Prior to the 19th Century in Ontario, settlers were buried on their family property or perhaps beside their local church. There are several small pioneer cemeteries found within Oshawa.
The Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery, located on Bonnie Brae Point, is the final resting place for some of Oshawa’s earliest settlers. This cemetery was originally located on the east side of the Oshawa Harbour. In 1975, harbour expansion plans threatened the cemetery, and the decision was made to move it. This decision was controversial and resulted in a court battle between the cemetery board and the Harbour Commission. The two parties reached a compromise that saw the Harbour Commission paying the cost to move the cemetery to a new location on Bonnie Brae Point.
The Bond Street Pioneer Memorial Garden Cemetery, located on Bond Street between Queen Street and Gladstone Avenue, was once the site of the Wesleyan Methodist Church as well as a cemetery for members of the church. At one time, the family plots were denoted with wrought iron fences, decorative posts or stone borders. By the 1940s, the cemetery was in poor condition, and the decision was made to transform it into a memorial garden. The headstones were lifted and incorporated into a large cairn in the shape of a cross, which was dedicated in 1949.
Located on Harmony Road, just south of King Street, is the Farewell Cemetery. This was once the private burial ground for members of the Farewell family and friends. Burials date to the early 1830s, and by 1866, A.M. Farewell was advertising in the Oshawa Vindicator that there were a few plots available for purchase in the Harmony Burying Ground.
The largest pioneer cemetery in Oshawa is Union Cemetery. As early as 1837, the land located on the corner of King Street and Thornton Road was home to a Presbyterian church, manse, school and burial ground. The earliest recorded burial was Alexander Armstrong, a local magistrate and farmer, buried in 1837. The congregation was made up of members from both Oshawa and Whitby, and the cemetery was used by both communities.
In 1875, the cemetery came under the ownership of a holding company. The communities of Whitby and Oshawa were continuing to grow, and the Oshawa Union Cemetery Company saw the need to expand the burial grounds. It was decided that it would be best to leave the cemetery where it was and the cemetery grounds were expanded by purchasing adjacent properties. The name Oshawa Union Cemetery was chosen to reflect the ideal that the cemetery continue to be made available to Oshawa and Whitby residents.
In 1875, after an additional 12 acres were purchased, a cemetery plan was developed by landscape architect H.A. Englehard. The plan took in the original north and south Presbyterian sections, while creating 12 new sections. In 1922, the cemetery became the property of the Town of Oshawa through the generosity of George W. McLaughlin, who purchased the shares held by the Ontario Loan & Savings Co., and William H. Thomas. He then presented the property as a gift to Oshawa. He also secured the title deeds to the adjacent Presbyterian Cemetery. The land comprised about 30 acres. In addition,McLaughlin donated $500 which was to be used to administer the bodies of deceased First World War soldiers to the veterans’ plots.
The large mausoleum, which can be seen from Highway 2, was constructed by Canada Mausoleums Ltd., and granted to the City of Oshawa on Jan. 26, 1926. The cemetery office located at the front gates was built in 1934, and was originally used as a funeral chapel.
The Oshawa Museum shares the history of these cemeteries and the people buried within through a variety of methods. On Sept 7 and 8, Scenes from the Cemetery returns for its fourth year. Scenes from the Cemetery is a dramatic tour through Union Cemetery where actors will bring stories to life, portraying people from Oshawa’s past and celebrating these exceptional individuals. Timed tickets are on sale now; for more information about this event, please visit scenesfromthecemetery.wordpress.com.
Lisa Terech is the community engagement coordinator with the Oshawa Museum.