Smiths Falls History & Mystery: Lying in wait for a new tomb

Agnes Lamb's tomb
Agnes Lamb's tomb (bottom right: Before restoration). Photo credit: Ted Outerbridge.
Posted on: November 21, 2022

Agnes Lamb was a wealthy woman when she died of tuberculosis in 1903 at the Keyhole House. The 60-year-old spinster left executors of her estate with some very clear instructions. In her will, Agnes set aside $1,000 as an investment with the Molsons Bank. She asked that the interest be used to maintain the Wood Cemetery “for all time to come.” Her remains were entombed at the Wood Cemetery, but the money that was invested to maintain the property has yet to be found. Since then, her tomb has crumbled. In 2021, it had to be covered with a tarp in order to protect it from the effects of winter.

Agnes Lamb lived with Alexander Wood for the last twenty years of his life. She was his “trusted companion and housekeeper,” according to The Record News. Alexander was her uncle, and Agnes moved in with him following the death of his wife, Henrietta. The mother of Alexander’s seven children died at the young age of 43. Only two of the Wood offspring lived beyond their sixth birthday.

In 1893, the Toronto Globe newspaper wrote that Alexander Wood was the most enterprising man in Smiths Falls. He had formed a partnership with Ebenezer Frost in 1846. For 116 years, The Frost & Wood Company played a huge role in the history of Smiths Falls. They were one of the largest manufacturers of farm implements in Canada, and the largest employer in town.

Upon Alexander Wood’s death in 1895, Agnes became heiress to a $20,000 fortune. This was a considerable sum at the time. She was also named executrix of his estate along with executor Robert Brodie. The Wood family purchased an acre of land for $100 on a farm facing the Maple Vale Cemetery.  The property was located on “Vault Hill” just outside of Smiths Falls in the Township of South Elmsley. The Wood Mausoleum and Cemetery was constructed for Alexander Wood’s entombment. Just like his Glenwood mansion, it was a spectacular show of wealth. It was reserved for Wood family and friends only. Following Alexander’s death, Agnes Lamb and her mother downsized and moved from the Glenwood mansion to the “Keyhole House” on Brockville Street. They remained at this address until Agnes died in 1903.

The last burial at the Wood Cemetery and Mausoleum took place in 1949. After that, it was abandoned. Trees and brush grew up and the cemetery was lost to time. Locals forgot that it existed. Vandals broke a number of the gravestones and even smashed and opened a tomb. In October 1987, it was documented that multiple headstones were missing from the Wood Cemetery—including the headstones from three WWI veterans’ gravesites. A metal maple leaf marker was discovered and placed in the mausoleum, but later went missing. Numerous padlocks were broken by vandals repeatedly breaking into the mausoleum; the original padlock even contains a bullet hole.

Agnes Lamb’s tomb continued to decay from neglect. The money invested by her executors to maintain the cemetery had vanished. In 1925, The Molsons Bank merged with Bank of Montreal. When an account at a bank or trust company has been inactive for ten years, and the owner cannot be contacted, it is considered an “unclaimed balance.” Did the Bank of Montreal transfer the balance to the Bank of Canada? Was some accounting error to blame, or is the truth more scandalous?

In 2014, the Wood Cemetery Committee (originally spearheaded by Joan Hogan) was revived. Leisa Purdon Bell, Ron Lyon, Tony Humphrey, Councillor Dawn Quinn, Peter Maddock, and Dave Pringle joined forces to oversee the restoration of the historic cemetery. An arborist was hired to cut down the wall of cedar trees and brush. Their work revealed a cemetery littered with fire pits, beer bottles, and garbage. A dedicated group of volunteers came together and cleaned the space.

When a cemetery is declared abandoned, the municipality in which the cemetery is located becomes the cemetery’s owner and takes over the previous owner’s cemetery assets, rights, and obligations. The Township of Rideau Lakes has accepted ownership of the abandoned Wood Mausoleum and Cemetery and has funded and orchestrated a new tomb for Agnes Lamb. During the summer of 2021, they hired an archaeologist to ensure that work on the deteriorating Agnes Lamb tomb would be in compliance with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) guidelines. The BAO is a government-delegated authority which regulates and supports funeral establishment, crematorium, and cemetery operators across Ontario.

Agnes’s crumbling hip tomb was a chest with a foursided, hipped or pointed roof on top. The chest was constructed with rubble and concrete over an in-ground burial. Because her remains are buried below ground level and would not be disturbed, it simplified the Cemetery Investigation Authorization. In October 2022, Len Leitch and Tyler Gunn from Masonpro removed the crumbling remains of the ancient hip-tomb. They constructed a new chest tomb using locally-sourced sandstone. The experienced masons demonstrated incredible attention to detail. They sculpted the mortar binding the sandstone together using a Tudor joint identical to the treatment of the historic Wood Mausoleum, built in 1895 and located just a few steps away. Kevin Costello of Costello & Company lowered a 1500-pound smooth grey concrete lid down on top of the sandstone structure with the help of a crane to finish off the new chest tomb. The result looks dignified and befitting of a woman of historic significance.

Ted & Marion Outerbridge are currently restoring the Keyhole House, a Smiths Falls heritage home built in 1893. They are also being swept away by local history & mystery. You can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @thekeyholehouse or email ted@tedouterbridge.com.

Column by Ted Outerbridge

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