The Ghosts of Hamilton's Past

Wednesday, 30 October 2013
“One grave in every graveyard belongs to the ghouls. Wander any graveyard long enough and you will find it — water stained and bulging, with cracked or broken stone, scraggly grass or rank weeds about it, and a feeling, when you reach it, of abandonment. It may be colder than the other gravestones, too, and the name on the stone is all too often impossible to read. If there is a statue on the grave it will be headless or so scabbed with fungus and lichens as to look like fungus itself. If one grave in a graveyard looks like a target for petty vandals, that is the ghoul-gate. If the grave wants to make you be somewhere else, that is the ghoul-gate.”
— Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book


It's the night before Halloween, so there's no better time to unleash some of the ghosts of Hamilton's past. I've spent a lot of time researching Hamilton's history, sometimes for writing projects and sometimes just out of morbid curiosity, and what I've found, is that there's no better way to learn about the people who built this city than going on one of historian Robin McKee's guided tours of the Hamilton Cemetery on York Boulevard.

From ornate vaults to vast unmarked graves, the Hamilton Cemetery houses at least 200 years of the city's history. Though the cemetery was officially established in 1848, the land on which it stands, then known as Burlington Heights, played a crucial role in the War of 1812.

These photos were taken during the Disasters tour earlier this year which featured the fascinating lives, and untimely deaths, of Hamiltonians such as rum-runner Ben Kerr and murder victim Ethel Kinrade.

You can't take a stroll through the Hamilton Cemetery without recognizing the surnames of prominent Hamilton families. Click here to watch Robin McKee talk about Joseph Lister as part of his Firefighter's Tour.

The tombstone of Colin Ferrie, an early politician in Hamilton.

This intriguing epitaph prompted McKee to research the fate of Walter Teale. I won't give his findings away, but let's just say, they were explosive.

The story of Ethel Kinrade and her sister Florence, a vaudeville actress, has all the trimmings of a Hollywood movie, from adultery, scandal, blackmail, and ultimately, murder.

One of multiple mass graves in the Hamilton Cemetery.

There are three more chances in 2013 to attend one of Robin McKee's guided tours, including his War of 1812 tour on Saturday, November 2. I couldn't recommend it enough.

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