Elmwood Cemetery - History

History of Elmwood Cemetery

 
In 1810, the trail from Kingston to Toronto and the rest of Upper Canada was a simple track through the forests. There was no RCMP, and not even the dream of a railway. Families settled in remote areas of the country, surrounded by virgin bush and often not having any contact with other people for months at a time.
 
On a remote farm, north of what is now Belleville, Ontario, on the banks of the Moira River, the Reid family used a portion of their farm to inter family members for burials. No records were kept, and any markers were hand-hewn -- usually from pieces of local bedrock. The first interment is believed to have taken place around 1810. The family of United Empire Loyalists continued to use the area, and was still being actively used in 1874, when the government of Ontario first required registration of Cemeteries. Caleb Reid surveyed and registered two acres, and named the burying ground "Elmwood".
 
Some of the oldest markers are still visible in the original area of Elmwood. On a slightly elevated hill, several fieldstone markers have been discovered and the area demarcated to preserve them. Any inscriptions have worn away with very few exceptions. One stone is marked "R. P." and another as "Dinah P." These are assumed to mark the resting places of Russell and Dinah Pitman, two of the earliest pioneers of the area.
 
While Elmwood slumbered in the quiet woods, a baker, one Henry Corby, arrived from England in 1832 at Belleville. Energetic, ambitious and adventurous, Henry operated a bakery in Belleville for several years, and then ran a steamer along the shores of Lake Ontario as a grain merchant. By 1857, he was ready to settle down, and chose an area just south of Elmwood on the banks of the Moira, where a good site existed for a new grist mill. The village of Corby's Mill sprang up, with the mill, a company store, and a few houses.
 
One of the 'sidelines' of running a grist mill was the distillation of liquor, which most farmers at the time did with at least some of the 'inferior' grain. Henry seems never to have missed an opportunity, and added a distillery to his operation, taking advantage of the sparkling water available. By 1859, the distillery was beginning to overshadow the grist mill. Between then and 1881 when he died, Henry Corby became Mayor of Belleville, and Member of the Provincial Parliament. Henry Jr. ran the company for the next 25 years, until it was purchased by Moritmer Davis.
 
As the village of Corbyville grew up around the distillery and mill, most of the workers preferrred to live some distance from the fumes, and settled along the banks of the Moira to the north -- in the immediate vicinity of Elmwood Cemetery.
 
The cemetery itself had become neglected, and in 1932 was sold for $100 to a Thomas Hicks from James, the last of the Reid family to oversee the grounds.
 
Among other changes made, Thomas instituted Perpetural Care in the cemetery, and designed the ornate gates which still grace the entrance. They are unusual in that the name of the Cemetery is in an ornate wrought iron arch above the entrance way, but this sign is made in two sections, allowing taller vehicles access without disturbing the sign or other fenced sections.
 
Over the years, Elmwood has grown, with the addition of the land purchased in 1944, and a large area donated by Canada Cement in 1948. Thomas Hicks presented the cemetery to the Plot Owners in 1952. His condition was that a company be formed to control the Cemetery, and the Board of Trustees took charge.
 
Over the years, there have been many changes at Elmwood. Members of the Board and volunteers have straightened and reclaimed many of the older neglected monuments. New sections have been laid out, including a Veterans' section and a Columbarium.
 
The driveways are lined with magnificent old Maples that make a glorious canopy of colour in the Autumn. Flower beds are maintained throughout the cemetery, and there are areas for in-ground cremations as well. There has been a tremendous move to keep Elmwood up to date with the more modern trends.
 
Volunteers are encouraged, and the community is informed, with publication of a regular Newsletter, distributed to a large base of interested people. The Annual Meeting of the Board is well-publicised in an attempt to attract newly interested residents as participants.
 
In addition, Elmwood recently entered into an agreement for the construction and management of a Crematorium on the grounds.
 
Written by Ken Bull - NETWORK December 2003 * January 2004
Please note, this article was written in 2003 and the ornate wrought iron sign at the entrance of the cemetery had to be removed.