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Cemetery walking tour to dig into colourful past

By David Pattenaude, Petrolia Topic

The entrance at Hillsdale Cemetery, just west of Petrolia off Petrolia Line. A guided walking tour will be held there on Sept. 14. 

The entrance at Hillsdale Cemetery, just west of Petrolia off Petrolia Line. A guided walking tour will be held there on Sept. 14. DAVID PATTENAUDE / THE PETROLIA TOPIC

Skeletons in the closet, mysteries, scandal and intrigue will all be unveiled in one afternoon at a guided walking tour at beautiful and historic Hillsdale Cemetery.

A theatrical but accurate interpretation of the most colourful characters and historical events from Petrolia's past will be part of the Sept. 14 tour – a first.

From farmers to foreign drillers, visitors will learn about the remarkable people that helped create and shape the community.

“Tour-goers will be fascinated and surprised all afternoon,” said Liz Welsh, Petrolia council's representative on the Petrolia Heritage Committee. “There will be a guided tour every 15 minutes and tours will take about one hour. But everyone is welcome to stay for the afternoon and explore the beautiful cemetery.”

She said an astonishing number of groups are participating in putting the tour on and there will be many various elements to make the tour interesting.

“People will learn something and genealogists will make connections. People will enjoy themselves and have more than just a pleasant walk,” she said. "I'm encouraged by the number of people who can't wait to learn more about the past residents of Petrolia and area from a historical perspective."

Guides will be at the gravesites of about 10 significant cemetery occupants and about 10 other significant occupants will have bios in the tour's printed map/guide.

The Petrolia Heritage Committee and Young Canada Works Heritage Organizations summer student Eric Curragh are partnering with Petrolia Community Theatre (PCT), the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority (SCRCA), Lambton Historical Society, Lambton branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS), Lambton County Archives and Victoria Playhouse Petrolia to create a one-of-a-kind walking tour of Hillsdale Cemetery.

In addition to entertaining vignettes performed by PCT members in period costume, ticket holders will be introduced to the flora and fauna of Hillsdale courtesy of the SCRCA. Significant and unusual trees will be identified.

Sharon Nethercott of the SCRCA will help the past meet the present by activating several new geocaches at the cemetery.

The Lambton branch of the OGS, town staff and the Lambton Historical Society will all be on hand to help visitors find their family.

Lambton County Archives will introduce its "historypin" project, a digital, user-generated archive for Petrolia including historical photos, videos, audio recordings and personal recollections. In addition, various interpretive maps and documents to identify symbols and other unique features of Hillsdale Cemetery will be available.

There will be a large tent with chairs and participating groups will have information tables.

Scouting and Guiding members (all ages) will be offered free admission if they are in uniform, to help them fulfil one of the requirements of their Heritage Badge. Special tickets will be issued at the VPP box office and a certificate of completion will be given to each Scouting or Guiding participant.

All tour proceeds will be used for the maintenance and beautification of Hillsdale Cemetery.

Young Canada Works Heritage Organizations provided funding assistance for the hiring of Curragh, who researched the characters at Hillsdale Cemetery, took photos, created maps, tickets, posters, interpretive and informational brochures.

For a chance to win two tickets to the tour event, visit the Petrolia Heritage Web site ( search around the site for answers to questions and e-mail them to the Web site editor at . Draw winners will be announced Sept. 3.


The Historic Hillsdale: Walk Into the Past tour is on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., with a guided tour every 15 minutes, rain or shine. The cemetery is at 3725 Petrolia Line, just west of Petrolia. Tickets are $10 per person and $25 for a family (two adults & two children. Scouting or Guiding members of all ages will be admitted free but must be in uniform. Tickets are available at the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia box office at 411 Greenfield St. at Victoria Hall. Petrolia (cash or cheque only). A limited number of tickets will be available at Hillsdale Cemetery on tour day.

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