Friday, November 2, 2012

Homer Cemetery: Historical and Neglected

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.

From a historical standpoint, Homer is one of the most interesting cemeteries in the Niagara Peninsula. It is an old graveyard, and is the burial place of several of the first settlers west of the Niagara River. In the graveyard can be found several members of Butler's Rangers — Loyalists who fought for Great Britain against the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Also buried at Homer are numerous veterans of the War of 1812.

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.

Two large trees have fallen at the back of the cemetery, obscuring a number of the gravestones, including that Mary Read (1764-1839), wife of George Read (1763-1834), a private in Butler’s Rangers. The trees apparently fell many years ago. Why no one has brought in a chainsaw and removed them is a mystery.

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.

George Grass
In her 1898 transcription, Carnochan notes the gravestone of George Grass (1789-1813) who was killed on May 1813 during the Battle of Fort George. Grass is one of few “Canadian” soldiers who died during the War of 1812 whose graves are marked. Also mentioned are the gravestones of Solomon Secord (1756-1799), a Lieutenant in Butler’s Rangers; Jacob Ball (1777-1820) and his wife Elizabeth (1790-1892); Margaret Hare (1764-1851), whose first husband was Solomon Secord, and whose second was Peter Hare, who also was a Lieutenant in Butler’s Rangers. Finally Carnochan records the epitaph for the double stone to Francis Goring Parnall and Elizabeth Secord.

William Havens
Conspicuously absent from Carnochan’s account is the oldest gravestone in the cemetery, that of William Havens (1738-1800). The stone is incorporated into a much larger monument that documents the history of the Havens family, beginning with their emigration from Wales to Rhode Island in 1638. Unfortunately, the original stone for William’s wife, Lydia Masters (1742-1817) which was also incorporated into the monument, no longer exists.

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.


  1. Where did the name Homer come from?

  2. My apologies for the removed comments; they required simple edits. Homer was previously known as "The Upper Ten". (Ten Mile Creek) The name was changed by the Post Office in 1859. The completion of the fourth Welland Canal obliterated the upper creek, which previously wound its way through the ravine at the rear of the cemetery and flowed north through the village of McNab to Lake Ontario. Remnants of the lower part of the creek are but a trickle; visible between Carlton Avenue East and the lake at McNab.

  3. The origional log constructed "Ten" Anglican church sat directly across Queenston St from the cemetery, c. 1803. Years later a fire destroyed it and a brick Church was built in its place. It was torn down when the Queen Elizabeth Highway construction project occurred in the 1930's. Homer was part of Grantham Township prior to 1960, and is now Niagara-on-the-Lake domain.

  4. I was there today Oct 19/2016. It's a real crime the cemetery has been so terribly cared for. On the other hand a miracle it is still there.

    1. St Catharines is home to a little-known and well kept cemetery secret that makes this one look good by comparison. I have family members in both of them. I won't divulge the details in this forum. I receive follow-up comments from this site, so if anyone is interested just leave a comment and we can set up an email link.

  5. Please contact me via email. The address can be found by clicking "About Me" at the upper left corner of this webpage. Your cemetery may not be as secret as you might think.

  6. Please send information about the cemetery secret.

  7. George Grass was injured in the Battle of Fort George, and according to family history moved from the battlefield to a nearby church where the injured were being treated where he died.

    George was the son of Michael Grass formerly of the Butler's Rangers during the American War. Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) was also a war chief with Butler's Rangers. Michael later served with the Lincoln's Regiment and died while on campaign on December 17, 1812. His widow Mary and oldest son David later made a land claim based on his service to King George III and moved to Nissouri near London, ON. At that time they also purchased land from Laura and James Secord.

    George was the grandson of Sebastian (1734-1801) and Mary Grass who married on on January 3, 1760 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Scoharie NY - which makes him a third generation settler.

    1. Michael Grass was my fourth great-grandfather. Thank you for the photo of our uncle's grave.