Re­mains came from an old ceme­tery

The Welland Tribune - - LOCAL/REGION - BY PETER DOWNS

THOROLD — Hu­man re­mains un­earthed over the week­end in Thorold were found on the site of the city’s first mu­nic­i­pal ceme­tery.

Long be­fore it was flooded to serve as a reser­voir for the Wel­land Canal, the prop­erty near Lake­view Ceme­tery was a burial ground for some of Thorold’s ear­li­est set­tlers.

The land where skele­tal re­mains were re­cov­ered Sun­day — east of the canal near Lock 7 — was once home to two churches, dat­ing back more than two cen­turies.

“As far as I know, that would be the first tan­gi­ble proof peo­ple were still buried there when the ceme­tery was flooded,” said Randy Barnes, pres­i­dent of the Thorold and Beaver­dams His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice said an “am­a­teur his­to­rian” was search­ing the area for metal ar­ti­facts Sun­day when he turned up hu­man bones and a cas­ket han­dle in­stead.

The area is usu­ally sub­merged be­neath the canal hold­ing pond, but was ac­ces­si­ble be­cause the wa­ter level is low.

Po­lice said foul play is not sus­pected, but the re­mains were sent to Hamil­ton Gen­eral Hospi­tal to be ex­am­ined by a foren­sic pathol­o­gist.

Re­sults aren’t ex­pected for at least a cou­ple more days, Det. Tim Svier­gula said Mon­day af­ter­noon.

It’s pos­si­ble the re­mains date back more than 200 years. A Lutheran and Pres­by­te­rian church — some­times re­ferred to as The Old Ger­man Church — once stood on the prop­erty where the bones were found.

It’s not known ex­actly when the church opened its doors, but it wel­comed its first min­is­ter in 1801.

Barnes said prom­i­nent Thorold set­tler Ja­cob Ball do­nated land to be used as a ceme­tery be­side the church in 1802.

The log church ceased func­tion­ing and was re­placed by St. Peter’s Angli­can Church in 1838, which con­tin­ued to use the ad­join­ing burial ground.

Be­cause of its small size and out-of-the-way lo­ca­tion, St. Peter’s was re­placed by St. John’s Angli­can Church down­town in 1856, Barnes said.

St. Peter’s was used only oc­ca­sion­ally af­ter­ward for funer­als and spe­cial events.

But in 1886, the ceme­tery was closed to new buri­als when nearby Lake­view Ceme­tery opened.

Barnes said re­mains in the old church ceme­tery were move to Lake­view in 1923 when the land changed hands and was to be made into a reser­voir for the fourth Wel­land Canal.

“It’s sort of been the food for lo­cal leg­end that not all of the bodies ended up get­ting moved,” he said.

Staff with the St. Lawrence Se­away Man­age­ment Corp. have searched the area where the bones sur­faced and have found no more re­mains, com­pany spokesman Jean AubryMorin said.

“We’re not in a po­si­tion to con­firm there are no other re­mains on the site, but we haven’t found any,” he said Mon­day af­ter­noon.

Lo­cal his­to­rian and Brock Uni­ver­sity ge­og­ra­phy pro­fes­sor Alun Hughes said one pub­lished re­port pegged the num­ber of graves in the old ceme­tery “in the 900s.”

“It’s not sur­pris­ing that they found re­mains there.... Not all of them were re­lo­cated,” he said.

Aubry-Morin said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the bones isn’t ex­pected to re­quire any de­lays to the ship­ping sea­son.

The of­fi­cial start to the nav­i­ga­tion sea­son on the canal is set for March 31 at 11:30 a.m.

The wa­ter level of the canal is sched­uled to be re­turned to nor­mal op­er­at­ing lev­els by the end of the week, which would cover the area of the old ceme­tery.

“We be­lieve the mat­ter will be set­tled by then,” AubryMorin said.

Barnes said he’s hope­ful a foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion of the re­mains may help iden­tify the de­ceased.

How­ever, he ac­knowl­edged mak­ing a pos­i­tive ID would be very dif­fi­cult.“I don’t know if there’s any ac­tual ex­ist­ing records of who was buried in the ceme­tery be­cause it was so old,” he said.

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