Cemetery of the Week #103: Drummond Hill Cemetery

The battle monument at the top of Drummond Hill Cemetery

The battle monument at the top of Drummond Hill Cemetery

Drummond Hill Cemetery
6110 Lundy’s Lane
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Telephone: Niagara Falls City Hall (905) 356-7521
Founded: 1799
Size: 4 acres
Number of interments: More than 3000

In the final years of the 18th century, a pioneer graveyard stood atop the hill on Lundy’s Lane, beside the First Presbyterian Church. Buried in the churchyard were British settlers who were farming the fertile land near one of the wonders of the natural world: Niagara Falls.

Grave of John Burch

Grave of John Burch

The EVP Society of Ontario says this cemetery contains some of the oldest gravestones in the area. The oldest surviving headstone in the graveyard dates to 1797. It remembers John Burch, who was initially buried on his own farm, but was reburied here in 1799. He was one of the earliest Loyalist pioneers in the area. In 1786, he had been one of the first to harness the Niagara River for commercial purposes, erecting saw and grist mills on the Upper Niagara Rapids.

To this day, the Niagara River and its waterfalls form a natural boundary between the United States and Canada. This became too close for comfort during the War of 1812.

My American education led me to believe that the Americans of the day were just calmly minding their own business when British soldiers attacked Washington, burned the Library of Congress, and generally were meanies in red coats. I didn’t know that American troops had invaded Canada in an attempt to annex Ontario.

The battle monument above the grave of 22 unknown British soldiers.

The battle monument above the grave of 22 unknown British soldiers.

The bloodiest battle of the war, which Canadians consider their Gettysburg, took place on July 25, 1814 in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church on Lundy’s Lane. American forces repeatedly attacked Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond’s men, who held the hilltop after six hours of fighting. Both sides suffered casualties estimated at 800 men each. In the end, claiming victory, the Americans withdrew to nearby Fort Erie, which they abandoned in November that year. The American invasion of Canada was over, but if the battle had gone differently, Ontario would now be an American state.

Drummond’s men were left on the hill with the task of burying the 1600 dead men in trenches in the old cemetery. Twenty-two British soldiers lie beneath the monument to the Battle of Drummond Hill, which stands at the crest of the hill. The monument includes an obelisk, a pair of cannons, cannonballs, and a British flag.

Other soldiers, mostly unknown, remain buried around the cemetery. SpiritSeekers reports that the soldiers’ average age was 15. Some of the men are believed to continue to haunt the cemetery, especially at night.

Laura Secord's monument was unveiled in 1901.

Laura Secord’s monument was unveiled in 1901.

Also buried in the cemetery is Canadian national hero Laura Secord. When American officers commandeered her home, she overheard them plotting an attack on the British outpost at DeCew’s Falls. She walked nearly 20 miles alone through woods and swamps to warn the British. Lieutenant FitzGibbons gathered the 50 men under his command, 15 militiamen, and a small force of Six Nation and other Indians, and attacked the Americans at Beaver Dams. The small British contingent caught the Americans by surprise and forced their surrender after capturing their commander and cannons.

A monument erected by the Ontario Historical Society now marks Secord’s grave.

Also buried in the graveyard is Karel Soucek, a daredevil who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1984. His monument is topped with a cylinder and is decorated with a portrait of him, surrounded by a stylized cascade of falling water. It quotes him as saying, “It is better for a person to take a chance at life…than to live in that gray twilight and know not victory nor defeat.”

Daredevil Karel Soucek's gravestone

Daredevil Karel Soucek’s gravestone

The Niagara Parks Commission assumed jurisdiction of the cemetery in 1910, later transferring it to the City in 1996. The Niagara Falls Museums have offered tours of the graveyard the last several Octobers, but the new schedule doesn’t appear online yet. One can assume that there will also be events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the battle next July, but that information hasn’t been posted yet either. Keep checking here: http://www.niagarafallsmuseums.ca.

In the meantime, the Drummond Hill Cemetery provides a pleasant distraction from the estimated 13 million people who visit Niagara Falls each year. In addition to a variety of monuments to the battle, the cemetery contains several interesting pioneer graves, marked with bronze plaques, and a nice selection of marble gravestones with Victorian mourning reliefs. Even the more modern granite grave markers have lovely decorations. The cemetery is alive with black squirrels and birds. Even though you can still see the Skylon Tower overlooking the falls, the graveyard feels like it’s a world away.

I’d like to thank Mickie and Chad, our servers at the Elements on the Falls restaurant who encouraged me to visit the cemetery. I’d also like to thank my parents and daughter, who spared me for a couple of hours so I could poke around the cemetery while they enjoyed the hotel pool. Any vacation wouldn’t be complete without a cemetery visit.

Useful links:

The City of Niagara Falls homepage for the cemetery and battlefield

PDF walking tour of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane

Battlefields of the War of 1812 tour

Stories of some of the pioneers buried in Drummond Hill Cemetery

Niagara’s Most Haunted

In Search of Ghosts in Drummond Hill Cemetery:

SpiritSeekers re-enacts the hauntings

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. Scribner published my favorite essays from Morbid Curiosity magazine as Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
This entry was posted in Cemetery of the Week and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #103: Drummond Hill Cemetery

  1. Donald L. Combe says:

    I read your articles faithfully and was pleased that you had visited Drummond Hill Cemetery; however, I wonder that you did not visit St.Mark’s in Niagara on the Lake. It remains the oldest cemetery still in use west of the province of Quebec. The first monument that remains is to a Leonard Plank who died in 1782. He was a survivor of the battle of Upper Sandusky and fought with Butler’s Rangers against the American forces. Niagara on the Lake was for a time the capital and an important town. I could provide you with more information if you desire.

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Thanks so much for your comment! Before my trip, I asked several of the cemetery groups on Facebook to recommend Canadian cemeteries, but the response was…underwhelming. The only book I could find about Canadian cemeteries was organized in such a way that it wasn’t very helpful for planning a trip, so I just had to wing it. I drove back through Niagara on the Lake, which looks lovely, but didn’t see the cemetery — so any information you can point me to would be much appreciated. I hope to get back to Canada next summer.

      • Donald Combe says:

        I would be happy to provide material on all the Niagara on the lake cemeteries. Perhaps you might contact me through my email. It is only now that I discovered your answer to my comments. I am the custodian of St. Mark’s cemetery and have co-authored a book on the local cemeteries.

  2. coastalcrone says:

    Thanks for the history lesson! I liked the story of Laura Secord. You have proven again that wherever you travel you can find an interesting cemetery. Canada in the summer sounds wonderful!

  3. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

  4. VioletSky says:

    It’s always interesting to hear the ‘other side’s’ version of events! We in these parts have been endlessly immersed in War of 1812 commemorations (much to the rest of the country’s chagrin!)
    Did you get information about St Mark’s in NOTL? It is one block north of the main street, beyond the park.

What would you like to add?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s