Rich Hatt dug in for the long haul
BY VOICE STAFF
Rich Hatt, of Fonthill, is proud of the Cemetery Preservation Award he received this summer from the Ontario Historical Society. It represents validation of the 20-year battle he fought to see his ancestors’ United Empire Loyalist gravesites preserved from developers’ shovels.
He is the great, great, great grandson of the founder of Dundas, Ontario, Richard Hatt II, and his wife, Mary Cooley, and commenced his story by sharing the family history.
Richard Hatt II was born in Middlesex, England in 1769, and emigrated to Canada in 1792. He made his way to Upper Canada (now Ontario), and settled in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), taking a job as a pharmacist assistant. After a few years he moved to Ancaster Township, and opened a general store. Hatt II built the first mill and distillery with his brother Samuel, and was eventually appointed Justice of the Peace. Richard Hatt II became a major in the 5th Lincoln Militia in 1803, and was badly injured at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in Niagara Falls. He died in 1819, having just been elected to the House of Assembly the year prior.
Mary Hatt’s father, Preserved Cooley, was a United Empire Loyalist, who was given a land grant by the Crown in Ancaster Township. His unusual name was derived from his passage across the Atlantic from England.
“He was born at sea during a storm, and his parents were so grateful to God that they all survived the trip that they named him Preserved,” said Hatt.
The Crown provided land for a cemetery to the Ancaster community as a gift in the late 1700s, given that no church cemeteries existed before the early 1800s. Plenty of Cooleys and Hatts are buried there.
The cemetery was abandoned over future generations. Brothers named Jim and Bill English owned the property in recent times, and sold it in 1998 for a development named Sulphur Springs.
The English brothers remembered helping their grandfather move a headstone in 1947 to a pile of rubbish in order to properly cultivate the land. Local historian Roy Woodhouse did some sleuthing, and located the headstone, which was that of Richard Hatt II.
In 1998, Jim Green, an historian with the Ancaster Historical Society, investigated the location of the UEL cemetery, and discovered the exact location of Richard Hatt’s grave.
“Jim and I became great friends,” said Hatt.
“He died a few years ago. We dedicated a plaque in his honour at the cemetery which reads, ‘In memory of Jim Green, our groundskeeper.’ Jim was a consummate professional, and a source of great encouragement during the fight to save this pioneer cemetery.”
Hatt said the developer wanted to dig up the burial ground with excavators and bulldozers, and deposit the contents unceremoniously in a corner of the subdivision.
“So much for respect for the dead.”
Thankfully, the Hamilton planning department would not issue a permit to the developer until the issue was resolved.
An archaeologist was brought on site, who identified 99 grave shafts, 60 being small shafts (for children). Cholera and malaria epidemics are documented in the area in the early 1800s.
Rich Hatt and his wife Cathy presented a petition with 5,000 signatures to the Ontario Legislature in 2010, requesting that all cemeteries in the province be preserved and protected.
“The late MPP Peter Kormos was the only local politician willing to support the petition,” said Hatt. “It went all the way to the Ontario Municipal Board for a hearing, thanks to an MPP from Ottawa named Jim Brownell, and they ruled in our favour and preserved the cemetery. The developer was forced to move a road, and he lost a couple building lots.”
Nick Carnicelli was one of the developers of the Sulphur Springs Development in Ancaster, which impacted the cemetery.
“We had lots of arguments, but also some good meetings,” said Hatt. “In the end he told us he would make the cemetery the focal point of the development, and he kept his word.”
The rededication ceremony took place in September 2016. Richard Hatt II’s headstone is back on the cemetery grounds. The land is deeded to the City of Hamilton, which looks after its maintenance.
The Ontario Historical Society’s awards are given to those who have contributed significantly to the preservation and promotion of the province’s heritage. Rich Hatt now has his place in history.