New life for forgotten cemetery 0
Don Johnston, left, and Steve Watson of Global GPR Services of Toronto work a grid format with the ground penetrating radar machine over the abandoned William Wilson Pioneer Cemetery in Midland while, from left, Sue McKenzie, chair of the Midland Heritage, Andrea Betty, Midland town planner, Sher Scott, Midland heritage summer student, and Bailey Loverock, Midland planning summer student look on. GISELE WINTON SARVIS Midland Free Press
An abandoned cemetery in Midland has been scanned by a “fish finder” to inject life into a forgotten part of history.
The William Wilson Pioneer Cemetery along Old Penetanguishene Road was scanned by a ground-penetrating radar machine June 26 and 27 to look for “anomalies” that could be bones, caskets or tombstones.
Global GPR Services of Toronto was hired by the Town of Midland to survey the one-acre cemetery in a grid-like fashion.
The tool, which looks like a lawn mower, scans into the soil three metres, with a one-metre width and searches much like a fish finder, said Steve Watson of Global GPR Services.
“The point is we want to recognize it as an historical site. It has been designated,” said Sue McKenzie, chair of the Midland Heritage Committee.
“We would like to know who these folks are to honour them. They are our ancestors,” she said.
“We want to put up a plaque to recognize William Wilson and those who are interred here,” she added.
Andrea Betty, a planner with the Town of Midland, said, “We are not sure how many burials took place or where exactly they are. We are hoping to find some of the tombstones,” she said.
The only tombstone left in view has fallen over and broken into pieces. It belongs to Esther Wood, wife of Richard J. Wood, who died Oct. 25, 1866 at the age of 33 years, eight months and 26 days.
Also buried in the same plot are her two children, Emery E., who died Oct. 7 of the same year, at the age of four years, five months and 11 days and Charles A., who died Oct. 4, also of 1866, at the tender age of one year, three months and 11 days.
“It’s a sad story,” said McKenzie. “What we think happened is that dad was away working and mother collected mushrooms for dinner which were poisonous,” she said. That fact is not confirmed, she added.
The one-acre cemetery was originally donated to the Anglican church in 1864 by William Wilson at a time when there were no Anglican churches in the area, said Betty.
“Mr. Wilson was hoping an Anglican church would be built here,” said McKenzie. The cemetery served Wilson’s family but it also served strangers to the family.
It was built on Wilson’s property along the Old Penetanguishene Road that connected York, now known as Toronto, to the naval establishments in Penetanguishene.
“Soldiers sometimes perished on the way and were buried here,” said McKenzie.
“When the Wyebridge (Anglican) Church of the Good Sheppard was established, this cemetery was abandoned by the Anglican Church,” said Betty.
The Town of Midland and its heritage committee have been working on the project since 2008. The town now owns the cemetery.
“One of the delays was dealing with the diocese of the Anglican Church;” because the church had abandoned it, records were hard to come by, said Betty.
Detailed burial records were not kept, but there are at least 23 confirmed burials, including William Wilson, who died in 1870, and his wife, Henrietta, who died Feb. 1, 1855.
Located near the intersection of highways 12 and 93, the cemetery is not in an accessible location, but lies adjacent to property owned by Murray and Marian Fallis and Don and Verna (Fallis) Marcellus, who are retired dairy farmers in Midland. Their family has been watching over it and clearing brush from the forested section for decades.
“I can remember when there were six or eight tombstones still standing,” said Murray.
“They just fell over. We were too busy farming back then. We thought it was owned by the Church of the Good Shepherd,” Murray added.
The Fallises have built a wooden box around the last existing tombstone and adorned it with a Canadian flag.
The cemetery will be looked after now that it is an official historical site.
“I believe the town and Ontario should be honouring their own cultural heritage,” McKenzie said.