Burkholder Cemetery : Pioneers of the Mountain

Burkholder Cemetery Address – – Mohawk Avenue (between Upper Wentworth and Upper Sherman), Hamilton Mountain, Ontario – MAP

Article Written by Chris Mills, Researcher

With the exception of the church and the development of the surrounding land, time has preserved the Burkholder Cemetery very well, since its’ establishment in 1839. The following few paragraphs give a brief history, as well as an account of my first visit to the Hamilton cemetery.

 

In October 1794, Jacob Burkholder, and his wife, Sophia de Roche arrived on Hamilton Mountain, and were one of the first families to settle in the area. The cemetery, located on Mohawk Rd in Hamilton, was established on a portion of land owned by descendants of the original settlers. It is believed that as early as the year 1800 the people of the neighbourhood brought their dead to this location for burial.

Burkholder Church - Chris Mills
Burkholder Cemetery — Current

In 1839, the section of land was officially set aside, to be used as a common school site and a public burying ground. A log school was erected just inside the main gate of the cemetery, and was used for both religious and educational purposes. In 1850, a church was built on the same site, known as, “the Little White Church”. It stood for over one hundred years, until the demand for a new larger church forced it to be demolished in 1955. In 1958, the current Burkholder United Church was erected.

During the early years of the old church, the people strongly believed in superstitions, signs, and omens. It was believed that if the cemetery claimed one victim, it would not be satisfied until it had three. Before the death of a very prominent person occurred, a strange light was said to run along the roof of the church. There is no proof or explanation as to what the light was. The only logical theory is that it was the light orb of a faithful church member’s spirit who passed. Another belief was that angels hovered over a person’s deathbed, but were only visible to the eye of faith.

Without any prior knowledge of the Hamilton historical cemetery’s past, I paid my first ever visit inside Burkholder Cemetery’s gates. It was mid afternoon, and the sun was shining brightly as I arrived on location. To be completely honest, I’d never experienced such an eerie feeling entering a cemetery before.

We don’t normally believe in the idea of a haunted cemetery, but the Burkholder Cemetery was different.

The moment I stepped inside the main gate, the sky became overcast and a strong wind had developed. My legs began to shake nervously as I walked past the graves. I attempted to read as many of the monuments as I could.

 

Little White Church, Burkholder
Little White Church used to stand here

Many of them have the year of death dating back to the early or mid 1800’s. Several of the stones are very old, and can’t be read anymore. Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to see any strange light on the roof of the old church, since it was torn down almost fifty years ago. I was also unable to discover any evidence of a grave robbing which apparently occurred in the 1800’s. However, the story has become a personal interest of mine, which I’m striving to retrieve more information about.

Burkholder grave family - Chris Mills
Burkholder family gravestone

Well, regardless of whether the cemetery or the former church, have ever truly been inhabited by ghosts or other paranormal, it’s definitely a significant historical site on Hamilton Mountain.

End of Chris Mills article ~ All images in this article were photographed by Chris Mills (excluding the Little White Church)

The Lights of Burkholder

The cemetery was considered haunted in history. A spectral light was legend at Burkholder to the early pioneers of Hamilton Mountain. They say that a light will shine in the dead of night as the townsfolk sleep. This light signified a departed soul, timed perfectly with somebody’s death.

Historical marker, Burkholder
Historical marker

The light would start over the Burkholder church and float into the graveyard. On some occasions, the Burkholder Lights were seen hovering above the house of the departed.

Grave Robbing

There was one instance of grave robbing at the Burkholder Cemetery.

This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, especially in a medical town like Barton Township (now Hamilton). Corpses for medical study were hard to come by in those days. You could wait and hope convicted criminals would be put to death (Michael Vincent’s body was donated for this in the early 1800’s), or figure out your own way.

This is what a local doctor decided to do on Hamilton Mountain. In the dead of night the doctor dug up a freshly interred body to use for medical study.

And he would have gotten away with it, if not for a servant girl who gossiped to other locals about the strange contents of a wash-boiler. She was in-charge of cleaning this boiler in the doctors home and was finding many large pieces of flesh within it.

It’s unfortunate that this information was put forward before the same boiler was used to make tea for meetings within the doctor’s house.

Read about other haunted cemeteries : Burkholder (Hamilton) | Drummond Hill (Niagara Falls) | Grave of Marie Laveau