The Queen Hill Cemetery©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Travel was anything but easy during the mid 19th century. There were no trains and the roadways, at their best, were extremely primitive. Some made it by stage, others by boat and many others on foot. That's what happened to the Duncan McKinnon family, widely considered to be the first family to settle in the Queen Hill area. In 1853, the entire family consisting of Duncan, his wife, four sons and two daughters, trudged their way up from Walkerton on foot to their tiny settlement that bordered on the town line between Bruce and Saugeen Townships.
Once arrived, the McKinnons lost no time in getting settled. After their land had been cleared and a homestead was established, the next thing on their "to-do" list was the establishment of religious services. In June 1854 the first known services were held in the bush opposite the McKinnon home. By 1855 plans were put in place to establish a real house of worship.
Duncan McKinnon got things rolling with the donation of a five-acre site, located on Lot 15, Concession 14 in Bruce Township, for construction of a small log church. Most of the materials, mainly logs, were provided by various members. The church was built primarily with volunteer labour with the exception of the roof and finishing which was contracted out. Lands for a cemetery were set aside on Lot 18, Concession 14, somewhat east of the church. The earliest recorded burial took place in 1855.
A school section, SS No. 13, was established during the 1850s. Little is known about the early schoolhouse, other than it was located on Donald Beaton's farm, located on Lot 11, Concession 12. In 1862 the school board purchased an additional half acre of land from Beaton in order to construct a new frame schoolhouse, located on the same lot as the earlier building.
Although the old church was rather crude, it did the job well until 1866 when the membership decided it was time for something better. A new frame church was constructed in 1866. English services were held in the church building and Gaelic services held either in the woods across the roads or in the McKinnon barn.
For a number of years the North Bruce Church in Queen Hill was affiliated with the Central Bruce Presbyterian congregation in Gresham, who didn't have a church building of their own. After the Gresham church was constructed in 1870, the congregation requested a new affiliation with the church in Underwood in 1874. Accordingly in 1877 the Queen Hill church formed a new charge with St. Andrews's Church in Saugeen. From 1870 to 1875 a manse was constructed in Queen Hill. Following the union with St. Andrews, the minister moved into the manse beside the Queen Hill church.
A second school section, SS No. 14 was located further west on Lot 21, Concession 12. Unfortunately no records were kept prior to 1873 so it's impossible to determine exactly when this school section was established. It is known the schoolhouse was in place by 1873. Further improvements to the school included a new porch in 1874 and a board fence around the grounds in 1875. In 1876 the teacher, Thomas Rankin, was required to do the caretaking and spend $5 per year on books that were to be given as prizes to the children. Queen Hill was situated in between the two school sections so it seems likely the children attended whichever school was closest to them.
In 1877 Duncan McKinnon opened a post office. Mail deliveries took place three times weekly. Queen Hill was always small but during the 1890s it managed to support a blacksmith, Donald McLean and a general store run by Alexander (Sandy) McGillivray, who were actually located one concession south in the tiny settlement of Cluny. McGillivray also worked as a carpenter. At its best the small settlement's population hovered between 25 and 35.
Duncan McKinnon continued to serve as postmaster until his death in 1893. Jessie McKinnon then took over the post office until 1906 when she resigned. Mail was transferred to the newly opened post office in Cluny until the Queen Hill PO was reopened in 1907 by James McEwing. The post office remained open until 1915 when rural mail delivery arrived.
In 1899 the old schoolhouse on Lot 21, SS No. 14, was replaced with a new brick building constructed Menzies and McKinnon at a cost of $1725. Plans were drawn up by an architect, G.G. Kenny. While the new schoolhouse was being built, classes were held in a vacant home rented by the school board.
Later improvements to the school included a well, drilled by Herman Boettger and a furnace, installed in 1913 at a cost of $150. In 1917 John McGillivray built a platform and new set of cement steps at a cost of $45. Electricity was installed in 1944 and the old furnace was replaced with a new one in 1949 at a cost of $650. The school remained in use until 1955 when it closed due to declining attendance. It was sold in 1965 for use as a farm building.
The other schoolhouse to the east of the hamlet, SS No. 13 also saw a number of improvements over the years. In 1908 a well was drilled at a cost of $119.70. In 1916 it was covered with a brick facing. Sadly in March of 1940 the building was completely gutted by fire. Luckily most of the contents were salvaged. The poor students had to make do in a rented trailer until the school building was replaced.
The new school was built directly across the road on two acres of land purchased from Joshua Howe. Herman Boettger financed the cost of the new brick building to the tune of $3000. The remaining amount of $2680.49 was covered by fire insurance. After the school closed it was leased to the Brucedale Women's Institute for a number of years. In 1968 it was sold and converted into a community centre.
Church union in 1925 brought an end to the relationship with St. Andrew's which became part of the United Church. The congregation at North Bruce voted to remain Presbyterian and the congregation grew to accommodate former members from St. Andrews who also chose to remain part of that faith. The church remained active until 1959 when it was destroyed by fire. Rather than rebuild, the congregation merged with Port Elgin.
The cemetery was used primarily by members of North Bruce. Following the demise of the church and the passing of long-time caretaker, William Waring in 1959, the township assumed ownership. The cemetery is well maintained and still sees the occasional burial.
Today a cairn, erected in 1966, marks the site where the church once stood. The manse still stands and is now used as a private home. Both school buildings still stand.