Whether you’ve grown up in St. Catharines or you have recently become part of its ever growing population, there is something to learn of the heritage it has gained over its many years standing. This heritage, the defining history of St. Catharines, is definitely deep and highly valuable to the city’s character. What better way to see the history that defines the city of St. Catharines than to see it with your own eyes?
The Guided Spirit Walks at Victoria Lawn Cemetery do exactly that. They bring the heritage of St. Catharines out of its past and into the present, out of the shadows and into the light.
If you were to go on one of the walks you would be led through the cemetery, where you would be visited by the ghosts of St. Catharines’ past. Actors portraying the city’s most famous— and infamous— characters from history will recreate the moments in time that made St. Catharines what it is today.
Every year of the guided Spirit walks has had a specific theme or era on which it has focused. In 2012 they focused on the War of 1812, in 2013 they reanimated the Second Canal era, and last year they called it “Doing Our Bit: The Great War” in which they brought us back to the efforts of the St. Catharines citizens during World War One. This year, they are calling the series of walks “Our Canal, Our Community” and will be returning audiences to the construction of all four Welland Canals where they will be introduced into the lives of the many individuals who tragically sacrificed to bring the Canal to its completion, as well as those who found success during and due to its arrival in the region.
This year, the actors involved in the Guided Spirit walks will be portraying the characters of High Constable of Merritton, Richard E. Boyle, who was a key figure during the Fenian raids of 1866; world-renowned temperance lecturer Lillian Phelps, who fought for women workers’ rights alongside the Women’s Christian Temperance Union between 1877 and 1905 ; Edward Gardiner, canal surveyor and engineer, who spent 50 years surveying the city; and various fallen canal workers including fifteen-year-old Antonio Collini, the young water boy for the workers building the Welland Canal, who tripped on a rope and fell 24 meters into the canal.
The portrayal of the various fallen canal workers is especially important now as the city of St. Catharines has recently announced that they will be fulfilling a long standing promise of the city to build a monument to the scores of workers lost to the building of the famous canal that has provided the region with wealth and industry for generations.
Originally named the St. Catharines Cemetery but changed later to its current name in honour of Queen Victoria, the Victoria Lawn Cemetery was built in the mid 1800’s and was slowly expanded as time went on and the need for new space grew. It was designed by the famous landscaper Robert Mundy who created its layout and planted its various gardens. As it stands now, the Victoria Lawn Cemetery contains 170 acres of grave sites and over 155 years of St. Catharines history. What better place to relive the vast legacy of past St. Catharines residents?
The walks are currently scheduled for September 11, 12, 18, and 19, with tours being offered at 6:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. each night. For more information on the Guided Spirit Walks, you can check out stcatharines.ca/en/experiencein/Guided-Spirit-Walks.asp or contact the St. Catharines Museum. Tickets are on sale on EPlay at onlineca.activecommunities.com/StCatharinesON/Start/Start.asp or at the St. Catharines Museum. Enjoy learning about the heritage of St. Catharines and supporting the local organizations that make remembering our history possible.