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.

Hamilton cemeteries in the age of wooden churches

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

When we look at today’s historic churches, we are often looking at a later building that is much larger than the original church. Not only are these buildings later, but they are made out of different building materials.

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.