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Aug. 4, 2020 | Tuesday
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Niagara's History Unveiled: Tales from the graves of St. Andrew's
The graveyard at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. (Submitted/Steve Steele).JPG

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago St. Andrew's Presbyterian church was founded. In 1829, the Presbyterians were given permission by the government of Upper Canada to use the grounds around the church as a graveyard.  Since then stories of stolen bodies, a possible murder and secrets abound in St. Andrew's Graveyard.


CONTROVERSIAL  COUPLE: Mr. and Mrs. Charles Camidge were a difficult couple to know. They were staunch church supporters, involved in the education of children, but something about them was a little off.

Mr. Camidge was the headmaster of the Grammar School in St. Catharines.  In 1864, he took the school from just 13 students to 40. When he asked for a raise four years later the school trustees declined his request. Mr. Camidge left the school in St. Catharines and started his own school, the Niagara Grammar school in 1874 here in NOTL. All was not rosy for him and he was dismissed after harsh accusations of being an inefficient teacher with a vindictiveness toward people.

Later in 1875, both he and his wife were brought up on charges of cruelty and ill treatment of Agnes Rankin, a servant in their home. Rankin was a young girl who came to Upper Canada through Miss Maria Rye’s mission. Mrs. Camidge claimed the girl had fits, was argumentative and needed to be dealt with in a severe manner. The evidence was so compelling that the case was sent to a higher court.  Rankin was removed from the Camidges' home.

Howeve,r it is the incident that occurred on Mr. Camidge’s 71st birthday that really had the town abuzz.  

On the morning of her husband's birthday Mrs. Camidge stated that she was in the kitchen when she heard a gunshot from the bedroom upstairs.  Upon investigating, she found her husband, on the floor, lying on his back, dead from a single gunshot wound to the left side of his head.  The gun, she said, was in his right hand. 

Dr. Anderson was called in to confirm death and his report clearly stated that the gun was in Mr. Camidge’s right hand. Just how he committed suicide in this manner was never answered satisfactorily upon examination of the evidence.

So the question begs to be answered: did Mr. Camidge kill himself, or did Mrs. Camidge do the deed and somehow got away with murder.  The inquiry was inconclusive.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Camidge are buried in St. Andrew's Presbyterian graveyard, but unfortunately their actual gravesite has been lost over time.


A SECRETIVE FAMILY: Secrets and more secrets abound around Mr. and Mrs. John Young. John Young, another staunch supporter of St. Andrew's, was also an adventurous capitalist. His reputation and drive to purchase land and open businesses was well recognized throughout the community.

However, the first secret people often whispered about was why he never took his father’s surname. Instead he took his mother’s surname, Young, saying he just preferred the name.

Young loved the business opportunities on the American side of the Niagara River but kept all the details to himself. Another secret, causing whispers about him being a traitor to Upper Canada. And those businesses he opened were under suspicion as well.

The first place he built on the American side was a small store in the "Bottoms."  This was an area along the river just under Fort Niagara, a seedy area where no reputable business was established. Just what type of business would a staunch Presbyterian be involved with? Another secret.

From this first store, Young then moved south down the river and established three hotels. Many heads were shaking as to why he would build three in such small hamlet. He even built a home for his sister there, but Young himself would not live in the United States. 

Then we have Mrs. Catherin Young, Caty to her friends. She loved visiting all their business interests across the river in the United States – so much so that the gossips in town had their tongues wagging that it was not just business visits she was making. Caty loved the stir she made in town and refused to dissuade the gossips. She too had her secrets.

As the Youngs got older, their health declined and like many people they decided to get their affairs in order.  Mr. Young’s sister in New York had gone “mad” so she was institutionalized. He donated her home to the Presbyterian Church of New York. Young then turned to St. Andrew's where he developed a Perpetual Maintenance Bequest and paid for the construction of beautiful pulpit we see today.

Mr. and Mrs. Young then took a steamer to Montreal for medical advice. Toronto would have been much closer but, again, another secret perhaps.   Mrs. Young was sick the entire way to and from Montreal, staying in her cabin during both trips. Upon their return to Niagara she was told about the tragic event of Mr. Young. On the return trip, he had thrown himself overboard and drowned. Mrs. Young did not last much longer and she died soon after her husband committed suicide.  

As for the small community where they had built several hotels, it was named Youngstown, N.Y., after Mr. and Mrs. John Young.


GRAVE ROBBERS: New science or a dastardly deed of a strange cult, no one knows for certain why a body was stolen from St. Andrew's graveyard.

In 1848, the body of 17-year-old John McClemont was stolen from the grave. It was believed that two medical students had taken the body, kept it for several nights and then returned it to the gravesite. More than one person was thought to be involved as there was a six-foot fence surrounding the graveyard.

Then almost 40 years later, in 1884, the body of Willie Blaine was disturbed. Blaine had died quite young, in his early twenties, on May 24, 1884. He had died from tuberculosis.  

This time though the grave robbers did not take the body. The coffin was dug up, the lid was opened and the shroud covering Blaine’s face was pulled back. And then the robbers left.

People speculated for weeks wondering just what was going on in St. Andrew's graveyard. One grave robbery and an attempted one, were simply unacceptable in a small town. The question, though, is why Willie Blaine’s body was not taken.  And there we have even more rumours: was it someone just wanting to make sure he was really dead, was his body too badly ravished by tuberculosis or were the robbers disturbed in their terrible deed? No one knows.

Blaine was reburied and still rests there with his parents and siblings surrounding him.


 LONGTIME PHARMACIST: A First World War hero, a dedicated legionnaire and town pharmacist, Erland Field was all these.

Having graduated from the Ontario College of Pharmacists in 1913, he joined the Canadian Army Medical Corp on June 21, 1915, at the age of 25.  He trained right here at Niagara Camp and five months later found himself overseas with the Fifth Canadian Field Ambulance Unit. Unfortunately he became quite ill over a period of months with diphtheria, then tonsillitis and then influenza.  He was sent to Kent in England to recover and then he was returned to the war front. 

Field was assigned to the First Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, which was behind the front lines, just beyond the range of the guns. His job was to stabilize the wounded and get them ready for transport to hospitals farther away from the front. For being in action so close to the front lines Fields received a promotion to Lance Corporal and the Good Conduct Badge.

He returned to Niagara-on-the-Lake and in 1922 purchased the pharmacy at King and Queen streets. Field ran that pharmacy for 42 years, from 1922 to 1964. He was the fourth pharmacist  at that location. Field bought it from Arthur Coyne, who took over from John De Wolfe Randal, who bought it from Henry Paffard. 

Paffard was the town’s longest serving lord mayor, 26 years, but was also a great horticulturalist. It was through Paffard that we have so many huge old trees throughout town.

Field was very proud of the pharmacy with all the counters and cabinets made of butternut and black walnut wood. The dispensary counter at the back has a carrara marble top.

He also was one of the veterans who founded the town legion, Branch 124, in 1928. He said he felt something had to be done for all the veterans returning to civilian life.  

Today the pharmacy is the Apothecary Museum, where one can still see original glass bottles and jugs, some dating back to the very first pharmacist.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian graveyard might be considered rather dull in landscape but its stories are full of intrigue, mysteries and secrets.


Many thanks to the following who helped to research this work: Barbara (Babs) Worthy, the Niagara Historical Society and Museum, the congregation of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.