Smiths Falls History & Mystery: The Lost Cemetery

Photo credit: Ted Outerbridge
Posted on: June 18, 2021
Ted Outerbridge

For twenty years, Agnes Lamb lived in what was considered to be the finest mansion between Montreal and Toronto. Alexander Wood’s “Glenwood” Mansion was built on Chambers Street in Smiths Falls in the early 1870s and absolutely no expense was spared. This immense structure was built of imported white sandstone and featured a multi-coloured slate roof adorned with the finest iron cresting. It boasted a massive ballroom occupying the entire third floor. Parties that took place there became headlines in the local papers.

In 1846, Alexander Wood formed a partnership with Ebenezer Frost. For 116 years, Frost & Wood 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. Their products were sold across the world. Wood acquired an abundance of real estate, including a grist mill complex on Wood Island which he purchased in 1880. Today, it is home to Parks Canada. In 1893, the Toronto Globe newspaper wrote that Alexander Wood was the most enterprising man in Smiths Falls. At that time, Wood had already retired as an active partner in the Frost & Wood Company.

Alexander Wood and his wife Henrietta Baird had seven children. Only two of them made it past their sixth birthday. In 1866, Henrietta died at the age of 43. Nine years later, Agnes Lamb, who was Henrietta’s niece, arrived at Glenwood. She became Alexander Wood’s “trusted companion and housekeeper” for twenty years, according to The Record News. The 1891 census documents four people living in the Wood household: Alexander Wood, age 63 and widowed, Agnes’s mother Catherine Isabella Lamb, age 70 and widowed, Agnes Lamb, age 40 and unmarried, and a six-year-old boy named Alexander Lamb who was apparently born in the United States. Who was Alexander Lamb? Was Alexander Wood his father?

Upon Alexander Wood’s death in 1895, his 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 his entombment. Just like the Glenwood mansion, it was a spectacular show of wealth. It was reserved for Wood family and friends only.

On January 31, 1885 the Rideau Record newspaper wrote that Alexander Wood’s will was “short and simple”. It stated that Miss Lamb was given $20,000 in cash. Wood’s two sons, William and Stephen, were given $6,000 in cash and a yearly income of $2,500. The article also mentioned that “Mr. R. J. Brodie and Miss Agnes Lamb are the executor and executrix and to them is given the power to deal with the estate as they think best.” Wood’s real estate was liquidated, and Agnes Lamb and her mother downsized from the Glenwood mansion to the modest seven-bedroom “Keyhole House” on Brockville Street. It was purchased for $3,000. The house had just been built by contractor Matthew Ryan and was designed by architect George Thomas Martin. This grand Victorian structure is an eclectic mix of older architectural movements. Its notable features include: a keyhole entrance or Moorish arch, Italianate brackets on the frieze above the second story windows, a Queen Anne Revival style porch, and Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie Style inspired stained glass.

The 1901 Census documents Agnes Lamb and her mother as living at the Keyhole House, but with no mention of Alexander Lamb. Agnes never married and died of tuberculosis at the age of 60 on August 11, 1903. She was entombed at the Wood Cemetery. Agnes left money to the Saint John’s Episcopal Church, her mother, Wood family members, and her sisters. Clause 4 in her will stated:

I give and bequeath to my Executors out of my personal estate one thousand dollars, In Trust, to be invested by them on Deposit Receipt in the Molsons Bank for all time to come, the interest arising therefrom to be applied by them annually and expended for the maintenance and embellishment in a decent and proper manner of the burying ground lately purchased by the Estate of the late Alexander Wood, and in which his remains have been interred, such maintenance to be done out of the interest of the said fund for all time to come.

The next portion of this story is rather disturbing. 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 breaking into the mausoleum; the original padlock even contains a bullet hole!

While Agnes Lamb’s tomb was crumbling from neglect, the money invested by her executors to maintain the cemetery appears to have 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? Meanwhile, Alexander Wood’s Glenwood mansion was converted into apartments, and was destroyed by fire in 1992.2014 was a turning point for the Wood Mausoleum and Cemetery. While attending a Municipal Heritage meeting, Tony Humphrey received a distressing phone call. The door of the Wood Mausoleum was ajar. When he arrived, he discovered the padlock had been destroyed and that Agnes Lamb’s tomb was crumbling. This incident resulted in the revival of the Wood Cemetery Committee originally spearheaded by Joan Hogan. Ron Lyon, Tony Humphrey, Councillor Dawn Quinn, Peter Maddock, Dave Pringle and Leisa Purdon Bell 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. Fortunately, a group of volunteers came together and cleaned the space. The Township of Rideau Lakes has now accepted ownership of the abandoned Wood Mausoleum and Cemetery. We have been advised that we can look forward to seeing the Agnes Lamb tomb restored soon. My wife Marion and I feel somehow responsible for her wellbeing as we are restoring the Keyhole House on Brockville Street, where she used to live.

Column by Ted Outerbridge

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News

2 thoughts on “Smiths Falls History & Mystery: The Lost Cemetery

  1. Tony Humphrey

    thank you for publicizing Wood Graveyard Ted. If any readers can shed any light on the twenty plus headstones that were taken in the seventies please drop a line to Leisa or I at Heritage House. All records of who is Buried at the site have been lost but we believe at least twenty six burials on the site.Tony Humphrey

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