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Honouring the past – The restoration of Picton’s Glenwood Cemetery

Article by Peter Lockyer
Photos by Daniel Vaughan

Courtesy of:logo_county-quinte-living

Nestled one block south of Picton’s Main Street, Prince Edward County’s largest and most gracious cemetery, The Glenwood Cemetery, remains as a timepiece of County life.

Glenwood opened in 1873 after the small burial grounds of nearby churches were filled. At the time, the property was on the outskirts of town close enough for a horse-drawn hearse to travel, but far enough away to be comforting to a community still fearful of the broad reach of deathly diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, and smallpox which plagued everyday life. This 62-acre property, originally deeded to Loyalist settler Arra Ferguson, had already had past lives as a pasture, the site of a brewery, and Mullet’s Tannery, which dyed cow hides with sumac juice and exported them for use in making leather trunks, boots, and other products manufactured in the United States and England.

A private company operated by some of the town’s leading citizens maintained the cemetery and took a keen interest in shaping the grounds as a spectacularly beautiful, peaceful property with dirt roads winding through the rolling hills and mature stands of timber – the trademarks of this Victorian cemetery. A graceful archway welcomed visitors through the main entrance and onto roadways adorned with flower gardens and ornamental ponds.

In keeping with the Victorian period, Glenwood was carefully landscaped to showcase its natural beauty, to be a garden cemetery with a park-like quality. The added costs of maintaining such a large property with its hilly topography was not a factor in choosing the site, although this defining characteristic now means appropriately maintaining Glenwood is the cemetery’s greatest expense.

It was an age before the widespread use of automobiles and immigration to the cities. As most people lived their entire lives in their community, families purchased large plots bordered by stone markers and curbs. Some families assisted in managing this spacious property by sending their farm workers to tend to their plots, but Sundays were usually dedicated to visiting the gravesites of family members to water and weed.

Glenwood has monuments which pre-date the cemetery opening in 1873 – evidence of the move of stones from other cemeteries. The earliest graves are marble set on limestone bases – relatively soft materials to carve and later replaced by granite spires reaching to the sky or topped with a Greek urn embraced by a shrouded figure as a symbol of mourning.

“Monuments are one of the few things we make that capture the moment – that freeze time,” said Gary Foster of the Campbell Monument Company in Belleville. “Glenwood has a wide range of monuments reflecting nearly 140 years of history frozen in stone. They are like snapshots into our past.”

As granite replaced marble as the preferred stone for memorial monuments, families selected styles from a catalogue and often waited a year for their monuments to be shipped via boat from Scotland. A local mason was responsible for picking up the monuments from the local train station, carving inscriptions, and then erecting these massive monuments – sometimes weighing up to 10 tons – using a team of horses and a block and tackle.

Large monuments and family plots such as the plot of canning pioneer Wellington Boulter – the father of the canning industry of Canada – are enduring memorials to the wealth and prominent social status of this industry founder. Boulter had an uneasy relationship with the cemetery. His canning factory was located nearby and in the early days of the industry refuse like tomato juice and peelings were thrown into the creek winding its way into Glenwood. The smell and flies became so annoying to cemetery officials they threatened legal action if the factory didn’t cease its unsanitary practices. Boulter built a reservoir and ornamental ponds in 1910 together with a water tower for a gravity watering system in Glenwood, which can still be seen today on the cemetery property.

Across the cemetery from Boulter’s substantial monument is the white spire celebrating the remarkable life of temperance pioneer, Letitia Youmans. She was a teacher who tirelessly campaigned against the drunkenness in Picton in the 1860s, becoming an outspoken proponent of temperance and in 1874 the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement in Canada. Shy, homely, and stout – “inconveniently avoirdupois” as she described herself – she endured the ridicule and hostility of those prospering from the liquor trade or others who needed their booze to endure the daily hardships of life. In an age when women did not assume leadership roles or speak up too loudly, Youmans was a study in courage.

The most dominant monument in Glenwood sits on a hillside overlooking the old river valley forged during the glacial age at the south end of the property. Made from granite blocks quarried in Quebec, the Kinney Monument celebrates the life of Tom ‘Tin Can’ Kinney, a canning factory owner who plowed his profits into real estate and stock market investments that made him wealthy. The most humble monument belongs to George Louder, one of two men hanged in 1884, for a botched murder in Bloomfield. Louder’s gravestone with the inscription “G. Louder Unjustly Hanged 1884” was discovered in recent years by cemetery staff as they cleared brush from a portion of the cemetery used for indigent burials known as Potter’s Field.

The title of greatest rogue among Glenwood’s 16,000-plus residents surely goes to George McMullen who is buried in a substantial family plot at the back of the cemetery. McMullen was an American whose family lived in what is now the Royal Canadian Legion on Picton’s Main Street. George was a railway tycoon deeply interested in Canada’s national railway project. He preferred the Canadian railway meet up with American railways in the U.S. and funneled money into John A. Macdonald’s Conservative party coffers in the hopes of influencing the route. When John A. refused to abandon his dream of a national railway, McMullen exposed all the American money that had supported his party, and the Pacific Railway Scandal caused the defeat of Macdonald’s government in the 1870s.

For all its history and status as the final resting place for influential and wealthy County residents, by 2000 Glenwood Cemetery was experiencing desperate times. Decades of community neglect had left the cemetery with three heritage buildings in need of urgent repairs. One building alone – the elegant stone chapel built in 1901 with its six exquisite stained glass windows – became a $300,000 project requiring eight years to complete. The nearby vault built in 1873 and the Groundskeeper’s house circa 1875 also required the expenditure of money the cemetery simply didn’t have.

There were other problems. Monuments had toppled after years of frost. The cemetery’s records were in poor shape, and staff had little or no equipment to maintain this large estate property. Most of all, staff and the board were demoralized after decades of community indifference.

“You would never create a cemetery property like Glenwood in this day and age,” says former Board Chair Bob Bird. “It’s a large, hilly property difficult to maintain, but it is a very beautiful and peaceful place and over the last decade, a small volunteer board and staff have worked to restore buildings, monuments, roads, and our records in partnership with the community. Although it is still challenging to raise the money Glenwood needs for its annual operation, today the cemetery is a very different place.”

Restoring Glenwood required a total organizational makeover. A first fundraising campaign in 2002 netted over $87,000 from donors who often accompanied their cheques with a handwritten note to say, “My grandparents are buried at Glenwood” or “My Mother and Dad are buried there.” Unknowingly, Glenwood volunteers had tapped into a deep emotional attachment to the cemetery within the community. Matching grants of $75,000 from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the John M. Parrott Foundation of Belleville soon followed and allowed completion of the restoration work on the Glenwood chapel.

Other projects to painstakingly digitize cemetery records, repair roads, the Cook Fountain (named in memory of the Cook Family who founded Picton’s Regent Theatre), fallen monuments, erect Victorian-era fencing, and reforest the cemetery through the sale of memorial trees began to infuse new life into this old property. In recent years, the cemetery installed a columbarium with niches to accommodate the growing consumer preference for cremation burials.

The cemetery also began partnering with other local organizations – The Regent Theatre and the Museums of Prince Edward County – to present historic walking tours. The Gallows & Graveyards walking tours of Macaulay Heritage Park at 6:30 on Friday nights and tours of Glenwood on Saturday nights in the summer months – all booked through The Regent Theatre – are now staples of County life.

History lecture nights at The Regent and the development of The History Moments – two-minute video vignettes on local history themes played before movies at The Regent – followed. All of the efforts were geared to encourage public awareness and appreciation of Glenwood and other community heritage properties.

“Heritage isn’t free,” said Mr. Bird. “ It’s come at an enormous cost to those who have come before us. We owe them something, I think. We need to respect and remember them. We need to be stewards of the past maintaining the heritage properties they left us. This is our inheritance. It’s really a gift to last.”

Maintaining Glenwood is a year-to-year battle for a small volunteer organization. Like many other community groups supporting a wide range of worthy causes, Glenwood counts on donations, dwindling federal and provincial grant sources, and an annual municipal grant reviewed each year by a hard-pressed local council. In 2012, the organization faced a 30 per cent cut in its municipal funding before the cut was reversed.

Cemeteries are burdened with all kinds of responsibilities. They just don’t come with any money. Their boards must somehow financially plan for eternity.

“One challenge facing all cemeteries is the inadequate funding provided by the provincial Care and Maintenance Fund,” stated current Glenwood Chair Sandy Latchford. “Each year cemeteries receive the interest generated from their share of this fund to be used towards care and maintenance of the cemetery. Last year Glenwood received approximately $5,000, which hardly covers the cost of gas to cut the grass. Repairing monuments and roads and replanting trees to maintain this urban forest costs thousands of dollars more each year.”

Glenwood is so old many people believe it is no longer an active cemetery, but in fact Glenwood has lots of cleared spaces and forested lands for future needs. Its future though, is most likely defined by the history it holds. Its stories of early settlement, prominent people, and dramatic events which have so profoundly shaped Prince Edward County are old stories, but there are new audiences for them.

Glenwood could become a showcase heritage property and a centerpiece of the heritage economy – the notion community history can be transformed into a wide range of goods and services such as bus and walking tours, crafts, foodstuffs, events, and festivals retailed to heritage travelers. Once home to a pasture, a brewery, and a tannery, the property is now undergoing transformation as a destination for family ancestry researchers and heritage consumers – a history factory pioneering a new industry in the County.

For more information about Glenwood, visit the cemetery website at www.glenwoodcemetery.ca

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.

© 2022 Bay of Quinte Region | © TripAdvisor 2022

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.