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Paul (Isaiah) Pittman, Cemetery Caretaker
Posted on May 4, 2023:
Licensed By the Bereavement Authority of Ontario
License #3269806; Site #00720
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The beautiful old red brick church building and its colonial-era cemetery were officially recognized by the City of Kingston in 2018 as sites of Heritage Value and Interest. At that time it was known as the “Cataraqui United Church and Cemetery.” However, the brick church structure was originally built in 1881 by the Methodist denomination, replacing an older Methodist church on the same site.
Methodists were active in Cataraqui since the colonial era. This brick church was the third Methodist church to be built on this site. The first was a wooden frame chapel erected by Loyalist settlers between 1791 and 1793 (believed to be the third oldest Methodist chapel in Upper Canada). It was replaced in 1824 by a larger Methodist limestone structure. The current brick building was constructed in 1881. It became the Cataraqui United Church in 1925, and the Orthodox Church of St. Gregory of Nyssa in 2022.
This land is sacred to the history of Canada. In the spring of 1784, a group of United Empire Loyalists led by Captain Michael Grass first settled in this area, known then as Cataraqui. Their family names were: Day, Graham, Grass, Herchmer, Hill, McGuin, Powley, Purdy, Snook, Wartman, and others. They fled from persecution in the new United States of America after its War of Independence, as they were the Loyal subjects of King George III. These brave families were the first settlers to come in large numbers to what is now the Province of Ontario. Within a few years a Methodist church and a cemetery were established. As more people arrived, the area became known as Kingston—the town of the king. Families have laid to rest their loved ones here for an exceptionally long time—for over two hundred years.
The cemetery is currently owned by the community of St. Gregory of Nyssa Orthodox Church (Not-for-Profit Corp, Ontario, 23 March 2022), having been purchased from the United Church denomination on 15 June 2022. Due to its old age, the historic cemetery lacks space. Under new management and ownership, the cemetery is no longer selling new burial plots. However, families which historically already have purchased plots still have the right to bury their family members’ remains, as long as there is room in their plots and the existing waiver system is respected.
HISTORY OF THE CEMETERY
The cemetery has passed through several phases since its conception: the coming of the Loyalists, the times of plague (such as the typhus plague of the 1850’s), the population shift after the War of 1812, etc. Thus, it represents an important cross-section of our history. The oldest stone in the cemetery belongs to Nicholas Herchmer, dated 1809, but through the years footstones have been buried and headstones have been broken or rendered unreadable by the weather, so there are likely many older burials on the grounds. In fact, when the widening of Sydenham Road was under discussion, it was decided that it was not feasible in front of the church cemetery because there were so many unmarked graves there.
The first graves were largely a result of Loyalist burials, some of them the settlers that Captain Michael Grass had brought with him to Canada. Captain Michael Grass himself was also buried in the cemetery in 1813. The land upon which the cemetery is located was owned by Neil Ferris, who measured out the area and sold plots (containing approximately fifteen graves each) for the sum of $10.00. A deed was given to prove ownership. Thirty deeds were registered in Kingston, dating between 1840 and 1899.
In the founding years, this cemetery was not Methodist, but was more closely aligned with the “Catholic Apostolic Church” in which Mr. Ferris was involved. Neil Ferris died in 1893, passing his estate (including unsold plots) to his unmarried niece Sara Jane Dick, who died soon after 1901. The estate was then inherited by her sister Mrs. Emma Susan Chapman, who moved away a few years later. Subsequently, this was the end of the Ferris ownership of the burial grounds. There was no official document that indicated ownership of the “Ferris Burying Ground” by the Methodist Church of Cataraqui. However, the Methodists, and later, the United Church, continued to look after the cemetery until its recent purchase by the English-speaking St. Gregory of Nyssa Orthodox Church in Kingston. In 1929, a “Perpetual Care Fund” was established to care for the cemetery grounds. Adjoining the Methodist burial grounds, in the southern section nearest the small parking lot, is a family cemetery, "The McGuin Burial Plot." The exact demarcation of this plot is a post in the northwest corner of the lot, and this can be clearly seen today--surveyor's stone with a scored cross on top.
We are occasionally contacted by people searching for information from our burial records to aid in research into their ancestry. We are happy to help.
As well as checking church records, volunteers are keen to show you where family members are buried. A walk around the cemetery can yield even more information if you look beyond that one stone you wished to see. You may also find other family members in adjacent lots. In some cases, whole other branches of the family tree have been discovered in this way! If you live at a distance from the cemetery, we can take photos to go along with the information we send.
Due to the fact that the cemetery was founded in the 1790’s, you will see some very old stones. Currently, the oldest one still standing is dated in 1809. Sadly, some of the stones have been degraded over many years, and some have been laid flat with sod encroaching on them. Volunteers have been working very hard to find, clean off, repair and, where possible, set the stones upright. Work on hundreds of headstones and family plot markers has been done over the last few years. If you would like to take part by cleaning your family stones, you are welcome to do so. If you live locally, you may be interested in helping with the other work going on. There is also a lot of loving care invested in the upkeep and beautification of the grounds, trees, shrubs and flowers.
Members of the United Empire Loyalist organization in Kingston area have noted that there are many soldiers who served in the War of 1812 buried in our cemetery. In cooperation with church members, they have been placing special stone markers on their graves. In June 2022, on Loyalist Day, a new sign marking these sacred grounds as “United Empire Loyalist Burial Grounds” was installed.
If you would like to find out more about the local UEL chapter, you may connect via this link
We do not charge for helping you with your research.
If you wish to donate toward the care and maintenance, you may leave a cheque made out to “Heritage Cemetery At Cataraqui” with the volunteer who is helping you, or mail it to:
Heritage Cemetery At Cataraqui
c/o St. Gregory of Nyssa Orthodox Church
965 Sydenham Road
Note: In your letter, please identify where you would like your donation to go -- e.g. "Heritage Cemetery At Cataraqui”.
You may also send your donation to the cemetery via Interac e-Transfer:
Name: Heritage Cemetery At Cataraqui
Thank you for your interest and we wish you success in your genealogical research.