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The forogtten souls at Sixth and Sydney

Appeared in the Senior Citizen, April 2017

On the corner of Sixth and Sydney Streets sits a lonely monument. From street view, someone driving by can’t necessarily tell what it is they’re looking at. From a closer perspective, anyone wandering up to it will notice it is a monument encasing a collection of tombstones. This monument pays tribute to this sites original use: the grounds was once a cemetery that may still be the final resting place to a handful of Cornwall pioneers.

The specific date that the cemetery was first used is unknown, but there are tombstones dated as early as the 1830’s, (the earliest tombstone is dated 1833). From approximately 1833 until 1883, the corner lot served St. John’s Presbyterian Church. Despite being a Presbyterian cemetery, other denominations (with the exception of Roman Catholics and Anglicans) also buried their dead at this location. One tombstone represents people of Jewish faith, as well.  

Even though it had been in use since the 1830’s, the trustees of St. John’s were officially granted the land in 1848. With the inception of Woodlawn Cemetery in 1887, Sixth and Sydney was no longer used, and eventually the cemetery became dilapidated. By 1932, the fallen and broken tombstones became an eyesore. In an attempt to “clean up” the cemetery, salvageable stones were melded together, creating the present-day monument. Many of the deceased buried on site were exhumed and reburied at various cemeteries in Cornwall and surrounding areas. Despite the city’s efforts, some bodies were bound to be left behind. This assumption can be validated due to the fact that not everyone buried on the site had a tombstone. If the grave is unmarked, how would workers know to move the body? In an odd proposal, during the war years 1939 and 1944, Cornwall’s mayor, Dr. Phillips, attempted to have the old cemetery purchased by the city and turned into a park. This of course led to a huge debate between the Church and the City. The idea was shelved. 

Despite being weathered, and a large number of stones damaged, the remaining tombstones tell many stories as sadly, the names of young children who died far too young are etched. Miniah, whose last name is illegible, died at 5 years and 5 months old. Annabella Gillie, died 12 days short of 1 year in 1881, and Thomas Kennedy Jr. died at 9 months and 3 days. These are 3 of the many children that lay at rest at Sixth and Sydney.

A notable Cornwallite rests (or rested) at this location. His tombstone reads, “First Elder of St. John’s. Inducted 1827.” John Chesley died on September 22nd, 1847, at the age of 55. As well as being an elder of the church, he owned a pioneer inn, Chesley’s Inn, constructed in the 1820s. The structure still stands at 40 First Street West, and still operates under the same name.

It saddens me how the city handled its “eye sore” cemetery. Maintenance is imperative in protecting our precious historical sites. Today, this monument desperately needs repairs. Residents as well as city officials need to remember that cemeteries like Sixth and Sydney, or Trinity Cemetery on Second Street, must be maintained to assist in preserving Cornwall’s rich history. These cemeteries contain many of Cornwall’s first settlers. It is important to respect and take care of those who paved the way for the city we live in today.