Photos- Linda Seccaspina
If you take a walk around the Dewar Cemetery that is on Glenashton Rd, in Beckwith and the Kennedy Cemetery that lies across the road there is no other place that you can understand local history better. Cemeteries are full of unfilled dreams- countless echoes of ‘should have’ or ‘could have,’ but none more powerful than the shadows that speak at these two cemeteries in Beckwith.
Alexander (Sandy) Archer’s headstone is probably the most unique with his medals of the 91st Regiment of Foot once cemented into the tombstone. Unfortunately someone saw fit to steal history and they are no longer there. These old burying sites contain names of those that brought their families to a new land and drove the forests back and made them fields. If you read the headstones carefully they tell of stories of who lived a full life, or those whose lives were cut off early, whether it was in a river or a deadly epidemic. Lack of skilled medical services and fevers and consumption– this in spite of a supposed sure proof remedy of crude molasses.
There are souls from The Derry, and family names such as: Garland, Kennedys, McEwans, McDiarmids, McLarens, Kidds, Leaches, Stewarts, Livingstones and many others now lie in the cold ground. In the Kennedy cemetery lies one of the earliest graves: the widow of Donald Ferguson, whose husband perished at the age of 90 while attempting to cut a road through Richmond in the bitter winter of 1818.
Headstones marking the Kennedys: Donald, John and Robert who were great musicians that if you listen closely are still playing their bagpipes and instruments in the clan gatherings that surely still go on in the dead of night. The McDiarmid family with all their various spellings of their last name lie close to the Livingstones with a relationship from a marriage to the great David Livingstone, explorer of Africa.
If you look closely towards the Dewar homestead near the cemetery you can still see the shadows of the people that came for miles carrying vessels and immerse the crook of the staff of St. Fillion into their waters that was supposed to provide miraculous powers. Sadness cowers on one particular headstone of a 24 year-old man who had cradled grain from morning until night and then died young becoming just another tragedy of Beckwith Township.
What happened to some we will never know- the many young mothers especially. There were those with difficult births with also an important predictor of infant mortality being breastfeeding. In areas where mothers didn’t breastfeed their babies, infant mortality rates soared, sometimes reaching thirty to forty percent. Beliefs about breastfeeding differed greatly between areas, sometimes even between the local villages. Even those who intended to breastfeed had a difficult time juggling this with their normal tasks which often required them to work in the fields all day. Or maybe loneliness in the wilderness was a burden too great for their physical and mental resources. The riddle of life in those days still remains unsolved and all true stories begin and end in cemeteries.
Dewar’s and Kennedy’s cemeteries, located together on the eighth concession road near Ashton, were named for the Kennedy and Dewar families who came there from Pershire in 1818, the Kennedys from the parish of Dull, and the Dewars from the parish of Comrie.
Kennedy’s cemetery, the older one, is on land located in 1818 by John Kennedy and later owned by Robert Kennedy, long noted in the distsrict for his skill with the bagpipes. Robert, who came there with his parents at the age of eight, moved to Ashton and died in 1900 at Carleton Place.
The site of Dewar’s Cemetery originally was one of the clergy reserve lots, with the farms of Archibald and Peter Dewar beside it, and on the opposite side those of Finley McEwen and Malcolm Dewar. Archibald Dewar jr. son of Peter, was reeve of Beckwith for many years and died in 1916.
The Dewar families for centuries had been the recognized hereditary guardians of the staff or crozier of St. Fillan. Traditions of St. Fillan who was venerated as early as the eighth or ninth century in Glen Dochart and Strathfillan in the present Perthshire, have an important place in ancient Christianity in Scotland.
The head of the saint’s crozier, of silver gilt with a smaller crozier head of bronze enclosed in it, is reported to have been brought by Archibald Dewar to Beckwith, where its powers remained highly regarded, and to have been transferred by his eldest son to its present location at the National Museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
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