Chapter 5 – Tragic Accidental Deaths

Death is often a shock to family and friends, even when we have some warning of its coming.  Greenwood Cemetery is the final resting place of many deaths that came suddenly, tragically and without warning.  Many of these took place in the early 1900’s when many worked from pay check to pay check with no financial backup or insurance to help when an accidental death took place, especially to a young father.  Work place safety also was not as it is today.


I have chosen from a long list of such events in our community’s past, and please, be forewarned, the details may be disturbing.



Reginald Melvin Billings, 27 years of age, was born in Burlington, the son of Mrs. Billings and the late Thomas Billings, who had died less that 3 months earlier.  Reg also left a sister and 5 brothers when he died on that January day in 1921.

Reg had enlisted and served overseas during WW1, as did at least three of his brothers.  A short letter printed in the Burlington Gazette, from the four of them, expressed thanks for the apples that had arrived overseas in excellent condition.

On the fateful day of his death, Reg had accompanied a friend on an automobile trip to Hamilton.  They were on their return home, and at about four o’clock, in the vicinity of Maplehurst Public School on Plains Road, a young girl started to cross the highway.  The driver of the car upon realizing the danger, applied the brakes to avoid hitting the child.  The car swerved, hitting the girl enough to break her collar-bone, the car finally landing in the deep ditch along the highway.  (There is no ditch there now.)

The force of the impact threw Mr. Billings against the windshield, crushing his skull, and when assistance arrived he was found lying in the back seat.  The driver who was jammed against the steering wheel, receiving internal injuries, was taken to Hamilton hospital.  Reg Billings however, had breathed his last (as the paper reports) when Dr. W. A. Bodkin from Burlington arrived on the scene of the accident.

The funeral which took place from his mother’s residence, was of a semi military nature.  About thirty-five ex-soldiers marched to the grave, in uniform.  At the conclusion of the service, a firing squad, under ex-Sergt. A. Cripps and ex-Corp. T. Waumsley fired three volleys and the last post was sounded by ex-Private C. V. Gilbert.  The pallbearers named were all ex soldiers.

The Billings plot is in Block 11 of Greenwood Cemetery.

At the inquest held, the driver was relieved of any blame for the accident.


Arthur Nelson Near, 26 years of age, was born in Nelson Township and lived in Burlington for a number of years, until about age twenty when he moved to the Barton area of Hamilton and engaged in fruit farming.  He too grew up in a large family, having 2 sisters and 4 brothers.

On Thursday, June 25th, 1908, the day of his accident, this young married man had made a trip to the mountain to acquire a load of manure.  His trip home took place in the evening, the route described in the paper as the “east end incline”, the accident happening near the reservoir.  While making the turn onto the road running east, the nut on the front wheel, on the right side of the wagon worked loose, the wheel came off, causing his wagon to drop on that side.  Mr. Near was unable to control his frightened horses.  When they broke loose and ran off, Mr. Near was thrown off the wagon, the hind wheel running over the lower part of his body and crushing him badly.  Witnesses hurried to his assistance, summoned medical help, however, surgery at the hospital could not save his life.  Arthur Near died within six hours.

Arthur’s remains were taken to the home of his father-in-law in Burlington.  His funeral took place to Greenwood Cemetery on Sunday afternoon.


On September 30, 1993 a new stone was erected by Near family descendants.  An etched farm scene
commemorates the family history.



Lloyd Kerns Starmer, lost his life Monday, 31 October 1938 in his 23rd year.  Lloyd was born in Nelson Township on the farm on Brant Street, where he lived with his parents and sister.  The family were members of Nelson United Church on Dundas Street.

Lloyd Starmer, who was described as being bright, cheerful, industrious and ambitious, was busy building a house on the family farm, in preparation for his marriage which was to take place in the near future.  He and a friend had journeyed to a gravel pit for a load of gravel, and were engaged in digging the gravel, when the wall of the pit suddenly caved in.  The friend was able to jump clear when the collapse came, and escaped injury, but Lloyd was stuck heavily by the avalanche.  With assistance the pile was soon removed, but life was alread
y extinct.

Lloyd, son of Charles and Mabel (Kerns) Starmer was interred in Greenwood Cemetery on Wednesday 2nd November 1938, block 31.


Fred Sutton, was also in his 23rd year when he died in May of 1908.  His wife Mildred (Cotter) had died in January of the previous year, leaving him with three young children.  Fred was survived by his parents, two brothers and five sisters.

Fred Sutton was a member of a gang employed gravelling the rail line between Brantford and Ancaster.  The day’s work had been completed, and it was 9:30 when the train of empty cars started for Hamilton.  While the cars were in motion, several of the men were engaged in throwing off the block and tackle, in preparation for the next days’ work.  Mr. Sutton had been assisting in this work, and was in the act of walking towards the enclosed electric car, when, in the dark, he missed is footing, and fell between two cars.  A car passed over him, almost severing his right leg at the hip, and his left leg below the knee.  In great agony, this young man was taken to the Hamilton City Hospital, where surgery was performed, but died of his injuries a few hours later.

Fred Sutton was interred in Block 28 of Greenwood Cemetery.



Dr. Dennis M. Smith, aged almost 31, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell Smith of Water Street.  Dennis and his wife Margaret, a nurse from Saskatchewan, had been married in June.  His accidental and tragic death happened on Halloween night 1938.

Dennis was bon in Burlington, on December 6, 1907.  He attended elementary and high school in Burlington, next studying at McMaster University, and later Queens where he graduated in medicine in 1933.  Dennis also graduated from the New York Post Graduate Medical School.  He served professionally for two years on C.N.R. passenger boats, plying between Montreal and South American ports and then for a while practiced at Kirkland Lake.  In March of the year he died, he was appointed physician at the Madsen mine in Red Lake area.

On the evening of Halloween, 1938, Dr. Dennis Smith and his wife attended a masquerade party at the Madsen Gold Mine.  Dennis was wearing a Hula costume, highly inflammable, which somehow was suddenly ignited and burst into flames so rapidly, other members of the party were unable to extinguish them before his body was severely burned, although he was rushed outside and rolled in the dirt.  He was rushed to hospital but died within a few hours.

Margaret, accompanied her husband’s remains home to Burlington, after flying out by airplane from Madsen to Kenora.


Dennis was interred in Block 51 of Greenwood Cemetery.  Besides his wife and parents, Dennis left behind a brother Donald and sister, Maxine.



Harry French, was born in Nottingham, England.  He was 34 years of age, and had come to Canada and settled in Burlington about eight years earlier and found employment with the Glover Basket factory at Freeman.  It was while Mr. French was doing his job, on an April day in 1914 that he lost his life under frightening circumstances.

On a Tuesday morning about nine o’clock, Harry French and another employee were engaged in rolling logs into a large vat, just outside the building, used for steaming the logs before they were placed on the peeling machine.  Mr. French was working with his back to the tank, which was sunk into the ground, and the “cant hook”, used in rolling the logs, slipped off the log he was assisting to handle, and he fell backwards into the vat of boiling water.

His severely scalded body was taken to his home, and medical aid summoned, who held no hope of his recovery from the beginning, but did everything possible to relieve his suffering.

Mr. French was a member of the Sons of England lodge, who attended the funeral in a body, and participated in the service.

Mr. French was survived by his wife and two small children.  He was a member of the Canadian Order of Foresters and carried $1000 insurance policy.

The Burlington Gazette reported July 1st, that a Hamilton barrister had issued a writ on behalf of Mrs. Annie French,
against W. T. Glover Basket Co. for $10,000.

Harry French is interred in block 23 of Greenwood Cemetery.






©Peggy Armstrong, Researcher

Source:  Burlington Gazette, Accident Reports/Obituaries


Photography by Pat Taylor