It’s the commitment of a few that remember thousands

Mary, wife of B.W. Ross. Died February 13, 1873. She died trusting in Jesus, aged 33 yrs, 4 months.

Herbert and Mary Edith, infants of B.W. and Mary Ross.

There lies a dramatic story, perhaps of a young woman who died giving birth to twins, who also perished in the process. And what became of their Daddy, Mary’s husband, and maybe older siblings?

Among the stones at Barrie Union Cemetery are tucked the stories and the records of hundreds and hundreds of families who’ve contributed to Barrie’s past.

Pioneer families like the Ross’s. Military families who suffered the ultimate loss, such as Sgt W.J. Lightfoot of the Canadian Forces who died at aged 41 on October 9, 1971. Or L/Col Ken Jefferson who died July 19, 1969 at age 45. Or, Chief Warrant Officer George Smith who died January 10, 1969, aged 52 years. A 19 year old member of the RCAC, David Jenkins, died August 12, 1966.

History lessons could be taken out of the classroom and conducted in cemeteries all over this region. They’ll bring home the reality of war. They’ll enlighten about childhood disease, about the average age of a pioneer woman and the numbers of children born to her.

A walk through many of Barrie’s new subdivisions link quickly to names in our cemeteries. One entire subdivision is named for young men who died in World War One. Another is named for people making economic and political contribution in the early part of this century.

In fact, cemeteries link the living with their ancestors. They help families trace their lineage, verify birth and death dates, and find lost family members.

But none of it would be possible without the untiring commitment of a small army of volunteers who belong to the Simcoe County Branch of the Ontario Geneological Society.

It’s people like Aileen Ayerst who volunteered her own time (and money) and photocopied all the originals of the 1861 census for Simcoe County. This census, the earliest in Simcoe County, lists every single member of every single household. It’s tucked away in the Ontario Archives in Toronto, and Aileen was determined to bring it home.

When she arrived back in Barrie with literally hundreds and hundreds of legal sized papers, volunteers stepped forward to read and verify their interpretations of names and spellings. When finished, the pages were redistributed and rechecked and turned over to Mike Dunk who input everything into his computer. Volunteers helped with the typing, and Mike oversaw the entire computer project. And when he was finished, he printed the pages and again they were checked against the originals.
Last June, the Simcoe County Branch of the OGS published 20 volumes, each volume a township. What a fabulous gift to our past! When the books were produced last summer, they sold like hotcakes, hundreds of them, at $20 each.

And Mike Dunk brought in bundles of CDs with all 20 volumes on one CD. The pages are all photocopied, bound by volunteers, and then sold at meetings. The masters are stored in the Peacock Room at Barrie Public Library.

Doreen Horton’s enthusiasm for this kind of research is absolutely infectious. She’s been quietly walking sections of cemeteries, recording tombstone contents and typing them in to her computer. Her daughter Wendy, her husband Charles are just a few of dozens of volunteers dedicated to recording the contents of every cemetery in Simcoe County. These documents are usually for sale, with masters stored at the Barrie Public Library, and not only are they interesting reading, they’re invaluable research sources.

Without the dedication of volunteers like Mike Dunk, JosephineBoos, Mary Drury, Betty Peterson, Gladys Manning, Mary Garbutt, David Sarjeant, Claudia McArthur, James McArthur, Jack Purvis, Allan Haldenby, Edith Doan, Patricia Gollinger, Ken Reese, Nancy Prime these documents simply wouldn’t exist.

Doreen’s generous in her praise of the teamwork required for a large cemetery like Barrie Union to be completely catalogued. While the work began with Isobel McBride, it’s been thousands of hours of tromping, writing, checking, cross checking, typing, collating, binding and lugging back and forth to meetings to bring each volume to life. There are 11 sections to Barrie Union, 2100 burial plots as well as niche walls so hundreds of names to record. The Society has completed six sections and expects that once the snow is gone, the master index and remaining books should be available by June. Barrie Union Cemetery will also be available on CD. What a wonderful Sesquicentennial Project!

But Doreen’s interest isn’t restricted to only Barrie Union. She tells some interesting history about Barrie. For instance, when St Mary’s Church established its cemetery on Sunnidale Rd., all stones and remains were removed from the old St Mary’s site near the jail and were re-interred at the Sunnidale Rd location.

Similarly, in Barrie Union, any stone dated prior to 1879 is a stone that was moved to the Anne & Cundles location. Where were people buried before that? In the cemetery at Trinity Anglican Church, and in the three cemeteries that ran in the triangle of land between Worsley and Amelia and Berczy and Poyntz streets. There were three cemeteries there, the Weslyan, the Presbyterian, and the English Church. Originally, only a few, affluent families were buried at Barrie Union.

The organization can boast books on cemeteries in Alliston, St. Pauls, St Mary’s, Midland, Penetanguishene, Nottawasaga (22 cemeteries in Nottawasaga Township!), Essa Township (5 cemeteries there!). The OGS locally has catalogued all the pioneer cemeteries, the tiny original cemeteries that have been carefully restored usually by roadsides.

All of this tromping through cemeteries makes Doreen (and her daughter Wendy) somewhat of a cemetery expert. “They’re beautiful places, cemeteries… peaceful, and you have to enjoy it to do so many volunteer hours.

“If we forget our past, we’re lost,” she says.

And where will Doreen have her final resting place? “I’ll be in St James Cemetery in Stroud. My husband’s mom and dad are on one side and we’ll be on the other side of a double-faced tombstone. It’s a nice sunny spot looking over where we lived in Stroud before we moved to Barrie. We’ve had our stones for 15 years.

“But we have ancestors at Barrie Union.”

What a tribute to the past. Thanks, Doreen for sharing it all with us.