Delving into Tillsonburg's pioneer history

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Tombstone Tales is not a scary Halloween event; in fact it isn’t spooky at all. It is a PowerPoint presentation about four of the families that have someone buried in our Pioneer Cemetery, and you are invited to come, learn all about them, on Wednesday July 17th at 7 p.m. at St. John’s Anglican Church (corner of Bidwell and Ridout W.) right here in Tillsonburg.

We have 110 markers or pieces of markers left in our Pioneer Cemetery and for some inane reason I thought it would be interesting to learn something about the people in the graves, since we are now working on restoring the cemetery. After all, these were the people who literally carved our town out of the wilderness.

Unfortunately, but typically, many of the graves are those of children, and because many had not lived long enough to establish their own history, I decided to research the family itself.

The night of this presentation of July 17th will be the anniversary of the exact date, 175 years ago, of Tamsen Tillson’s death in 1838. The once, one-acre plot that her father and three other men purchased to start the cemetery to bury her, has gotten smaller as Simcoe St. got wider. It closed in the early 1870s because it was full.

After checking around, I discovered that we are missing around 300 markers! The conservative average, of the numbers of graves a one-acre cemetery can hold, is around 400. Over the years we seem to have lost a few.

Of course some families could not afford a marble or sandstone marker and may have used just a wooden one. Others may have not been able to use any marker. Unfortunately I believe that majority have just broken or been vandalized and lost over the centuries.

Eighteen of the markers still in existence were buried when we started work on the graveyard and last year we unearthed them. One of the families I talk about in my Tombstone Tales presentation, the Bird Family had a child’s marker in that section. It was all we had to start with in researching this family and unfortunately the little guy’s name was exactly where the stone broke when it was buried. The other information on the stone allowed me to find out an amazing amount of information. Malachi the father served in the US Civil War in the 6th Coloured Regiment, and Ellen the mother was a former slave. It is absolutely amazing how much can be found on the Internet about people who died 160 years ago.

While I tell about the Wray family, I also tell how I researched the information, to help all the budding genealogists out there. Then there is the man killed in a riot in Tillsonburg, and the fascinating globe-trotting Rutherford family story. We start in Ireland, go to England, then Barbados, USA, Niagara On The Lake, Toronto, Africa and Tillsonburg. Whew, all before 1869!

The special treats for this presentation is cheesecake with an assortment of toppings, including an option for those one on a gluten-free menu. Oh, I hope there is chocolate cheesecake!

The second presentation I will be doing at St. John’s is on Wednesday July 24th, again at 7 p.m. on Tillsonburg’s Architectural Treasures. We start off the tour with the first treasure in our architectural treasure chest, with a photo of George Tillson’s original, but renovated cabin, then come right down Broadway showing the oldest photos we have of the buildings. You get to see the many architectural treasures we no longer have like our unique Town Hall, but also one of our greatest treasure still standing, The Tillson Block which goes from Baldwin to Brock St. W. Most of the block was built in the early 1870s while the ‘Heath’s’ section was built in the early 1880s.

Those new to town will see the buildings the old timers lament and the beautiful homes and buildings you didn’t know existed today. Did you know we have a log home in town? A house made of real stones? French Provincial cottage style? Beautiful Victorian homes - besides Annandale House?

Big and expensive does not necessarily mean you have an architectural treasure. We have some very small homes which have unusual roof lines, or pillars which make them eye catching. It is amazing how a bit of gingerbread or a contrasting paint colour can make a how stand out from the rest on the block. So you will get to see all over Tillsonburg where people have taken the time and given the love to make their homes beautiful.

The treat that evening are pies, again including gluten free options! Oh, I hope there is a chocolate pie!

These presentations for St. John’s have become an annual event now, and everyone is welcome to come and enjoy not only the presentations, but also some goodies and drinks. They are being done as a fundraiser for St. John’s Outreach Committee, which reaches out into our community to help others.

Cost is $10 at the door or if you pay for both the first night it only costs $18 for two!




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