The Old Wesleyan Methodist Cemetery

Newspaper clipping of a re-interment Looking west across the old cemetery (Winter 2001-'02) The early Wesleyan Methodists in Port Hope had established a burying-ground on the south side of Bedford Street by the early 1830s. Indications are that it was laid out with a capacity of some 750 graves. Although a map exists indicating the name of the lot owner, range and number of graves in each lot, unfortunately no accurate record of interments has been found. Indications are that at the time of its closure in 1873, when burials within town ceased due to health concerns, there were still 44 lots, with 243 grave spaces, unsold. The number of plots actually used is unknown, but based on the occupancy of the other cemeteries in town at that time, an estimate of perhaps 200 burials would not be unreasonable.

On 30 April 1873, the Port Hope Union Cemetery Company, adjoining St. John's Anglican Cemetery (opened 1862) at the west end of town, was formed and it was here that many of the lot owners of the old Methodist Cemetery were given new lots in exchange. Over the following years, many previously-interred family members were moved by descendants to Union, Welcome, and other cemeteries.

On 11 January 1897, the High School was opened on the northwest corner of Pine and Bedford and in 1925, negotiations to acquire the old cemetery site as a playground began between the School Board and the Methodist Church. In May 1931, the site was supposed to have been cleared, with the remains being reinterred in a Memorial Plot at Union Cemetery.

A blueprint created at the time shows the 60+ re-interments, those identified presumably by casket plates and relatives:

In addition to the above, 11 adults, 1 male, 3 mothers, 6 children, and 2 babies are listed as unknown. (I suspect one of the unknown children to be my great-granduncle, John Thomas Skitch, who died in 1855 at the age of 8 while cleaning a well.) A stone was erected to their memory and the three stones placed within the site.

On 1 October 1931, County Court Judge Lawrence O'Connor issued a certificate attesting

That the owner of the above Cemetery, namely the United Church at Port Hope, has satisfied me, that said owner has removed from the said Cemetery and re-interred in the Port Hope Union Cemetery, which is a Cemetery in the same, or adjacent Municipality, as provided in the Cemetery Act, all the remains which, with the exercise of reasonable diligence it (the said owner) has been able to find buried in such Wesleyan Methodist Church Cemetery in Port Hope.

Skeleton dug up 1961 It is now evident that the Judge was sadly in error. Over the past seventy years, there has been controversy as to whether all remains had truly been cleared, with recurring stories of students and neighbours periodically finding bones. The controversy ended with the 2001 closure of the school and subsequent purchase of the site for redevelopment - the school as condominiums and the playground as five building lots.

In the middle of May 2002, during the construction of a stone retaining wall at the west end of the former playground, a number of remains were found and a team of archaeologists called in. Construction was halted for three months until permission was given for the disinterment of the remains of some thirty individuals - and a number of comingled - which were sent to Trent University for examination and study. Among those disinterred:

Two further sets of remains were discovered near an adjoining lane in the southeast corner, but the weather prohibited removal until the following spring. Those, and eight others were removed by the middle of June, 2003. Three casket plaques were found, identifying:

In the middle of July, two last sets of remains were discovered and removed. All were taken to Trent University. Future ancient DNA and isotope testing are planned which hopefully will provide us with more detailed information on the daily life of Port Hope's early pioneers.

Memorial Service for Hannah (Rose) Cunning At the end of August 2004, the remains were reburied in the memorial plot at Union Cemetery. A public memorial service was held on 25 September, when the last of the remains - believed to be of Hannah (Rose) Cunning - were re-interred, with over twenty of her descendants from as far away as British Columbia, present for the occasion. On a delightful autumn day, a project begun seventy-three years earlier had been brought to a close.

Hanna's re-interment was covered by the 29 Sep 2004 Northumberland News.

Peter and Barbara Bolton - Port Hope, Ontario