Ghouls in the night: the history of St. Paul’s cemetery

By John Lutman

Given that October is the month of Halloween, I thought it appropriate to submit an article to the Huron Church News concerning ghoulish matters.

Using records held by the Diocese of Huron Archives, I will tell the story of the four cemeteries associated with St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Ontario, about 1860. The cemetery ceased to exist in 1879 when the bodies and their headstones were transported to Woodland Park. Photo: McCord Museum N-0000.193.273.1

Of the four, the earliest cemetery nestled next to the frame of the unfinished St. Paul’s Church (as it was named before the formation of the Diocese of Huron in 1857), then located at the northwest corner of Dundas St. and Ridout St. N. (today, the location of Museum London); the second, on the cathedral grounds itself at the northeast corner of Richmond St. and Queens Ave; the third, St. Paul’s Cemetery in London East situated at the southeast corner of Dundas and Rectory streets, extending eastward a short distance beyond Ontario St. Woodland Cemetery on Springbank Dr.
For the first three locations, the buried bodies were disinterred (or most of them) and removed to the successor cemetery.

The earliest burials according to the burial register for St. Paul’s Church, held by the Archives, occurred during the incumbency of Rev. Edward J. Boswell, 1829-1832, the first priest to minister to the Anglican community in London. Although burials took place in the neighbouring churchyard, church services were conducted in the temporary court house across the street, which, with the construction of the permanent Court House in 1827-1829, was used primarily as a school house. St. Paul’s Church, the frame of which was erected by the congregation in 1830, remained unfinished for lack of funds.

Of the 26 bodies buried in the cemetery as recorded between 1827 and 1834, 15 died in the cholera epidemic of 1832. Noted burials include:
Maria Fullarton, wife of George Jervis Goodhue, d. 20 Oct. 1828 (Goodhue was a wealthy early London merchant);
Ann, wife of Peter McGregor, d. July 15, 1832, of cholera (McGregor was London’s first settler).

In the winter of 1832-33 at the command of the new rector, Benjamin Cronyn, later first bishop of the Diocese of Huron, the frame of St. Paul’s Church was mounted on sleds and pulled by oxen to a newly purchased property at the corner of Richmond St. at Queens Ave. The funds to complete the building came from the sale of the Dundas and Ridout St. N. lots. The finished St. Paul’s Church, which faced Queens Ave., opened officially on September 14, 1834.

Over time, the bodies at the old St. Paul’s site were dug up, one by one, and transported the three blocks to the new St. Paul’s churchyard for reburial. The first register for St. Paul’s Church (held by the Archives) records two of the burials as follows:
Thomas Lynn aged 72 died Jan. 10, 1831, re-interred Jan. 17, 1839;
Sophia Matthews aged 4 years died Jan. 27, 1831, re-interred Jan. 17, 1839 (note plaque on north wall of the north transept).

Stone markers were erected where the reinterred and new burials lay.

An uneasy peace, however, awaited the bodies in their new entombment. St. Paul’s Church existed a shorter life than many of the congregants buried in the cemetery for on February 21, 1844, Ash Wednesday, the building burned to the ground.

Immediately thereafter, the church established a Building Committee, which selected the prominent Toronto architect, William Thomas, to prepare plans (the Archives holds the minutes of the committee). The new St. Paul’s Church took shape over the next two years reoriented to face east and west and now built of brick. It opened officially on February 25, 1846. The bodies in the churchyard, however, rested in an uneasy peace before being disturbed again.

Even while the church was under construction, the Vestry at its July 2, 1845 meeting decided that, owing to the great increase of the population and the crowded state of the burial ground, no further burials were to be authorized after September 1, 1846 except for members of the Church of England (the cemetery was previously nondenominational); also, no burial should be less than six feet in depth (one should hope so!). A committee was formed to look into “the purchase of a site for a Cemetery convenient to the Town of London”.

As A.H. Crowfoot relates, Rev. Benjamin Cronyn in 1846 “had the foresight to purchase from [Ebenezer] Stimson…fifteen acres lying about a mile east of the town” (part of Lot 11, Concession C, in the gore of London Township), which he thought would be an excellent place for a cemetery.

His congregants thought otherwise. They protested that it was “too far in the wilderness”. They preferred the eternal comforts of St. Paul’s surroundings.

Plan of St. Paul’s cemetery. Courtesy of Western Archives.

As a reflection of their determination, a committee was appointed for the purpose of laying out and planting the churchyard. Their concern reflected London’s early development for indeed the proposed cemetery was in the wilderness. In today’s terms, the cemetery extended eastward along the south side of Dundas St. to just beyond Ontario St. and then southward towards the CN tracks. We recognize the eastern extreme as the site in part of the Western Fair Grounds.

The town of London sped the move along when in 1849 it forbade burials around the church.

St. Paul’s, presumably spurred by the town’s resolution, commissioned Capt. J.H. Caddy to produce a map of the cemetery grounds laid out in blocks of sixteen feet square, lying in ranges from east to west with paths six feet wide between the ranges (see illustration). The Vestry resolved in November 1850 to name the cemetery for St. Paul and to erect a fence. Burials commenced in April 1852.

Once again bodies were disinterred, some for the second time, and made the mournful journey along Dundas St. to the new location. At least 14 of the bodies remained in the churchyard. Their headstones, once erect, now lay flat on the ground in the northwest corner of the cathedral property. Their partners in death, however, rested in an uneasy peace before being disturbed, yet again.

History repeated itself when this time the London East council (London, east of Adelaide St., was a separate, incorporated municipality between 1874 and 1884) in 1879 informed St. Paul’s that a bylaw was soon to be passed prohibiting the practice of burying the dead within town limits. Thus, over the next several years, the bodies and their headstones were transported in ghoulish night time processions, several for a third time! For a short period, hansom cabs, as taxis were called then, were utilized to move the coffins until the practice ended after a public uproar! This time, the journey was much longer.

A special Vestry committee was established immediately to search for a new site. In August 1879, a location on Springbank Drive in Westminster Township was secured for a cost of $10,000. The new cemetery encompassed 56 acres, later expanded to include almost 100 acres. It was named “Woodland”, as part of the property, previously owned by William Blinn, had been known as Woodland Park.

(In 1955, bodies from the abandoned St. James Street Cemetery in London on Adelaide St. at St. James St. were disinterred, placed in burial cases and, in another soulful journey, reburied at Woodland.)

The processions have ended. The bones of St. Paul’s have now found eternal rest.

John Lutman is archivist for the Diocese of Huron.