Cataraqui Cemetery, a Garden Cemetery Since 1850
Enlarged in 1850 due to the deaths of arriving immigrants, Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston, Ontario became the resting place of both prestigious and ordinary Canadians.
“At last! We’ve made it,” the immigrants must have cried with relief in the late 1840s. The New World and new lives beckoned. Miserably ill from typhoid on their voyages, they disembarked their ships, stepping on the shore of Lake Ontario at Kingston. But many would go no further. On the rocky water’s edge, they lay down and died. Many were buried at Cataraqui.
Over a two-year span, about 1500 of these immigrants to Canada died in Kingston. Since they were from afar, they could not be buried in the small denominational cemeteries reserved for church members only. City officials deemed that a larger burial ground must be located, situated away the city limits to prevent spread of dread disease. The village graveyard at Cataraqui was chosen. It was away from the main population, had acres and acres of land and was non-denominational. Anyone, from any church, rich or poor, could be buried there.
Cemetery history and ownership
On August 10 1850, the Charter of the Cataraqui Cemetery Company was issued by the Province of Canada’s Legislative Assembly. (It would be 17 more years until the Dominion of Canada was formed under Confederation.)
Cataraqui Cemetery was designed with a luxuriant garden theme, a place of serenity and loveliness to rest in final peace. Flower gardens lush with colour, winding pathways, clusters of tall, waving trees and bushes brought bountiful nature to the setting. Detailed, artist-crafted sculptures – some created as early as the mid-1800s – and extraordinary family monuments gave the city’s major cemetery a park-like, soothing atmosphere.
Queen’s University purchased three lots in 1877 to “allow the university to pay tribute to some of its most illustrious people,” including Principals and their families, as noted on the Queen’s University website. The cemetery became the final home to many prominent citizens of Kingston and Canada, including:
- 1862 – John Counter, the City of Kingston’s first Mayor
- 1864 – Reverend William Leitch, the fifth Queen’s Principal and a Presbyterian Minister
- 1891 – Sir John A Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, buried beside his mother who died 29 years earlier
- 1892 – Sir Alexander Campbell, one of the Fathers of Confederation and former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Irish immigrants escaping The Great Hunger in Ireland died of cholera between 1832 and 1834 on arriving in Kingston were first buried in Kingston’s Upper Cemetery (near downtown). They were later exhumed and re-interred at St. Mary’s Cemetery and Cataraqui Cemetery in the late 1800s
Generations of Canadian families were, and continued to be, buried at the Cataraqui Cemetery. The Cemetery is no longer beyond the city limits; it is surrounded by urban development in both residential and business sectors. As vehicles pass by, Cataraqui Cemetery sits as an island of beauty and tranquility. Its place in the urban area seems natural though: Cataraqui is a native word, with one of its meanings being “place of retreat.”
How to get there:
Located in Kingston, Ontario, Cataraqui Cemetery is at 927 Purdy’s Mill Road, K7M 3N1. The public is invited to tour the picturesque grounds daily from 8 am until dusk and have a glimpse of the rich and diverse past of the local area.
Learn more details about the history of the Cemetery through Queen’s University
See more photos of the beautiful Cataraqui Cemetery
Thanks to the Cataraqui Cemetery for permission to use their photos to accompany this article.
This article was first published on Suite101.com in 2007. Copyright Susanna McLeod