The original plans for the purchase of the West half of Lot 15 on Concession 6 in what is now known as Middleville included a Presbyterian schoolhouse, a Church and a burial ground for members of the Church. In an early photograph, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church has a few white tombstones visible at the north side of the Church. Horse sheds can also be seen extending from the rear of the Church. The edge of the horse sheds are believed to form the south perimeter of the graveyard behind the Church. Sadly, the original plan and records for this graveyard were lost when the Clerk of Session’s home where they were kept burned down.
In the 1800’s, little was known or understood about disease and so a concern arose within the village of the possibility of seepage from the graves of people who had succumbed to diphtheria and other deadly diseases of the time into the nearby community well water. An initiative was made to purchase land outside the village boundaries for a burial ground where remains could be moved. In 1873, two acres of land were purchased and Greenwood Cemetery was opened on Lot 17, Concession 6. The Cemetery records state that some of the graves from the Church yard were moved to the first few rows of the new graveyard.
Over the decades, the graveyard at the Church fell into an unkept state. It was reportedly scythed once a year, but the grass and weeds soon overtook the old tombstones. Little money or time could be afforded for the upkeep of the site. Some attempts were made to restore the site in the 1930’s, but the task proved too difficult and some of the crumbling stones that could be salvaged were moved to the shed to be stored. In the late 1960’s, another attempt at restoration was made and in the 1970’s a bequest made in the will of David A. Gillies, a descendent of James Gillies, provided the money for a properly funded restoration project to be undertaken.
The Gillies family were the first occupants of the nearby Herron Mills site before selling it to the Herron brothers. James Gillies is believed to be the first burial on the pioneer graveyard at the Presbyterian Church in 1851. His wife, Helen Stark Gillies was buried beside him in 1853. It was the restoration of his ancestor’s final resting place that prompted David Gillies to ensure money was dedicated for this work. The actual graves of James and Helen Gillies were originally marked by a small elm tree planted beside their final resting place. The elm tree grew to full size over the decades, but is long gone.
Local volunteers worked to erect a memorial wall patterned after the one built at Upper Canada Village where gravestones were salvaged and relocated into a series of red brick walls. In Middleville, twenty-five gravestones were set into the seventy metre long wall built on top of the original graveyard. Work on the wall was completed in 1971 and on Sunday, August 6th, 1972, a dedication service was held at the Middleville site. Jesse Stewart Gillies, widow of David Gillies, was on hand for the ceremony. Special guest speaker, Dr. Charlotte Whitton, former mayor of Ottawa, gave remarks. This was fitting as Dr. Whitton had written a book about the Gillies’ family legacy in the local lumber business.
In the years since the wall was built, a flowerbed running along the front of the gravestones has been maintained. Volunteers tend the flowers each year and many people who pass by are inspired to photograph this intriguing monument to the past.
The Middleville and District Museum volunteers are hoping to research and find more information about the people whose names are on the gravestones embedded in this wall and those whose grave markers were lost. The parameters of the original gravesite are not well known and with the loss of the markers were lost. The parameters of the original gravesite are not well known and with the loss of the original official records, gathering information about the actual site proves challenging. The volunteers of the Museum are hoping to hear from descendants of the people buried in the Pioneer Cemetery who may have researched their family history and be able to provide further clues to the story of the Pioneer Burial Ground in Middleville. If you have any information about this burial ground, please reach out to the Museum at email@example.com.
The gravestones have been photographed and can be found online with inscriptions.
This journal is written, researched, and maintained by the volunteers of the Middleville Museum.