Monday, October 16, 2017

McBurney Park, Kingston Ontario

Situated midway between Montreal and Toronto, Kingston Ontario is one of Canada's oldest towns.  Built on Lake Ontario and at the mouth of the St Lawrence River, Kingston began as a French trading post and fort called Cataraqui.  After the British conquered the French the town was renamed Kingston and became the first capital of the Province of Canada on 10th Feb 1841.  

McBurney Park, also known as Skeleton Park is situated in Kingston.  The park, which is surrounded by houses, has a wading pool, play equipment and a basketball court.  Also visible in some parts of the park are protruding parts of headstones that are indicative of the history of the land below the neighbourhood park. Around about 1813, the area that is now McBurney Park became established as a graveyard for the growing city of Kingston.  Formal burials began in 1816 with the graveyard becoming known as the Common or Upper Burial Grounds in 1825.  Primarily the graveyard accommodated the influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants who fell victim to several epidemics that struck the area.  The cemetery filled quickly, especially after an epidemic of typhus in the 1840s.  Due to the belief that diseases such as typhus were airborn, victims were buried quickly and evidence has come to light that many bodies were placed into mass graves that were not very deep.  

The graveyard was also a favourite haunt of the Ressurection Men.  In 1841, under a Royal Charter from Queen Victoria, Queens University was founded in Kingston.  The School of Medicine required students to obtain their own cadavers for research.  Students paid Ressurection Men or dug up bodies themselves.  The shallow burials and number of bodies made the graveyard a simple place to obtain cadavers.  Empty coffins and graves discovered in recent times further serve as evidence of such nefarious activities. 

In 1864 the graveyard was deemed full and was closed.  Over the next thirty years there were many complaints about foul odours, graves stones being knocked over, graves being desecrated and skeletal remains surfacing.  In 1893 the City of Kingston decided to make the graveyard into a park.  Relatives were informed they would have to pay to relocate the remains of loved ones.  When the American Consul heard that the City of Kingston were going to dig up the bodies of epidemic victims they threatened to close the port.  Only one hundred of over ten thousand bodies were relocated.  Headstones were bulldozed and the area was covered with grass to create a neighbourhood park.  Only one obelisk was left standing, that of the First Presbyterian Minister of Kingston.

In the 1950s McBurney Park became known as Skeleton Park, with children digging up human remains and playing with them, some even attaching them to their bikes as macabre trophies.  There has been many reports of paranormal phenomena associated with McBurney Park and the surrounding houses.  Several people have reported seeing a strange mist envelope the park and graves materialising before their eyes.  Strange dreams haunt the nights of some of the residents near the park. Two women actually reported having the same dream of an Irish man materialising in their home and strangling them, telling them to leave.  Disembodied voices and full apparitions have been reported at and near the park.  

I visited the park on a sunny autumn day and it seemed like a lovely place for people to enjoy however when you know what's just beneath your feet it's hard not to feel a chill.