By the time this post is published, we will be preparing for our second weekend at Victoria Law Cemetery for the 11th annual Guided Spirit Walks. This is my fifth-year writing and directing this well-loved production, and my seventh year as a part of the team of staff and volunteers that bring this very large undertaking into fruition. I am in constant awe of the dedication and efforts of every person involved in the program, each contributing to make the Guided Spirit Walks the success that it is each year.
As part of the Guided Spirit Walks creative team, I can tell you that our historical interests span widely, and we are always imagining up new ways to bring the stories of those buried in Victoria Lawn Cemetery to our audiences. This year, we present Roaring into the ‘20s: A New Chapter for our City and invite you into the stories of those who lived through the tumultuous period of 1920s St. Catharines. We might imagine the Roaring Twenties as a risqué period of flappers, jazz, and prohibition, and while these were dramatic parts of the era, the 1920s can be characterized by even more dramatic shifting social norms, economic and political turbulence, and rapid technological innovations. Some embraced these drastic changes as a signal of a better future, while others were apprehensive.
On this year’s walk, we are introduced to people who met this vibrant period in history with a mix of hope and sorrow, optimism and despair, nostalgia and unease. Through our guide, the renowned spiritualist Jenny O’Hara Pincock, the lines between the spirits’ world and our world blur, and we are gifted with a more intimate connection to those from our past.
Let’s meet the historical figures featured on this year’s Walks.
Jenny O’Hara Pincock (1890-1948)
Born in 1890 in Madoc, Ontario, Jenny found her way to St. Catharines after marrying osteopath Robert Newton Pincock, who had a practice in the city. She and Robert were introduced to the spiritualism movement in 1927, and after his death in 1928, Jenny threw herself into the art. Along with her sister Minnie and brother-in-law Reverend Fred Maines, Jenny began to organize séances with the American medium, William Cartheuser. Most of these séances took place at Jenny’s St. Catharines home at 47 Church Street, and her detailed notes were published in her 1930 work, The Trails of Truth. Also in 1930, Jenny helped her sister and brother-in-law set up The Church of Divine Revelation in St. Catharines. However, for reasons unclear, by 1935 Jenny had cut ties with both Cartheuser and the church. She eventually returned to her family’s farm in Madoc to live out the rest of her years.
The Trails of Truth informs the spiritualist elements featured in the scenes on this year’s walks. The book can still be purchased online.
Jenny O’Hara Pincock is buried in Section B of the New Cemetery.
Giovanni De Biasi (1880-1924)
When her husband Giovanni died in a tragic construction accident on the Welland Ship Canal, Mary De Biasi was overseas visiting friends and family in her native Italy. Giovanni was a carpenter on the canal construction, and was killed in an electrocution accident during a rainstorm. He died on August 13, 1924. An ocean away when the tragedy occurred, Mary would not learn of his death until after his burial at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. She returned home in late September, forced to rebuild her life without ever giving a proper goodbye to her husband.
For many years following Giovanni’s death, the grieving widow sought closure and eventually found solace through spiritualism. Mary, and her daughter, Laura Di Biasi, attended at least two séances organized by prominent local spiritualist Jenny O’Hara Pincock and led by the American medium William Cartheuser in an attempt to make contact with Giovanni. Both séances were held in March 1929, and detailed accounts are published in The Trails of Truth, recorded by Pincock.
Giovanni De Biasi is buried alongside his wife, Mary De Biasi, in Section Q of the Old Cemetery.
Stefano Costantino (1895-1925)
A Fallen Worker on the Welland Ship Canal, Stefano Costantino was killed after the lock wall gave way while he and a co-worker were cleaning out the pit at Lock 3 on May 30, 1925. Almost one ton of earth and rock caved in on Stefano, killing him before workers could dig him out from the rubble. His co-worker survived with only a broken leg.
Immigrating from Italy only two years before, Costantino was 30-years old when he died, and left behind a wife and three children. They lived on Facer Street.
To make this tragedy even more chilling, only three days before his death a fictional piece of poetry was published in the St. Catharines Standard narrating a story eerily similar to what happened to Costantino. On May 27, 1925, Toronto-based journalist Jimmy Loftus published “Canal Camp Ballads No 1 – The Great Saint’s Medal”, a poignant tale about a cave-in on the Welland Ship Canal in which one worker died and the other lived. The ballad was so similar to the incident that occurred on May 30 that The Standard observed the following in their report on Costantino’s death: “A peculiar feature of fatality is that it coincides in detail with the ballad of the Ship Canal, as published last week.” The three Canal Camp Ballads published in The Standard in 1925 are the only creative pieces Loftus is known to have written.
Stefano Costantino is buried in Section Q of the Old Cemetery.
Neshan Krekorian (1886-1978)
Class, ethnicity, and gender were stacked against Neshan Krekorian’s chances of survival when the infamous Titanic struck an iceberg that fateful April night in 1912. Yet, he was one of the 706 survivors. Fleeing from persecution in his homeland of Turkish-occupied Armenia, Neshan had purchased a Third-Class ticket to board the Titanic. Though it took courage to survive the disaster, Neshan would instead face ridicule. When he finally arrived at his destination, the city of Brantford, Ontario, after recovering from pneumonia, the Brantford Expositor ran an article on Neshan’s story headlined, “Armenian Who Dressed in Women’s Clothes to Get Off the Titanic Arrived Here Last Night.” A rumour had spread that the traditional Armenian clothing Neshan was wearing at the time of the disaster was women’s clothing that he wore in order to sneak onto a lifeboat. This kind of scrutiny and shame likely followed Neshan for much of his life.
Despite the trauma he experienced from the disaster, Neshan continued to pursue the life he sought when he left Armenia. He eventually settled in St. Catharines, where he built a full life with his wife, Persape. Together, they raised three children and lived on Carlton Street in the Facer Street neighbourhood.
Neshan and Persape Krekorian are buried together in Section K of the Old Cemetery.
Sir Edward Wentworth Beatty (1877-1943)
Born in nearby Thorold, Ontario, Edward Beatty pursued a law education at the University of Toronto. After joining the legal department of Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1901, he rose up the ranks to become its first Canadian-born president in 1918. At the time, CPR was considered the greatest privately owned transportation system in the world. Through the 1920s, Edward directed an ambitious expansion program for CPR, especially in hotels, telegraph systems, and steamship services. Under Edward, CPR’s Royal York Hotel opened in Toronto in 1929. It would be the tallest building in the British Empire until 1931.
Sir Edward Beatty was known to have few interests outside of the CPR. He did not marry nor raise a family, though he did serve as chancellor at McGill University from 1920 until his death in 1943. He was knighted in 1935.
Sir Edward Beatty rests in Section T of the Old Cemetery.
Arthur Nicholson (1881-1945)
Arthur Edwin Nicholson came from a family of builders and contractors. His father, Edwin, had established a prominent business in St. Catharines in 1883, and would go on to build numerous homes and commercial buildings. After attending school in St. Catharines, Arthur followed closely in his father’s footsteps and pursued training in architecture. He opened his first firm in 1913, and by 1918 had entered a partnership with the Scottish-born Robert I. Macbeth. For the next decade, the visionary team of Nicholson and Macbeth developed a signature Arts & Crafts design style that even today is readily recognizable as their work among architecture enthusiasts. From their Queen Street office in downtown St. Catharines, Nicholson and Macbeth designed a number of prestigious residences on Yates Street and in old Glenridge, as well as Glenridge School on South Drive, the old Merritton Public Library on Merritt Street, the old Land Registry Office on the corner of King and Ontario Streets, and of course, the now demolished Y.M./ Y.W.C.A building on Queen Street.
Arthur Nicholson is buried in Section B of the Old Cemetery.
Kate Leonard (1861-1935)
Kate met her husband Colonel Reuban Leonard in her hometown of Kingston while he was studying to become an engineer. They settled in St. Catharines in 1906 after Col. Leonard established his headquarters for the Coniagas Mines Company. When her husband struck significant wealth in silver mining, both he and Kate promptly dedicated much of their lives to philanthropy. Though seemingly overshadowed by her husband in the historical record, Kate was an enthusiastic supporter of numerous healthcare initiatives, the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Girl Guides, the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, and the Y.W.C.A. To recognize her devotion to the cause, Kate Leonard was named the Y.W.’s first honourary president and in 1928, she laid the cornerstone for the new Y.M.C.A. – Y.W.C.A building.
Despite their undeniable generosity, the values and beliefs underpinning the Leonard’s philanthropy must be scrutinized. Though there is little record of Kate Leonard’s ideological views, her husband was a vocal supporter of upholding the British Empire and held overtly racist views of the natural superiority of the white race. When Col. Leonard established The Leonard Foundation for students in need of financial assistance, the funds were reserved only for students who were white, Protestant, and British Subjects. Furthermore, no more than one quarter of the scholarship funds went to female students. A complaint filed against the foundation under the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1986 prompted litigation. In 1990 the Ontario Court of Appeal held that the terms relating to race, religion, nationality, and gender were contrary to law.
Kate Leonard rests in Section P of the New Cemetery.
We hope you enjoy the 2022 Guided Spirit Walks at Victoria Law Cemetery. We are already onto imagining the 2023 production, entitled “A Town Growing into Note”.
Sara Nixon is the Writer and Director for the 2022 Guided Spirit Walks at Victoria Lawn Cemetery and Public Programmer at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.