I’ve already written about Drummond Hill Cemetery, but the photo challenge for the week is Focus, so I knew the sort of photo I wanted to post.
I visited Drummond Hill late in a busy day. We’d gotten up early to explore the tunnels behind Niagara Falls, then took a ride on the Maid of the Mist below the falls, then walked along the rapids farther out along the river. My parents planned to take my daughter back to the hotel to swim in the pool, but as we passed the cemetery on our way, my dad wheeled down a side street and dropped me off at the back gate.
Mourner leaning on a funeral urn
I had the graveyard mostly to myself. I admired the Victorian stones, many of which have been laid flat in the grass. The iconography spanned from weeping willows and mourners at the graveside to Jane Eliza’s sarcophagus (above). The stones hadn’t fared well in the damp, cold Canadian winters, but the man who’d labored over them had been an artist. I wondered if anyone now knows who he was.
It was tricky to photograph the cemetery with the late afternoon sunlight behind the headstones. I took several photos that I think of as “views,” pulling back from individual stones to see the graveyard as context, as scenery. The photo at the top was taken in the shadow of the old tree that may predate the pioneer graves beneath it.
I like that photo because it shows the range of stones in the graveyard, from the red granite column on the extreme left side through the bright white marble to the weathered gray granite with the bolster on top. I like the sense of the age of the cemetery, with its ranks and ranks of monuments. I even like the mist that fills the air and reminds me that the falls are not really very far away.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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