Today on the blog I wanted to share a little bit about my first cemetery road trip of the year! A couple of weekends ago, two of my best friends and I went on a fun-filled day of adventures to celebrate a birthday. We traveled over 900 km to visit Grimsby Ontario, in the Niagara Region—and it did not disappoint!
A month or so ago, my friend had asked to visit a graveyard for her birthday, as she had never visited one before. There are closer graveyards we could have visited, but since this was a special occasion I took some time to try and find the perfect spot. Weirdly enough, the internet provided the solution. Randomly, or not so randomly if you believe that technology listens to us, a video popped up in my Youtube feed by Canadian Cemetery History. I took the bait and watched the video. It showed a visit to Saint Andrew’s Anglican graveyard. This beautiful graveyard was just what we were looking for!
Not only does Saint Andrew’s Anglican Churchyard boast the 4th oldest church in the province, but it also has a lychgate and table stones. Both of which we have never seen before in person. So I began looking into what else we could visit in Grimsby; other cemeteries, museums, attractions, haunted locations, and of course interesting places to eat. I pitched the idea to the group, and they were as excited as I was to explore this beautiful little town.
I continued to research things for us to do and managed to book us a private tour of the Nelles Manor Museum. We would be visiting the resting place of the Nelles family at Saint Andrew’s, so it made sense to visit their historic home and learn more about this prominent family.
The day of the trip started bright and early. After picking up our first Starbucks of the day, we left Sudbury a little after 6 a.m. The plan was to drive straight to the graveyard, with a Starbucks stop along the way, to make the best time. Then we would take our time exploring, and visit the Nelles Manor at 3 p.m. for our private tour.
We arrived at Saint Andrew’s Anglican graveyard at about 11 a.m. and got out to stretch our legs and explore. The graveyard was absolutely beautiful. As was the weather, we had a beautiful day for exploring. Right away we noticed the prominence of the Nelles family as they had their own family plot, as well as family members scattered throughout the graveyard. We would learn more about the Nelles family when we toured the Museum later in the day.
Saint Andrew’s Anglican Churchyard, Grimsby ON ©2023
Saint Andrews Anglican Church and graveyard is located a stone’s throw away from the Nelles Manor. The current church building dates back to 1825. The graveyard is well-maintained and has a large number of historically important grave markings. The land for the church was originally donated by Colonel Robert Nelles.1 The Nelles family plot is closest to the church on the left side of the churchyard, enclosed by a chain with small cast iron tassels hanging from it.
This graveyard also acts as an arboretum of sorts, with beautiful examples of different varieties of trees. Many were in full bloom when we visited. There is a lovely variety of gravestones to be found there as well, many of which I had not seen in person before, like the willow and urn motif, broken column symbolism, and closed books covered in cloth. It was curious to see the difference in popular cemetery symbols that we found. In the Sudbury area, lambs, doves, and hands are very common. There also stand the tallest tablet stones I have ever seen. They are taller than I am! The gravestones I was most looking forward to seeing in this graveyard were the table stones. I have not had the chance to see one in person yet, and I find them so unique and fascinating.
Table stones have an elevated ledger top, that provide space for a longer inscription, and is supported by four to six columns. This type of gravestone was popular during the first part of the 19th century.2 These types of stones were used for prominent people and were sometimes installed many years after the person’s death. In that instance, these stones would sometimes cover the original gravestone. These tabletop stones are often more worn, like the ones we saw, due to larger surface erosion, making the stones barely legible.3
After we wandered the entire graveyard, we took a break for lunch and then made our way back toward the Nelles Manor. We were a little bit early for our tour, but luckily there were a few points of interest in and around the Nelles Manor for us to explore while we waited. We visited the Trinity United graveyard, and the Grimsby Museum and grounds where we discovered more interesting Grimsby history. When it was time, we made our way a couple of houses over to visit the historic Nelles Manor Museum for our private tour.
The Nelles Manor was built from 1788 to 1798, well before the American invasions in the War of 1812. The house was fully built and lived in by the Nelles family by the time the Americans declared war on the British. The Niagara Peninsula became a gateway for American fighting forces to work their way from the American frontier on the East side of the Niagara River as they reached for Burlington, York, and Kingston. Nelles Manor was occupied by British and local militia during the War of 1812, but on at least two occasions was also occupied by American forces that had moved up from Niagara.1
Nelles Manor Museum, Grimsby ON ©2023
We received a very warm welcome when we arrived at the Nelles Manor. Our tour guide Kate, and two other guides, were finely dressed in period clothing, which added to the authenticity of the experience. We started our tour outside, taking in the magnificent architecture of the building, as well as the warm weather. Our guide talked about the land where the Nelles Manor sits, and its connections to its surroundings. Our group found it very helpful that we had visited Saint Andrew’s, as well as the Grimsby Museum grounds before our tour.
After moving inside, we were treated to a walking tour of the house; starting at the front door, touring through the sitting room parlor, and making our way upstairs. Every room is beautifully decorated for the time period, with great attention to detail. Along with period-specific furnishings, the house is decorated with some original pieces that belonged to the Nelles family, as well as original art from the period. It felt like we were stepping back in time.
The guides are incredibly versed in the history of the house, the Grimsby area, and the Nelles family. They had no trouble answering our many questions. We had explained that we were in the area to visit the cemeteries and graveyards, and they kindly pointed out artifacts and related tidbits as they took us along the tour. At the end of our tour, they asked if we would also be interested to hear some of the haunted history of the house. We of course said yes!
They shared stories of experiencing odd smells when there shouldn’t have been any, such as smelling a delicious roast or floral perfume, which was a favorite of Mrs. Nelles. They also shared some stories from paranormal investigations that have taken place in the manor. Paranormal teams have reported their fresh equipment batteries dying quickly and suddenly. They have also captured some eerie electronic voice phenomena (EVP). The staff now use some of these EVPs during their Halloween events, wherein they tell the haunted stories of the house. I would love to attend one someday. As we were discussing the spooky happenings, my friend happened to check her Apple Watch and noticed the battery was dead. Were the Nelles spirits letting us know they were with us?
We thanked our tour guides for an amazing tour and made our way outside. They had one last interesting piece of history to point out as we were leaving. In the garden, leaning up against the house are two small gravestones, that are still very legible. Kate explained that these stones were originally at a graveyard close to the water’s edge, which has since eroded away. A cenotaph was erected at Saint Andrew’s Churchyard in memory of the souls that were washed away, and the original gravestones were moved; some ended up at the manor and used as flagstones for the walking paths. These two were preserved and now sit in the garden. You never know where you might find a gravestone
Gravestones in the garden of the Nelles Manor Museum, Grimsby ON ©2023
There was so much we explored and experienced that day. As well as exploring the Nelles Manor Museum, we visited two graveyards, one cemetery, and one burial ground. We also stopped in at the Grimsby Museum and quickly visited the Grimsby Gingerbread houses. I’m sure I will write some more in the future about those visits. It was a very long day, but it was worth it.
If you ever get the chance to visit Grimsby, I highly recommend the Nelles Manor Museum. It’s a beautiful place to learn more about the history of the Niagara region and the War of 1812, and you might also have a paranormal experience. Don’t forget to also pay your respects to the Nelles family at Saint Andrews’s Churchyard.
Thanks for reading!
- History | Nelles Manor Museum
- Ledger, Box and Table-type Grave Markers | A Grave Interest
- Table Stone Gravestones | Cape Cod Gravestones