Christ's Church seeks to dig up and identify hundreds of bodies buried under parking lot

Hamilton's Christ's Church Cathedral wants to relocate the remains of about 400 people buried under a parking lot to make way for a multimillion-dollar condo and retail project.

Condo and retail development project would require exhuming and relocating remains

Rev. Peter Wall, dean of the Niagara Anglican Diocese, says this Loyalist memorial near the parking lot is likely stones from the long since closed and paved over cemetery. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton's Christ's Church Cathedral wants to relocate the remains of about 400 people buried under a parking lot to make way for a multimillion-dollar condo and retail project. 

The Very Rev. Peter Wall told city councillors Wednesday the Niagara Anglican diocese would like to identify and remove the bodies, now buried in "asphalt hell," beneath the parking lot of the James Street North church.

Wall said many of the bodies are of youth who likely died from illness and disease, part of a large burial ground of 762 graves that date from 1832 to 1853. A portion of the church dates back to 1835.

The diocese plans a condo, retail and commercial development around the historic church, which is one of the oldest cathedrals in Canada. The lot is behind the church bordering Hughson Street North.

The development, still in the design stages, would generate about $500,000 in taxes for the city, Wall said. The current plan is for it to include condos, retail and commercial space and two levels of underground parking.

The project would require the church to buy a neighbouring municipal parking lot, Wall said, and it hopes the city will offer it at a modest price. City council's general issues committee voted Wednesday to have staff report back on the possibility.

Parts of Christ's Church Cathedral date back to 1835. So does a cemetery that closed in 1853 and has since become a parking lot. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The diocese has hired an archeological firm to help with the project, Wall said.

Many of the 762 graves were lost over the years. Some were unidentified and never had gravestones, he said. One of them likely belongs to Richard Beasley, a War of 1812-era soldier and former member of the second Parliament of Upper Canada.

Other remains were relocated or discarded, said Wall, recalling stories of construction crews over the years that tossed bones in dumpsters.

The stone of David Clement Beasley, a relative of early member of Parliament Richard Beasley, is in the United Empire Loyalist memorial site alongside the parking lot. His remains, Wall says, are likely in the paved-over parking lot. His one-year-old child's stone sits in the church basement. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Now, there are different rules, and the relocation will include a countrywide call for next of kin, he said. The church currently has about 25 stones in its basement associated with some of the graves, but the identity of many buried there is a mystery.

The redevelopment is necessary for the church to stay in the increasingly expensive James Street North location, Wall said.

This marker is for a one-year-old baby, Beasley's 'special son.' His stone is in the basement of the church, and his remains are part of the cemetery that has since been paved over. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Upkeep costs are as much as $300,000 per year for the congregation of about 300 families, he said.

"We're in the midst of trying to figure out our future," he said. "We want to stay where we are. It's tough. It's expensive."

The parking lot behind Christ's Church used to be a cemetery, which closed in 1853. Most of the remains are still underneath the asphalt. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Corrections

  • The story was modified to correct the title of the Very Rev. Peter Wall to Dean. He was improperly identified in a picture cutline as deacon.
    Sep 07, 2017 1:23 PM ET

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.