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Allison Gibson

In 2011, while researching my family history, I discovered that my maternal fourth great-grandparents, William Brandiga Smith and Elizabeth Squires, had lived just southwest of Merrickville, Ontario, not far from where I myself had grown up—in Winchester, Ontario. I learned that their original stone farmhouse was still there, as was an old family burial ground, the Cross (Smith) Cemetery. Locating the cemetery was a challenge, as it rests on a narrow strip of land between Atkinson’s Creek and a neighbouring farm field approximately 500 feet from the road at 326 Putnam Road. With a lot of help from the current farmhouse owners, Jan and Brian Fitzpatrick, I was able to locate the pioneer cemetery. It was completely overgrown, entangled, and all but lost. A few broken headstone fragments strewn about the base of a stump at the edge of the field were the only evidence of the cemetery’s existence.

This was the beginning of an ongoing effort to study, restore, and commit to preserving this long-neglected sacred ground.

The Cross (Smith) Cemetery, known originally as the Smith Family Burying Ground, was established by the family of William Brandiga Smith (b. 1793) some time after he purchased the 100 acres of farmland in 1826. Although William’s birthplace is unclear, it appears that his parents, Humphrey Smith and Lurana Vaughan, were both born in the United States. Humphrey, Lurana, and their family immigrated to Canada and made their first census appearance in 1804 in the neighbouring township of Montague in Lanark County. In 1817, William married Elizabeth Squires (b. 1797 in New York State), and they raised a large family of 12 children in the same stone farmhouse that still stands today. I am descended from their eldest daughter, Rebecca.

The most informative account of the Cross (Smith) Cemetery was created in 1963 by local historian Alice Hughes. Alice documented her visit with the Cross family, who had owned the land since 1929, creating a transcription and map of the cemetery. The Cross family had been told that there were about 100 people buried there and that, although there were many fieldstone markers, there had only ever been four inscribed gravestones. The four inscribed gravestones belonged to: William B. Smith; his wife, Elizabeth Squires; his brother, George T. Smith; and George’s wife, Mercy Vaughan. Besides members of the Smith family, apparently there were friends and neighbours buried there as well. The Cross family stated that there were likely many children buried in the cemetery, especially after an outbreak of Scarlet Fever, which was the presumed cause of death for three of the Smith children who died over the course of three days in May 1838. In 1879, William’s youngest son, Ambrose, granted Philo Bissell “sixty–six acres of land more or less saving and excepting a piece of land about forty feet by seventy feet now enclosed for a Burial ground” on the condition that his mother could be buried there upon her death. This stipulation was fulfilled when Elizabeth died in 1880; she was reportedly the last person buried in the Cross (Smith) Cemetery.

After studying the site and learning more about its history, I approached Marjorie Stuart, a member of the OHS Cemetery Preservation Committee. Marjorie confirmed that the Cross (Smith) Cemetery was registered and protected under the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act. I then contacted the Cemeteries Regulation Unit (now the Bereavement Authority of Ontario) in August 2012 regarding the grievous condition of the cemetery, and was directed to speak with the Village of Merrickville-Wolford, as they were registered as its licensed operator. The municipal staff stated that they had no knowledge of the cemetery and therefore had no history of tending to the site. With the future care of the cemetery seeming uncertain, an inspector for the Cemeteries Regulation Unit visited the cemetery in June 2013 to assess its condition. The inspector recommended to the municipality that they reclaim and begin maintaining the derelict burial ground. In April 2014, the municipality allocated $1,500 to clean up and fence in the Cross (Smith) Cemetery. The initial clean up of the site took place in October that year. In the fall of 2015, the site was fenced with metal posts and a double row of chain, and a sign reading “Cross-Smith Cemetery” was installed at the field entrance on Putnam Road. During the various stages of the clean-up process, more gravestone fragments and many fieldstone markers were revealed. In May 2016, I hired Jim James of GPRS Enterprises Inc. to perform a ground-penetrating radar study of the cemetery. The long years of neglect made the area difficult to scan, but Mr. James was able to locate 29 individual burials at the west end with a high degree of confidence. Although there are many fieldstone markers at the east end, it was impossible to individuate any burials there, and Mr. James explained that this was likely the site of a “Potter’s Field” or mass grave, which were common before the 20th century due to epidemics resulting in numerous fatalities over a short period of time.

Although I live north of Kingston, Ontario, I regularly monitor, help maintain, and work to improve the Cross (Smith) Cemetery. I continue to advocate on behalf of the cemetery and the memory of the pioneers who were laid to rest there. Though it has taken a great deal of work and dedication, a small pioneer cemetery has received some much-needed maintenance and recognition after decades of neglect. I encourage people to visit the site, and I welcome any queries or information that others may have regarding the history of the Smith family or the Cross (Smith) Cemetery. I can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


34 Parkview Avenue
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