Tansley Pioneer Cemetery

SE Lot 4, Concession 1 NDS (North of Dundas Street), Nelson Township.
Dundas Street, Burlington.
GPS 43.413°N, –79.802°W

History: Tansley Cemetery is one of the oldest in Nelson Township, dating from about 1815. The community of St. Anne’s, later to be known as Tansley, was situated on Dundas Street between 12 Mile Creek and the Hamilton and Northwestern Railway. In 1877 it was comprised of approximately nine farms and homes. There was also a school and small mills located along 12 Mile Creek. The community developed at this location due to the water power, good farm land and the stage coach which used Dundas Street to travel between Toronto and Hamilton. The community of St. Anne’s continued with that name until between 1881 and 1890 when the name was gradually changed to Tansley. There had been confusion with another St. Anne’s near St. Catharines. The man who kept the St. Anne’s post office in Nelson Township was a Mr Tansley, so his name was used for the postal address.

Land for a “Burying Ground, Church and School House” was given by Henry Magee. He had received the Patent, dated 29 December 1807, for 200 acres comprising all of Lot 4. The land reserved for a burying ground was described in Henry Magee’s will, dated 12 November 1815, which specified one square acre of land for the benefit of the Inhabitants of the said Township of Nelson for a Burying Ground, Church and School House and for no other purpose. The lot and its contents were to be sold within two years after his death in order to provide inheritances for family members. Henry Magee died 14 November 1815. There is no record where he is buried, although the obvious possibility is in Tansley Cemetery.

Henry Magee’s farm and its contents were purchased by Robert Nelles by a deed dated 1 May 1817, which excluded the one square acre. Prior to his death in 1842, Robert Nelles had moved his residence to the Township of Grimsby. By his will the farm went partly to his son George Moore Nelles and partly to his daughter Mary Ann. The part to Mary Ann reserved “the one square acre for the burying ground which had not been deeded to him”.

The people who resided on Dundas Street from its intersection with the Appleby Line easterly to the Twelve Mile Creek became the community known as St. Anne’s. The front of the Nelles’ farm and the burying ground were a part of that community. Mary Ann (Nelles) Richardson, a widow, sold her share of Lot 4 to her brother George in 1846. In 1852 George M. Nelles sold the south half of Lot 4 to Abraham Nelles of the Township of Brantford. By the description in that deed, the one acre was reserved for a burial ground. Abraham, formerly a Clerk of Grand River, was George’s elder brother (born 25 December 1805 in Grimsby). He became a priest of the Anglican Church by License granted by the Bishop of Quebec dated 15 June 1829.

The map of Nelson Township in the 1877 Historical Atlas of Halton County shows The Hamilton and North Western Railway diagonally crossing the south half of Lot 4, Concession 1 NDS, and shows the burying ground at the southeast corner of that lot. The owner of the lot was shown as Rev. A. Nelles, however, it appears that his nephew, Abraham R. Nelles, resided on and managed that farm. Ownership of the farm by the Nelles family ended in 1885 when it was sold to Harry Hyndman Robertson.

It was not until after 1975 that John A. Roberts made an investigation and prepared a paper and an inventory of the cemetery. He reported that the cemetery was on sloping ground with its highest level being near the front, and that it sloped downward to the north east, which was swampy ground. Next there was a section about 16 feet wide. He reported that within this section there were the indications (depressions) of about 30 or 40 graves. A Bell Telephone buried cable bounded that section. From there to the widened limit, which he reported as fenced, was about 6 feet. He also reported that as late as 1975 the Natural Gas Company had laid a pipeline across the cemetery property. Both Mr Roberts’ sketch and the survey plan of 1978 show that the cemetery had been divided into approximately equal east and west parts by a fence. The sketch shows that all the gravestones which John A. Roberts could find and locate were in the east part. His sketch shows the location of six gravestones, two foot stones and seven trees. He reported that, “The cemetery is completely filled with graves — you can see sunken areas which are grave sites. The remaining stones date from 1805 to 1877. According to local residents, the last person buried here was in 1905.” He also reported that, “An elderly person of the area can remember when a horse used to run around here …” It seems evident that at least the fenced-off west part of the cemetery was used as pasture. John A. Roberts was very strongly opposed to the invasion of the cemetery by the widening of the Highway (a total of about 64 feet of the cemetery had already been taken for widening Highway 5) and by the Bell Telephone and Natural Gas companies. He proposed that the cemetery fence should be moved back almost up to the road, stopping at the ditch. He stated, “These are the people who started Burlington History, and the cemetery should be protected to protect the pioneers of St. Anne’s who are buried at Tansley Cemetery.” The sketch by John A. Roberts shows that the property of Halliday Homes was adjacent to the west side of the cemetery.

By letter of 13 September 1977, G.W.E. Gordon, President of Halliday Homes Limited officially advised the Ministry of Government Services that, “Further to our discussions relating to the cemetery which is incorporated in the lands of Halliday Homes Limited, I wish at this time to officially state our desire to have this cemetery closed.” The clause, underlined by the author within this statement, is rather surprising. The first and last registered owner of Tansley Cemetery was Henry Magee. There is no valid thread of title from Henry Magee to Halliday Homes Limited. There is a legal opinion that the City of Burlington is the owner of Tansley Cemetery. There is also a statement that the City requested that the cemetery should be closed. These are contained in a report of 22 February 1978 by R.L. Hendrie, which states “both Halliday Homes Limited and the City of Burlington have formerly proposed to our Cemeteries Branch that the cemetery and its surrounding lands be closed to any further interments therein”. The report also states that “the City of Burlington as local municipality is deemed for purposes of The Cemeteries Act to be the owner of the central cemetery area, pursuant to section 62 of the statute”. It also says that part of the cemetery is to be acquired for purposes of widening Highway 5, and that Halliday Homes have indicated their desire to have the surrounding land (remainder of the cemetery) cleared for housing development. The report also states that a further application will be made to permit removal of the remains presently buried in the Tansley Cemetery for re-interment in the City of Burlington’s Greenwood Cemetery. Tansley Cemetery was closed by Order-in-Council ROC 77/78, 9 March 1978. A second report dated 19 June 1978 from R.L. Hendrie, was in regard to the removal of human remains from Tansley Cemetery. He advised that both the City of Burlington and Halliday Homes Limited have made a request to our Cemeteries Branch that the human remains presently buried in the now closed Tansley Cemetery be removed for re-interment in the City’s local Greenwood Cemetery. He also advised that removals from the portion required for road widening would be at the expense of the Ministry of Transportation & Communications, and that cost of removals from the remaining portion would be the responsibility of Halliday Homes Limited. Finally R.L. Hendrie stated that Cemeteries Branch approves of the proposed moving arrangements, and that he concurs. The legal requirement to permit removal of the bodies was obtained by Order-in-Council dated 28 June 1978.

Greenwood Cemetery burial record books show that buried remains from Tansley Cemetery were reburied in October 1978 in 29 burial plots in Block A. They occupy two rows, being 29 plots numbered 155 to 184, with the exception of plot 170. The quantity of remains were not recorded. Names of buried persons were also not recorded. No proof has been found that all of the buried remains in Tansley Cemetery were moved. It seems likely that about 29 remains were moved. But John A. Roberts’ sketch shows about 40 graves in just the section taken by the highway widening! He also reported that the cemetery was completely filled with graves because sunken areas which were grave sites were visible. In the absence of such proof, it seems likely that there are still many grave sites remaining at Tansley.

A certificate was registered to certify that there had been compliance with Section 59 of The Cemeteries Act. It may be noted that this Section 59 states, “The owner shall remove all monuments or headstones or other stones marking the graves…. and shall re-erect or replace them in the cemetery to which the bodies are removed.” However, only four out of the eight stones found and located by Mr. Roberts were moved. In regard to human remains, Section 59 requires the owner to remove and reinter “the remains which with the exercise of reasonable diligence he has been able to find buried in the cemetery.” This does not mean all of the remains. Presumably some of the remains which still remain would be found if the proposed housing development were to proceed.

The City Clerk of the Corporation of the City of Burlington, by letter of 24 August 1982 with a copy to V. Brodeur, Assistant Clerk, wrote to the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations requesting the Minister to erect a plaque on the site of the former Tansley Cemetery recognizing its former existence and advising that the remains have been transferred to the City-owned Greenwood Cemetery. A file note made by a Ministry official was written at the bottom of the original letter stating “August 31/82, Informed Mr Brodeur that we have no budget for supplying plaques or for erecting them on site.”

This Pioneer Cemetery is a part of the history of Nelson Township, now the City of Burlington. But it has been nearly forgotten. What remains of the site is now a grass covered lawn at the front of a brick-making company owned by the Hanson Heidelberg Cement Group. It is on the east side of their driveway which curves around the cemetery. [by John Quinsey – 1995, abridged and updated]

No burial records have been found for the cemetery.

Transcriptions of this cemetery are available on-line by credit card from the O.G.S. web site click here for price/order.