|Gravestones obscured by fallen tree|
Homer Cemetery is an inactive cemetery located in the shadow of the Garden City Skyway across the Welland Canal from St. Catharines. The cemetery is sometimes referred to as the Ten Mile Creek Burying Ground, although the actual creek was obliterated by the construction of the fourth Welland Canal in 1926.
Despite its historical significance, Homer is a badly neglected cemetery. Most of the gravestones lie horizontally on the ground. Grass and earth have encroached on the stones to the point that many have almost disappeared. In the process of photographing the gravestones this past summer, I often had to carefully remove the grass and soil. Due to a lack of rain this summer, this was relatively easy, but it was still dusty and time-consuming work.
Homer Cemetery is located on land that was granted to George Read’s brother, William Read (1759-1831). In his 1795 petition requesting land on behalf on his wife and five children, William writes that he, “with the assistance of his neighbours has erected a church on his premises in which Divine Service had been performed by the Rev’d Mr. Addison. The log church stood until 1832 when it was destroyed by fire. A church of brick was built to replace it, but this was torn down in 1939 when the four-lane Queen Elizabeth Way was built.
By the 1930s the cemetery had become so overgrown that a fire was set to clear out the undergrowth. This had the unfortunate effect of cracking or descaling a number of the older stones. A stone cairn and commemorative plaque was also installed about this time.
The cemetery has been transcribed on a number of occasions, beginning with a partial transcription by Janet Carnochan in 1898. In 1928, W.G. Reive recorded most of the gravestones, and also noted that the cemetery was overgrown and poorly maintained. In 1984 and 1985, the Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society undertook a systematic transcription. A quarter century later this transcription is invaluable for locating individual stones and discerning faded inscriptions.
It is unfortunate that Homer Cemetery is not better maintained. The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake lists Homer Cemetery on its website as one of ten inactive cemeteries “that are cared for by our staff.” The care of cemeteries, however, must go beyond just cutting the grass. It must include preventing gravestones from disappearing altogether.