Fire and Wood Don’t Mix – Early Hamilton Wooden Churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church built in  year 1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church built in year 1837. Photo by @erskinec

In years before Hamilton became a city, fire was a constant danger and resulted in the loss of many early buildings. This lead to bylaws being pass around 1846 that encouraged stone or brick construction.

Rare Today, Common Then – Hamilton Wooden Churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church built in yr1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church built in yr1837. Photo by @erskinec

Prior to the late 1840s and early 1850s, almost all buildings were constructed of wood. Allan MacNab’s Dundurn Castle (1833-35) and maybe James Durand’s Belle Vue (1805) were the rare examples of stone or brick buildings in the Hamilton.

The Age of Wooden Churches

The Age of Wooden Churches

St. Stephen's Anglican Church yr 1837.  Photo by @erskinec
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church yr 1837. Photo by @erskinec

By the 1820s and early 1830s, the several communities of faith became large enough to support the building of church and graveyard. These early churches were small and made of wood. They were typically surrounded by a small plot of land.

For example, the first church in the future town of Hamilton was the First Methodist Church that was built one acre of land purchased from Robert Hamilton in 1824.

The Private Cemetery of the George Hamilton?

Hamilton Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Hamilton Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

Another example of a possible family cemetery is that of Dr. William Case 1776-1848). Dr. Case was Hamilton’s first Doctor and practiced medicine from 1809 to his death on March 29, 1848.

The death of Dr. Case posed a bit of problem for his family and friends because he never attended Church and as a result, he could not be buried in any of the local Church cemeteries.

George Hamilton (1788-1836) and he had been a close friend to Dr. Case. As a result, it was decided that Dr. Case could be buried in a private cemetery, located where the then Cherry Street came to an end at the foot of the Mountain. The Cherry Street was later renamed Ferguson Avenue and Dr. Case remains were removed to the Hamilton Cemetery in December 1950 as the result of the Claremont Access being reconstructed.

To date, I have seen no reference to family cemetery on the former George Hamilton estate, but there must have been something since George Hamilton died in 1836. I have also seen no references of George Hamilton’s remains being relocated to the then York Cemetery, now Hamilton Cemetery, which opened in 1847.

Hamilton Graves speak to Us

Jane Ann who died on Feb 23, 1848 at the age of 3 years, Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
Jane Ann who died on Feb 23, 1848 at the age of 3 years, Binkley Pioneer Cemetery, Hamilton (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

A grave is a statement about place and family. A grave say that we have roots in this landscape and these are the people who care about me, both in life and in death.

For Hamilton pioneers, the farm cemetery was a physical expression of those values.

In the Binkley 1805 Cemetery, there is statement about a young girl named Jane Ann, who briefly lived and then died on Feb 23, 1848. On the tombstone her family wrote:

“This lovely child, so young and fair,
Called home early by death,
She came to sleep like a flower,
In Paradise the last hour.”

Cemeteries anchor the historic imagination

Hamilton Cemetery is the Oldest Public Cemetery in Canada. Photo by @erskinec
Hamilton Cemetery is the Oldest Public Cemetery in Canada. Photo by @erskinec

“Cemeteries are key elements in the creation of memories, heritage, and attitudes towards the dead and the dying.” Deathscapes, Memory, Heritage and Place in Cemetery by Katherine Cook(2011), M.A. Thesis.

Death Just Keeps Coming in early 19th Century Hamilton

St. Luke's Anglican Cemetery, Burlington (Ont). Photo by @erskinec
St. Luke’s Anglican Cemetery, Burlington (Ont). Photo by @erskinec

Death Just Keeps Coming in early 19th Century Hamilton

In Reverend John Miller parish records, notes that on Feb 13th, 1831, he preached at funeral of Andrew Land (1820-1831), aged 11. Andrew was the son of Abel and Louisa Land. The Land family was one of the original pioneer settler families in Hamilton. Unfortunately, I cannot located the cause of death.

A few years later (1834), Robert Allan, only son of Allan MacNab died in a hunting accident, also at the age of 11.

So, even if you survived the first few years of life, death could still catch up to you. As Rev. Miller noted in his parish records:

Jan 15th, 1832 – Mary Anne, daughter of Robert and Helen Berrie died at the age of 8.

July 15th, 1832 – Caroline Hill died at the age of 9.

Oct 18th, 1832 – son of Joseph Blew died at the age 10.

Unfortunately, in most cases we don’t know the cause of death. Whether it was an accident or an illness.