- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Where are your ancestors buried?

For many of our Grey County neighbours, the answer is in small cemeteries on Concession roads, some of which have been overgrown and designated “inactive”.

Our inattention to some of these burial grounds has drawn national attention in the past,, and once again ancestors are at risk of going unnoticed in a development plan.

An inactive cemetery near Holstein in Southgate Township known as Watson’s Cemetery, formerly the Mount Zion Church cemetery, is adjacent to lands being considered for severance by the Township of Southgate.

Some attentive citizens have raised questions about the site which they – and we – believe should be answered before the Township's Committee of Adjustment makes any decisions.

The Committee is holding a public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25. It will be livestreamed on the Township YouTube Channel:

  1. Who is the owner of this property? A staff report from 2021 states the Township is the current owner of the property (CL2021-002 - Land Assumption Request - Watson’s Cemetery – Conc 13 N, Pt Lot 27, Egremont) but land records sent to a concerned citizen list the ownership as belonging to a different party.

  2. Who has been licensed as the registered operator of this cemetery with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) as outlined in the Funerals, Burials and Cremation Services Act? The Township of Southgate is listed on the public record, but the Township asserts it is not the registered operator of the cemetery.

  3. Has the size, boundary and capacity of this cemetery ever been established?

  4. Has the current registered operator of the cemetery been providing maintenance on the site as well as providing for safe access for descendants of the individuals buried in the cemetery, in compliance with the Funerals, Burials and Cremation Services Act?

  5. Has the applicant or the municipality contacted the Bereavement Association of Ontario to request an inspection of the site as part of this application process?

These questions have brought concerned Grey County citizens to urge the Township of Southgate Committee of Adjustment to reconsider approving this application until such time as the applicant, the municipality and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario can determine:

  1. Ownership and registered operator status of the cemetery,

  2. The size, boundary and capacity of the cemetery (see note below),

  3. Outstanding maintenance and access issues,

  4. Archaeological assessment and location of unmarked burials on the site.

Local citizens have found the following early research which provide good reason for concern:

Genealogical research and community knowledge indicate that there may be more burials on this site than are currently known or registered, including the remains of an early Black Grey County settler; a school teacher named William Jones purportedly buried “outside” the fence line of the cemetery grounds, for unknown reasons, in 1878. This anecdotal documentation can be found on page 161 in the book “While We Still Remember” A History of Egremont Township 1840 – 1983” written by Mr. Campbell Cork, a well-known historian, reporter for Blackburn News, author, and speaker.

Existing documentation points to the burial of James Nickle/Nichol (1814-1856) and daughter Elizabeth (1846-1864) in the Mount Zion Methodist Cemetery. James’ wife Elizabeth (Sr.) passed away in Egremont in 1875 and may also have been buried in this cemetery.”

It is now understood that the applicants, Trustees for the Old Order Mennonite Conference, wish to expand this cemetery through this severance and convert this registered cemetery’s status from inactive to active, to use the space again for burials of members of their community. From the planning application, it is is clear that the surrounding lands will be redeveloped to allow for the new build of an OId Order Mennonite meeting house, a laneway to the meeting house, and an access lane to the cemetery.

We would encourage all interested Southgate and Grey County residents to express their concerns to the following: Lindsay Green, Clerk, [email protected];  Holly Manynyk, Legislative and Administrative Assistant  [email protected];  Clinton Stredwick, Planner [email protected];  Brian Milne, Mayor [email protected]

You must provide your own name and municipality, and you may want to include the questions above and a paragraph like this, written by our attentive neighbours: “As ownership and boundaries of the property are unclear, and as no monuments remain to help point to the location of existing grave shafts, approval of this application as it currently stands would not be in the public interest. It may also set a precedent in your Township and beyond, implying that burial sites and human remains are not worthy of respect or due process in the path of development.”

Thank you to all of those who have drawn our attention to this and written the information and questions above so clearly for the decision-makers and residents of our community.

We will keep readers apprised of anything we learn as the process continues.





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