St. Mark’s Anglican Church “has the oldest continuously used cemetery in the province, and is the final resting place of many famous and infamous from our community,” says archivist Donald Combe.
Cemeteries have always had an attraction for people who find them peaceful and calming places to walk, and St. Mark’s is particularly attractive to those who like to imagine the lives of those buried there, and the history they can glean from the inscriptions on the stones, he says.
In recent years, he has been offering tours to a limited number of interested people — 10 per tour — as fundraisers for cemetery preservation.
“The maintenance cost of the cemetery is huge,” says Combe, “and we try very hard to keep it looking nice. We also have a group of volunteers who do endless work to help maintain it.”
The cemetery, he says, is used as a public park, much the same as Queen’s Royal Park, but the church maintains it, not the Town.
“It’s very peaceful, and also romantic. People walk through looking at stones of people who lived 100 years or more ago, romanticizing what happened to someone who died at age 21 and someone else who lived to be 98. They put the pieces together using their imagination — the first wife, the second wife, the mother who died in childbirth. You can discover a lot about people by doing a little thinking, and sometimes it leads to people going on further to do some research.”
The cemetery is also an arboretum, he says, with some very mature trees of many species. About 15 years ago, a bad storm felled several trees, and since then a replanting program has added about 100 mature ones to replace them. “If we hadn’t done that, it would be a very different landscape. The trees are definitely a draw, and add to the charm and intrigue of the cemetery.”
The topography is also the original, rolling lay of the land, and adds to the interest, he says.
Members of the public are encouraged to use the cemetery as a park, he adds, as a place to walk, and also a place of contemplation.
“It can be a five-minute experience, but something happens to change you when you walk through it.”
There has been a positive response to past tours, “and I have always felt that they were valuable to the group and to the community in general,” says the church sexton and historian.
“I go to the cemetery and pick out 40 monuments I think have some interest, either because of their history or the local gossip they provide, and talk about them. It’s very informal. If people in the group ask questions we can have a conversation to deal with them, and then at the end of the tour we go into Addison Hall and continue with further conversation. I also talk a little about the Addison Library, and the history of the church and its people.”
Some of the graves he chooses belong to “important people” in the history of the town, others ordinary people who are forgotten, but who have interesting stories, he says.
“Usually we sell out, but if we have one person sign up, we still do the tour.”
The first will be held May 3, with one a month until October. They are two hours long and begin at 5 p.m., with refreshments and conversation afterward in Addison Hall.
The remaining tours will be held June 14, July 1, Aug. 9, Sept. 13, and Oct. 25.
Tickets are $15 and due to the limited number for each tour must be purchased in advance from the church office. Call 905-468-3123.
To help the trees in the cemetery, the church is holding a “Classy Trash” sale May 25, beginning at 9 a.m.
Anyone with “unwanted, unused and unneeded” treasures and tchotchkes to donate, says Combe, can call 905-468-5801.