Saturday, March 25, 2017

From Ireland to Waldemar

Waldemar Cemetery, Amaranth, Dufferin, Ontario
Waldemar is a quiet hamlet in Amaranth Township west of Orangeville, Ontario. In the late 19th century, however, Waldemar was a bustling village. Originally the site of a grist mill on the Grand River, Waldemar gained importance with the 1871 construction of the Teeswater Branch of the Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway. Within a few years Waldemar could boast two churches, a post office, two general stores, hotel, two carpenters, two blacksmiths, two saw mills, a grist mill, a boot and shoe maker, and a waggonmaker. But like many rural communities, the last century has not kind to Waldemar. Everything listed above is gone. Today the rail line is a recreational trail, and the Presbyterian church a private residence.

Surprisingly, Waldemar also does not have a cemetery that reflects its thriving historical past. In fact, all that remains of the cemetery is a cluster of gravestone fragments surrounding a modern cairn.

The size of the cemetery is not known, nor is it known how many burials occurred here, or how many gravestones might lie buried beneath the ground. It is thought that considerable damage was done to the graveyard when the Tenth Concession was realigned, widened and paved many decades ago. At some point a memorial cairn was erected dedicated to the "pioneers and early settlers of Waldemar." The remaining gravestone fragments are piled behind the cairn.

Margaret Jane Dodds (1878-1879)

Margaret Jane Dodds (1878-1879)
Seven of the fragments have names or dates. The most complete gravestone is that of ten month old Margaret Jane, daughter of Matthew and Ellen Dodds. Matthew Dodds married Ellen Dent in Fergus, Ontario in 1876. Matthew was an agricultural labourer of Irish descent who was born in Mono Township east of Orangeville about 1850. He married Ellen Dent in Fergus, Ontario in 1876. Ellen had been born in Toronto Township (now Mississauga) about 1849 to English parents and was the youngest of eight children.

Matthew and Ellen's daughter Margaret Jane was their first child. Neither her birth or death were registered.

The 1891 Census shows Matthew and Ellen had at least three children after Margaret Jane. Matthew was now a farmer in Melanchon Township northwest of Shelburne, Ontario. What happened next is uncertain since the family disappears from census records. It is known that Ellen died in 1925 and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Orangeville.

Susanna Burke née Edgar (1811-1884)

Susanna Burke née Edgar  (1811-1884)
Armed with a last name, date of death, and age at death, it was easy to determined using Ontario Death Records that another fragment belonged to Susanna Burke. Census data shows that Alexander and Susanna Burke lived for many years south of Waldemar in East Garafraxa Township. Alexander, Susanna, and their four children emigrated from Ireland about 1850, possibly a consequence of the Great Famine. Their son Robert was born after their arrival in Canada. Robert's marriage registration records Susanna's maiden name as Edgar.

Alexander and Susanna may have travelled to Canada aboard an overcrowded, poorly maintained, and badly provisioned vessel, known as a coffin ship, sailing from a small harbour in the West of Ireland. It is also possible they travelled to Liverpool first, and secured better passage. In either case their first port of call would have been Grosse Isle, an island in the Saint Lawrence River near Quebec City used to quarantine ships. From there the family would have travelled by steamer to Montreal, by bateau or Durham boat to Prescott, and then by steamer to Toronto. 

Two years after the death of Susanna, Alexander married a widow, 59 year old Ellen Stewart. On his marriage registration, Alexander's parents are listed as Alexander Burke and Martha Lindsay. Alexander died in 1889 and was presumably buried at Waldemar.

A photograph of Alexander Burke and Susanna Edgar is in the possession of their great-great granddaughter.