and employed a caretaker at a small salary. Often in the early days, the caretaker was semi-retired and occasionally kept livestock. One of them pastured his horses in the cemetery, where their rubbing against the stones caused some to fall over. At some periods, broken stones were simply thrown into the adjoining bush.

Other cemeteries were associated with religious denominations. Kirkland Cemetery was associated with Kirkland Church and was used by the Methodists and perhaps other Protestants of north-west Puslinch. Crieff Church Cemetery was and is the burial ground of the members of Knox Presbyterian Church at Crieff. Members of the Arkell Methodist Church were interred in what is now called the Arkell United Church Cemetery, around Arkell United Church. Ellis Church Cemetery and Union Church Cemetery were the burial spots of some Puslinch Lake area people.

Marion Cemetery
Bowman descendants visited Marian Cemetery in Morriston c.1954. Photo courtesy of Chris Bowman.

Marian Cemetery, the small Roman Catholic Cemetery, on the Badenoch Road, east of Morriston, was established as the burial site of the German and Irish Catholics of Morriston. It was the burial site of the members, both German and Irish, of the Roman Catholic Church situated on Main St. in Morriston. Until the 1920’s, family members held occasional bees to maintain this cemetery. No records and only one gravestone remain to document the interments at Marian Cemetery, although some lists have been compiled from memory and from obituaries.

By 1953, Howitt Memorial Cemetery, Marian Cemetery and the Ellis Church Cemetery were abandoned, as the churches associated with all of them had closed. In 1954, the year of the County Centennial, Wellington County financed the rehabilitation of Howitt Memorial and Marion Cemeteries through the Committee on Pioneer Cemeteries. Puslinch Township supplied the labour.
An exceptional situation occurred with the Irish Roman Catholic families of the Brock Road and Downey Road areas. Only a few miles distant from Guelph, these pioneers found it convenient to attend St. Barthomew’s Church in Guelph. It later became the Church of Our Lady. In fact, the Brock Road Irish were a prominent group in the parish. When the stone church was being constructed, the north Puslinch parishioners hauled wagonloads of stone to Guelph:

“HURRAH FOR PUSLINCH – There was a big turnout by the Puslinch men for a stone hauling bee for Our Lady’s Church. Two dozen teams between the Model Farm and Aberfoyle drew big stones to the hill today (Tues., Feb. 13, 1883). A dozen volunteers from town loaded them. The bee will continue this week except Saturday. All invited who have not put in their three days. “

As no hallowed ground was provided in Puslinch Township, the Brock Road and Downey area pioneers were buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, near St. Joseph’s Hospital in Guelph. This cemetery has suffered greatly from vandalism throughout the years and as a result, many stones may be missing.

As well, many of the settlers on the far west side of the township attended churches in either Hespeler or Galt, both now part of Cambridge. They were buried in cemeteries in those towns. Some north-west Puslinch Protestants were members of Guelph churches and were buried in Guelph cemeteries.

On October 31, 2003, at 1:43 p.m., a construction crew from Terra View Homes in the Pine Ridge East subdivision in south Guelph were excavating and building in what was formerly north Puslinch Township. A bulldozer operator noticed the remains of a human being. They had dug up the grave of a pioneer woman, aged 50 to 60 years, who was buried between 1850 and the early 1900’s. The discovery was made at what was, in 2003, named Summerfield Drive, near Cummings Court. Work was halted and an investigation ensued, which involved the Guelph Police Department, University of Western Ontario anthropologist, Dr. Michael Spence and the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture. As the contractors had done considerable moving of earth on the several lots under development, they were unable to identify exactly where the woman’s body was unearthed.

The original Puslinch Township lots, where this excavation was taking place, were lots 7 and 8 rear, concession 8 and lots 9 and 10, concession 8. The pioneer families on these lots were:

Lot 7, rear – Byrne family; after them, the McNulty family.

Lot 8, rear – McNulty family (4 generations).

Lot 8, front – O’Rourke family.

Lot 9, rear – A. Mooney family; after them, John Hanlon family.

Lot 9, front – in succession: McLaren family; David Stirton family; Coulson family; Patrick Hanlon family.

Lot 10, rear – W. Fyfe family; after them, the John Hanlon family.

Lot 10, front – Patrick Hanlon family; after them, the Clair family.

This woman may have been a member of one of these families. As the likelihood of unauthorized burials lessened with the progression of time, probably she was a member of one of the first families to live on the lots.

Andrew Lambden, president of Terra View Homes, Mike Ward of Wall-Custance Funeral Home and Doug Smith of the Farnham Cemetery Board arranged to rebury this pioneer in Farnham Cemetery at Arkell. The Wall-Custance Funeral Home of Guelph, donated a beautiful casket. The Board of Farnham Cemetery donated a plot. Robinson’s Flowers of
Guelph donated flowers to adorn the casket. Farnworth Memorials of Guelph donated a grave marker. Rev. Marty Molengraf of Duff’s Presbyterian Church officiated at the service on Wed., Nov. 26, 2003.

The last words belong to two well-respected members of the Puslinch community:

Former Fire Chief Doug Smith said, “She was part of this community, even though we don’t know who she was.”

Rev. Marty Molengraf of Duff’s Presbyterian Church said, “We know that she was and is a beautiful daughter of God.”


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