St. Catharines’ first cemetery was established right next to the community’s first church, roughly where the statue of William Hamilton Merritt stands today, across from the CKTB building.
This cemetery covered much of the area adjacent to the section of Saint-Paul Street West between Ontario Street and the Burgoyne Bridge.
In the mid-1830s, the church congregation purchased property on Church Street and began construction of what is now St. George’s Anglican Church. In 1837, church authorities urged all who had loved ones buried in the original church cemetery to remove those remains, either to a new cemetery established at the rear of St. George’s property or to other sites of their choice.
At this time, three of the other churches in the village – the Methodist Church, the Catholic Church and one of the Presbyterian Churches – all had graveyards adjacent to their churches. However, as the population of the village steadily increased, some people began to believe that for public health reasons these cemeteries in the center of the village needed to be replaced.
In 1850, a group of local citizens proposed to the mayor and city council that a committee be created to assess existing sectarian cemeteries and search for a site for a public cemetery away from the town centre.
In 1855, the city purchased 9.3 hectares of land on the south side of Queenston Street, three miles outside the city limits, for the new municipal cemetery. The first burial plots were offered for sale there in mid-1856. The first interments—including remains transferred from existing downtown church cemeteries—were held later that same year.
Our old photo from this week shows the entrance to the new cemetery at the turn of the last century – some time after 1897, of course. It was in this year that the original name, simply St. Catharines City Cemetery, was changed to Victoria Lawn Cemetery as part of the city’s celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Over the decades, other notable changes have been made to the institution.
In 1922, the cemetery was greatly expanded with the purchase of land — nicknamed the New Cemetery — across (north) from Queenston Street. Subsequent land acquisitions in stages expanded the cemetery to the 69 hectares it comprises today, with more than 69,000 graves and 30,000 large and small memorial stones.
In 1916 a mausoleum was added, allowing above ground burials. That same year, the original wood and mesh front door was replaced with the stone pillars that we see there today. Seven years later they were replicated across Queenston Street at the entrance to the new cemetery. In 1950, the 30-foot-tall Davella Mills Memorial Carillon Tower was dedicated near the entrance to the new cemetery.
At regular intervals, alterations have also been made to the original cemetery director’s residence and office adjacent to the original entrance to the cemetery.
Today, the function of this former administrative building has been taken over by a modern office building at 431 Queenston Street. In the meantime, the original building remains, awaiting its fate.