St. Thomas's Church Cemetery - 201 Church Street; Belleville For over 180 years, St. Thomas Church has existed in Belleville with its congregation forming on December 26, 1818. It has the honour of having the first public cemetery of the area containing people of the Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Anglican faiths. But with this honour comes a bit of a darker past.
Burials at the St. Thomas Church began in 1821, and ended in 1874 when legislation passed that stopped burials within the city of Belleville due to it being "unhealthful". After being destroyed by fire in 1876 and once again in 1975, the church was rebuilt - but had lost its burial records. In 1989, a decision was made to build a parish hall. To do this, excavation was required of approximately 80 graves. After receiving the correct permits, a group from Northeastern Archaeological Associates was contacted to disinter the remains. Much of the above evidence of previous burials was long obliterated due to the passage of time - and to make matters worse there were no burial records to refer to.
Needless to say, citizens of the area were surprised to find out that there were not 80 graves to move... 579 grave shafts were discovered containing 607 individuals. Most were buried separately, but some were stacked on top of each other. Why would this be? Many theories abound including the towns people suffering through epidemics, and not having the time to bury the dead in individual graves. What ever the reason - this discovery has made St. Thomas's Church Cemetery one of the largest historical cemeteries of its size in North America.
But along with this notoriety, the St. Thomas Church Cemetery has several legends concerning the dead. The first is concerning a military man named Captain James MacNabe. It is said that Captain MacNabe was accidentally killed in the rebellion of 1837, and was buried at St. Thomas Church Cemetery. His tombstone is one of several embedded in the exterior of the foundation walls of the church. The other is concerning a man who died two months after working on the construction of the original church in 1818. Legend has it that Allan Taylor is buried in the middle of the church; and that the spirits of both of these men walk the cemetery.
St. Thomas Church has been part of the fabric of Belleville for almost two centuries, and brings a colourful history to the area. The old Parish Hall (which is located across from Bridge Street) is privately owned, but the church is open to the public.