History of Elmwood Cemetery

In 1810, the trail from Kingston to Toronto and the rest of Upper Canada was a simple track through the forests. There was no RCMP, and not even the dream of a railway. Families settled in remote areas of the country, surrounded by virgin bush and often not having any contact with other people for months at a time.

On a remote farm, north of what is now Belleville, Ontario, on the banks of the Moira River, the Reid family used a portion of their farm to inter family members for burials. No records were kept, and any markers were hand-hewn -- usually from pieces of local bedrock. The first interment is believed to have taken place around 1810. The family of United Empire Loyalists continued to use the area, and was still being actively used in 1874, when the government of Ontario first required registration of Cemeteries. Caleb Reid surveyed and registered two acres, and named the burying ground "Elmwood".

Some of the oldest markers are still visible in the original area of Elmwood. On a slightly elevated hill, several fieldstone markers have been discovered and the area demarcated to preserve them. Any inscriptions have worn away with very few exceptions. One stone is marked "R. P." and another as "Dinah P." These are assumed to mark the resting places of Russell and Dinah Pitman, two of the earliest pioneers of the area.

While Elmwood slumbered in the quiet woods, a baker, one Henry Corby, arrived from England in 1832 at Belleville. Energetic, ambitious and adventurous, Henry operated a bakery in Belleville for several years, and then ran a steamer along the shores of Lake Ontario as a grain merchant. By 1857, he was ready to settle down, and chose an area just south of Elmwood on the banks of the Moira, where a good site existed for a new grist mill. The village of Corby's Mill sprang up, with the mill, a company store, and a few houses.

One of the 'sidelines' of running a grist mill was the distillation of liquor, which most farmers at the time did with at least some of the 'inferior' grain. Henry seems never to have missed an opportunity, and added a distillery to his operation, taking advantage of the sparkling water available in the Moira River. By 1859, the distillery was beginning to overshadow the grist mill. Between then and 1881 when he died, Henry Corby became Mayor of Belleville, and Member of the Provincial Parliament. Henry Jr. ran the company for the next 25 years, until it was purchased by Mortimer Davis.

As the village of Corbyville grew up around the distillery and mill, most of the workers preferred to live some distance from the fumes, and settled along the banks of the Moira to the north -- in the immediate vicinity of Elmwood Cemetery.

The cemetery itself had become neglected, and in 1932 was sold for $100 to a Thomas Hicks by James, the last of the Reid family to oversee the grounds. Thomas instituted Perpetual Care in the cemetery.

Over the years, Elmwood has grown, with the addition of the land purchased in 1944, and a large area donated by Canada Cement in 1948. Thomas Hicks presented the cemetery to the Plot Owners in 1952. His condition was that a company be formed to control the Cemetery, and the Board of Trustees took charge.

The driveways are lined with magnificent old Maples that make a glorious canopy of colour in the Autumn. Some of the older trees had to be removed and have been replaced by new memorial trees. Flower beds are maintained throughout the cemetery, and waterlines have been laid to permit watering of individual floral displays. There is an area for the inurnment of cremated remains, an area for memorialized scattering of ashes and a common ground for the burial of ashes. There has been a tremendous move to keep Elmwood up to date with the more modern trends.

Volunteers are encouraged, and the community is informed, with the publication of a semi-annual Newsletter, published in May and October that is distributed to all Rights Holders and posted on the website for interested people. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Board is well-publicized in an attempt to attract Rights Holer and newly interested volunteers, as participants The AGM takes place on the last Tuesday in May. Some of the annual events previously held were curtailed by COVID and the decrease in interest of the Rights Holders.

Over the years, there have been many changes at Elmwood. Members of the Board and volunteers have straightened and reclaimed many of the older neglected monuments. New sections have been laid out, including a Veterans' section, niche walls and new Columbaria area near the office. Annually just prior to Remembrance Day all veterans’ graves have new Canada flags installed. On 10 November each year, a Remembrance Ceremony is held at Elmwood and the Veterans’ Roll is read aloud to those gathered.

There are over 3,000 people who have Elmwood as their final resting place. Our records reach back to the late 1800s, so if you are looking for details about people in your family tree, please give us a call.

* Original Text written by Ken Bull - NETWORK December 2003 * January 2004
* Updates to the text were made in 2024 by Board Chair John Munkittrick

  1. Around 1932, Thomas Hicks designed ornate gates which graced the entrance. They were unusual in that the name of the Cemetery was in an ornate wrought iron arch above the entrance way, but this sign was made in two sections, allowing taller vehicles access without disturbing the sign or other fenced sections. These gates fell into disrepair many years and were removed for safety reasons.
  2. Elmwood Crematorium is a separately owned facility that has a ground lease agreement with the cemetery.