This year marks a major milestone for one of the region’s oldest historical sites.
On August 26 from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm, the Langford Cemetery Board is hosting an event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of pioneer Issac Langford’s death at age 54 in 1873.
The cemetery actively operates as a “private” cemetery which means they must raise all of their own funds for care and maintenance.
There will be a $5 charge per adult for the event and children will be free. Plans include a silent auction, a picnic lunch, contests and a guided tour of the cemetery including historical highlights of the site. A commemorative history of Langford Cemetery will also be sold to augment the care and maintenance fund.
Local historian Gary Denniss penned the following account on the life of local pioneer Isaac Langford.
THE LEGACY OF ISAAC LANGFORD
By Gary Denniss
Located on top of a hill about half a mile east of High Falls in Macaulay Township (near Bracebridge) lies a small non-denominational burying ground that has become somewhat of a community institution. Although hidden from view of the traveler along Muskoka Road 117 to Baysville, its gravelly soil has been quietly cradling the remains of its occupants since 1873.
It began with the death of Isaac Langford, a 54-year-old pioneer settler who unfortunately died of blood poisoning while working on a farm project. The family chose to inter their loved one on the hill top west of the family home. Since there was no other cemetery in the immediate area, as time went on, neighbours asked permission to bury their deceased family members there as well. Since the Langfords were magnanimous in their approach to life, within a few years little site became known locally as Langford’s Cemetery. And it is still an active cemetery 150 years later!!
The story begins in Ireland with a young couple and their ten children. In 1832, they decided to emigrate from the Emerald Isles and journey to Canada. The children at that time ranged in age from infancy to nineteen. With courage and resolve, the Langford’s boarded a sailing vessel and began the arduous voyage of nine weeks to unfamiliar territory. The sea voyage in itself proved to be a tragic one.
An epidemic of cholera broke out aboard ship, that, in its wake, claimed the lives of the parents and two of their daughters. Those four individuals were buried at sea, leaving Joseph (19), Alexander (16), Isaac (14), Elizabeth (12), Thomas (10), George (7), William (5) and Hannah (2) as orphans with an uncertain future.
Later, family heritage records revealed that their very strong faith in God, rooted in the teachings of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, was of immeasurable help to them during their grief.
If that wasn’t enough, the eldest son (Joseph) was accosted by a government official who pulled him aside and informed him that due to the illness on the ship that had beset his family, they were immediately being put under strict medical quarantine. Surviving this unexpected situation, Joseph and his siblings were finally released to make their way to a storage area so they could claim their worldly possessions. Most of what they brough was still intact—with the exception of a few chests of tools that were critical to beginning a new life in a new land. In desperation, inquiries were made…but to no avail. The tools were gone, never to be seen again.
A well-meaning but unthinking person commented that misfortunes usually come in threes, so life was surely going to get better soon for the Langfords. During the frustrations of the lost tool chests, someone invaded Joseph’s personal belongings and helped themselves to a large quantity of gold coins that his parents had entrusted to him on their deathbeds. Now, along with everything else, the Langford family was destitute.
But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Somehow the young Langford clan made the long and difficult journey to Hamilton and were able to get word of their plight to their Uncle Thomas Langford who lived near London, Ontario. Thomas immediately rigged up an ox-drawn conveyance and made the journey to Hamilton to rescue the orphaned family and take them home to raise them as his own!!
One might be inclined to think that not much else could happen to this family by way of misfortune, but it did in 1838. The rescuer (Uncle Thomas) died from injuries sustained during the raising of a log barn on his farm.
God may or may not prevent tragedy, but He enables those who meet with obtuse circumstances to move beyond them. In the case of the Langford siblings this held true for each one of them grew to maturity and took their place in the community as contributing members of society.
Muskoka eventually fell heir to two of these individuals—Elizabeth and Thomas (brother and sister). Along with their spouses, Isaac and Catherine, they became pioneer settlers in Macaulay and McLean Townships respectively. Their presence added greatly to the fledgling District’s population as they both produced numerous children—a phenomenon that was prevalent all across Muskoka in those times. Not only were families big numerically, but some individuals were big of stature as well. Elizabeth (aka Betsey) Langford’s husband was a case in point. In fact, he was known colloquially as “Big Isaac,” due in part to his imposing physical stature.
Betsey was married to her cousin “Big Isaac” in 1841 and they had their r first child one year later. Over the space of the next eighteen years, eleven more children would become part of their family circle, of which only one died as a young child. It was with this entourage, ranging in ages from nine to twenty-eight, that Isaac and Betsey landed in Bracebridge where they took up residence for a time until they found a place to settle on in Macaulay Township (lot 11, concession 7).
Isaac Langford was born in Ireland and had emigrated with his family in 1819 when he was seven years of age. Being deeply spiritual in their convictions, Isaac developed a keen awareness of faith in God at ten years of age. He never lost the love of Jesus that filled his youthful heart. In time, he became instrumental in forming a church congregation at Macaulay Centre. Although it was Methodist by name, in practice it was interdenominational and welcomed people of all religious persuasions. Interestingly enough, this congregation carried on until the 1960’s when it was finally discontinued by the United Church hierarchy.
It was stated earlier that “Big Isaac” was a man of imposing size. He was also “big” in the sense of his magnanimity. As a neighbour, he was always ready, willing and able to lend a helping hand. On many occasions, Richard Zimmerman, who owned the farm next door, witnessed “Big Isaac” set aside his own tasks to lighten the load of others in the area whose needs were deemed greater than his own.
It seems strange that a man of this quality should die in a very mysterious way. He was perfectly healthy upon rising on the morning of March 7th. 1873. After breakfast he proceeded to the site of his latest building project on the farm. He was in the act of lifting a board when he realized that it was heavier than he anticipated. As he rested the board against his leg to get a better grip, he felt something sharp run deeply into his hand. He stopped and attempted to remove what he thought to be a long sliver, only to find his efforts were unsuccessful. Reluctantly, he returned to the house and asked someone to summon the medical doctor in Bracebridge.
Fortunately, Dr. Byers was available to come to the Langford homestead. Using deft procedures, he removed, much to their astonishment, a long needle!! The doctor dressed the wound and “Big Isaac” was advised to get some bed rest before returning to work.
Isaac experienced no immediate pain other than the unpleasant discomfort at the injury site. But within 24-hours he was unable to get out of bed and was evidently in a deteriorating state of physical well-being. He was a victim of blood poisoning. Friends and family sought to help and comfort him but it was all in vain. His days were numbered. No physician gave him ease until March 20th, 1873, when the Great Physician took him. His last words were “I love Jesus.” Another of Muskoka’s pioneers was gone. Dozens came to pay their respects and give comfort to the bereaved family.
Even during the trying days of his impending death, Isaac Langford’s charitable nature shone through. He requested that a portion of the family farm be set aside for a community burying ground and that it be non-denominational in practice. No doubt he realized his earthly body would be the first to enter the stony soil on the hilltop west of his family home. Indeed, he was interred there beside a stately hard maple tree. That old tree still gives shade to the deteriorating monument that gives mute evidence of “Big Isaac’s” final resting place on earth.
Betsey, Isaac’s widow, attained the age of 94 years. She remained on the family homestead until 1912, providing not only for her own kindred, but taking on the care and concern of eight other needly children. She was affectionately called “Grandma Langford” by all who knew her. Upon her death in 1915, she was laid to rest beside her husband. Six members of their family are also interred at Langford Cemetery, including son George, who served as Muskoka’s M.P.P. from 1894 until 1898. He was involved in many aspects of community life at Macaulay Centre, including the carrying on of non-denominational Sunday School that saw as many as 75 participants that met in the Macaulay Town Hall.
Langford Cemetery is a private cemetery that has been operated by a Board of Trustees since 1946. Interment sites are available in our columbarium as well as inground plots for casket and cremated remains. Funds are raised through voluntary donations to cover the annual expenses. Langford Cemetery could be thought of as a ‘community institution.”
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!