Tag Archives: Bowmanville

John Burk – Pioneers of the GTA

March 13, 2022

The Burk family were among the very first group of European people to arrive in Darlington and settle down to open up farms. John Burk had been born in Orange County, New York in 1754 and in 1778 he married Sara Williams who was just 18 at the time. After founding York (Toronto) in 1793, lieutenant-governor John Graves Simcoe started offering 200 acres of land to anyone willing to meet the land patent requirements and open up a farm. The next year John and Sara set off with two other families and their children to take up this offer. A bateau was loaded with their possessions and they set off to make their way from the Susquehannah River around the lake to York. The Burks owned two cows and a three-year old horse which some of the teenagers had to walk around the lake.

On October 2, 1794 the Burks, John W. Trill, Roger Conat and their families arrived in Darlington Township about 1 mile west of Barber’s Creek. Lot 24 is outlined in green on the 1877 County Atlas below and was the first homestead of the Burk family. The little green star north of the Grand Trunk Railway represents their little family graveyard. The property was in the hands of Robert Everson by the time of this map and the family had relocated closer to the creek.

The families arrived in their new home just as winter was starting to come on. Their first job was to make log shanties for shelter which they plastered on the inside with mud and covered with bark shingles for roofing. That first winter was a hard one but wolves and bear were plentiful and they had meat to eat and fur for their beds. A second, overlapping section of the map from the County Atlas shows how much land between lot 24 and the town of Bowmanville was still owned by members of the Burk clan. At one time most of the land that is now Bowmanville belonged to John Burk.

There were no mills in the area and so in 1805 John built a saw mill and grist mill near the mouth of Barber’s Creek and the community took on the name Darlington Mills. In 1823 the name of the town was changed to Bowmanville and the creek took on the same name. When John died in 1827 his son, John junior took over the family farm. The younger John was referred to as John Burk Esquire and served his community as a teacher and later as a Justice of the Peace. He had been just 9 when the family made their journey to their new home in Port Darlington. John junior died on November 8, 1832 in his 46th year.

John junior married Jane Brisbin who had been born in Whitby in 1790. They were wed on December 28, 1807 and they went on to have 11 children, their first having arrived earlier that year. Jane passed away in 1866 at the age of 75 having outlived her husband by 34 years. She also survived the loss of six of her children. Many of the earlier grave markers in the cemetery are gone including both of the senior Burks and Jane’s headstone has been broken and was fortunately part of a 1984 cemetery restoration.

Ezra was the fourth born child of John and Jane and arrived on June 18, 1812. He died at the young age of 27 on November 2, 1839 and was buried in the family cemetery.

Sarah was the 7th child and she arrived in 1822. She passed away at only 22 years of age after marrying into the Huffman family. While her cause of death isn’t known to me it is reasonable to think she may have died in childbirth as so many young women did in that era. Although I’ve focused on the Burk family there are a few others buried in this small cemetery but only a couple of their grave markers have been preserved.

The Burk family farms have changed hands many times and several of them have been taken over for the construction of the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. Construction of its four reactors began in 1981 and they came on line between 1990 and 1993. As part of the site preparation, the old Burk family cemetery was restored in 1984. The grave stones that hadn’t been damaged by weather, neglect or vandalism were collected into a cairn to protect them. The land surrounding the cemetery, and perhaps on top of part of it, has been turned into a set of soccer fields.

I walked a short distance on the Waterfront Trail around Darlington but time was limited and so another visit in the warmer weather, when the birds and butterflies have returned, would appear to be in order.

The Burk Pioneer Cemetery sits in the shadow of one of Canada’s biggest nuclear generating stations and contains the nuclear family of John Burk, his wife and children.

Google Maps Link: Burk Pioneer Cemetery

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