Beauty in Ruins - St. Peter's Cemetery

With Spring upon us - not that you can tell from the snow flurries and the cold - I'm getting back out, hiking and exploring my way around the Ruins that surround us.

Don't go looking for St. Peter's Cemetery on Google Maps - you won't find it. Similarly, don't go looking for signs pointing the way, gates guarding the entrance, or even a simple path between tombstones - they're all gone. In fact, don't go looking for the cemetery at all, because it's not there anymore - or, at least, not that you could tell

You'll have to take my word for it, but that little cove in the Welland Canal pondage, between the two tall trees and the brush on the other side? Yeah, that's the cemetery - deep under water, and heavily silted over by mud, sand, and other debris.


In 1923, when construction of the current (fourth) Welland Canal was taking place, it was decided to flood much of the area surrounding the old (third) Welland Canal to create a pondage, in which water could be stored for lowering and raising the water level throughout the locks. The one stumbling block was the existence of St. Peter's Cemetery. While its old wooden church was long-since gone, and the cemetery itself was largely forgotten, there were 842 bodies buried there.


A half-hearted attempt was made to contact family members, requiring them to relocate their family graves to the new Lakeview Cemetery - at their own expense, of course - but many of the graves were so old as not to have any remaining family in the area. Between lack of time, lack of money, and lack of family, there were a whopping 589 graves simply left where they were as the canal waters came flooding in. If you're not immediately thinking of the pool scene in the original Poltergeist, then you're reading the wrong blog. :)
"You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn't you? You son of a bitch, you left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!"

As you might imagine, 95 years of being underwater, at the mercy of constant flooding throughout the day, most of the tombstones have been broken, washed away, or buried in the muddy silt, along with the bodies beneath. A number of stones have been recovered over the years, as they've washed up along the shore, and there have even been a few bodies exposed by the elements that have been recovered and given a proper burial at Lakeview.


I have stumbled across two identifiable tombstones over the years, hiking the area in the late winter when the pondage is drained for maintenance, and early spring as the first flooding displaces anything loosened by the wind and ice of winter, but most of what you'll find today is the stone bases upon which proper tombstones once stood. Every once in a while, though, you come across something new, something interesting, like this board I found washed up.


It's big, heavy, and thick, old enough to have become hardened by time rather than rotted by the elements. The weight, and the near-petrified aspect alone, were enough to capture my interest, but it was the two massive hand-wrought spikes driven through it that really caught my attention.


The head is clearly hand-forged, irregularly shaped with a flattened tip where it had been hammered. As to what the board is, or what it's from, I have no idea. My first (admittedly morbid) thought upon seeing it was coffin lid, and I'd love to think it's part of the old church, but it's more likely from the era of the old (third) canal, perhaps part of the old gates, docks, or even a remnant of its construction.


While you won't find St. Peter's Cemetery on any current map, Lakeview Cemetery is very easy to get to, and if you drive into the old section, and head in the direction of the canal pondage, you can find the small field where the few relocated graves and recovered tombstones lie today. Most are so worn as to be illegible, but you can find dates of passing as old as 1820.

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