We Found Ida Grace Laing’s Stone. Then We Found Her Story.

You’ve read about the repairs… Now here’s Ida’s history.

Welcome to another Woodland Cemetery blog post! We’ve found time to write a few more blogs between planning for Doors Open London on September 14th and 15th (we’ll be running tours from 1pm-5pm each day, come say hi!) and wrapping up our summer history work.

Yesterday was a very special day for our summer team – it was the 147th anniversary of Ida Grace Laing’s passing. Robyn and Brienna found baby Ida’s headstone earlier in the summer – you can read about their repairs here – but since then we’ve uncovered a brief timeline of her life and discovered what happened to her family members.

Want to find the stone? Face the middle mausoleum-in-the-wall near Section R and turn around. Walk forward down the path until you see a sign for Section R. Approach the grey granite stone for the Rowland family to your right. Look to your left and walk up to the Footitt memorial. Head straight ahead from here until you see a tall, grey stone with a large sphere for the Hayman family to your right. Ida’s small, white stone will be to your left.

This stone is the only monument we’ve found in this lot. Ida’s brother Major George Stanley Laing owns all four corners of lot 243, though Ida and George were born five years apart and never met. Two of Ida’s six siblings are buried here as well – let’s explore their story through the documents they left behind.

Meet George and Caroline Laing.

Ida was born on June 26, 1871 to her parents George and Caroline Laing. She was their second daughter and followed her sister Florence Evelyn Maud Laing’s birth on April 22, 1869. George listed his occupation as a merchant on Ida’s birth certificate, though he’s listed as a bookkeeper in the 1871 Census. Their family in that 1871 census consists of George, Caroline, Florence, and Kennedy Margaret, who is listed as their house servant.

The 1871 Census featuring the Laing Family.
George and Caroline et. al are right at the bottom! Retrieved from the Library and Archives of Canada.

Ida is missing from this census; she was most likely born after the enumerator came around to ask about the Laing family. The only record that we could find was her birth certificate. Ida’s stone, however, tells us that she died on August 29, 1872 aged 1 year, 2 months, and 4 days.

Ida’s description in our burial book is quite empty. She’s listed as being from London and is listed as being 14 months old. Ida’s occupation is listed as “father merchant.” Our burial books often list a child’s parent’s occupation. Sometimes the books will even just list “f. occupation,” which was quite confusing to run across at first!

The Laing Family in the 1881 Census.

The Laing family has grown by the time the 1881 census is taken: George and Caroline, now 40 and 41 respectively, have brought four more children into the world. Oswald Morley Laing was born on July 28, 1872, which was a few months before Ida died. Edith Laing was born on April 21, 1874 and Charles Herbert Laing was born soon after on May 8, 1875. Charles passed away just 9 months later in February 1876 and was buried near Ida that same month.

George and Caroline’s sixth child, George Stanley Laing, was born on Sept 24 1877. Caroline then gave birth to the couple’s seventh child Percy Sutherland on November 5 1879. The 1881 census lists 7 people in their household as it doesn’t record Ida and Charles. Deaths were only recorded in the census if they had taken place within the last 12 months – more on this in an upcoming blog post.

The 1891 census adds Mabel Elizabeth Laing to the household as she was born on July 30, 1881. This census also lists George’s profession as “Dept of Agencies (Managing),” which is quite a step up in both status and descriptiveness from “Merchant.” Geo and Karoline Laing (their names are spelled incorrectly) are 52 and 51, Florence is 21, Edith is 16, George Stanley is 16, Percy is 11, and Mabel is 9. This census also has a new enumerator and his handwriting is much easier to read than the previous two.

But in the 10 years between this 1891 census and the next in 1901, the Laing family leaves London for good.

Where did the family go during 1901?

The Laing family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba between 1891 and 1901. The 1901 census lists George as 61, Caroline as 60, and George Stanley as 23. George and Caroline’s remaining 5 children have spread out across the United States. Florence ends up in Fargo, North Dakota, Edith moves to New York, New York in 1897, and Percy winds up in Seattle, Washington. All the 1900-1905 censuses in those areas list their respective Laing family member. All except for Edith are buried in the cities they lived in. Edith will be buried next to her young siblings in Woodland when she passes away on November 24, 1948.

George Stanley deviated from his siblings and remained in Winnipeg. He married Winnipeg resident Mabel Florence Bradshaw in 1905 and enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces in 1915. He lists his occupation as a chartered accountant on his attestation papers. He returns to Winnipeg after being wounded in Passchendaele in 1917. He is currently buried in St. John’s Anglican Cemetery in Winnipeg along with his father and mother.

So why isn’t everyone in Woodland?

The reason why only three of the ten Laings are buried at Woodland is unknown. The Laing family had room for everyone in their plot, but only Ida, Charles, and Edith are buried there. Census records and the occasional birth certificate allow us to trace general movements through time and space. These kinds of records do, however, leave out all the stories that take place along the way. But with the help of Ancestry.com and Libraries and Archives Canada, we’ve been able to piece a rough timeline of the Laing family and their time in London and elsewhere.

We’ll have another blog post coming soon talking about why we couldn’t find Ida’s death certificate – you’ll never look at Vital Statistics the same way again after reading it! We’ll also have another cemetery story time from Marjorie, as well as a special story about Dr. William Maurice Bucke and the compassionate care he was known for at the London Asylum for the Insane in the late 1800s. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Lem Wong: A Story of Perseverance

As part of our project to expand Woodland’s historic data base we’ve been researching the lives of Londoner’s buried in our cemetery. Among them is a man named Lem Wong. Lem’s life is exactly the kind of immigrant story people love to hear. It’s so perfect it’s already been told several times before! Lem’s life has been the subject of several articles and a documentary. The 52 part mini-series A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada features an episode on the Londoner called The Road Chosen: the Story of Lem Wong.

An Immigrant Experience

As a teenager Lem first traveled to Vancouver with his uncle on board a sailing ship. Like many Chinese immigrants he found work in laundries. He traveled across the country by hopping trains finding work on the prairies, in Montréal, Springhill, and Nova Scotia. During his time in Nova Scotia Lem participated in biking tournaments for fun and for prize money. Between his biking winning and his work he made enough money to return to China. 

Young Lem Wong in Nova Scotia

 Lem was on his way home to an arranged marriage when he met a women named Toye Chin. The two fell in love and Lem backed out of his arranged marriage despite great social pressure from his family. Lem would return to Canada alone and spend the next few years trying to start a successful business so Toye could enter the country.

This was during the Chinese immigration act which required all Chinese immigrants to pay a head tax before, thus limiting Chinese immigration all together in 1923. To encourage only working men to emigrate the head tax for women was double that of men. The wives of merchants were the only exception to this rule. Opening a successful fruit and vegetable stand allowed Lem to sponsor his wife’s immigration to Canada. Lem and Toye became the first Chinese couple to start a family in the London.

Wong’s Café: The Place To Be

Once reunited with his wife in London Lem opened a restaurant called Wong’s Café on Richmond Street beside the old Free Press building. The restaurant flourished into a mainstay of the downtown known for its excellent food, service and music. Wong’s Café was open for 25 years between the First and Second World Wars. The restaurant was the first to introduce supper music and Saturday night dancing. During this time it became known as the kind of place you’d take people you wanted to impress. London’s own Guy Lombardo got his start performing there.

As a community focused man, Lem’s name can be found on voter’s registries throughout his time in London. Wong also used the restaurant as a community meeting place. The café was a venue for many special events including celebrations for the Chinese Freemasons. In 1945 the London Chinese community held a victory parade in solidarity with China to celebrate the Japanese surrender. Lem was quick to offer his restaurant as the venue for the ceremonial dinner. He would also host New Year’s dinners. During the great depression Lem partnered with the Salvation Army to organize a free Christmas dinner and clothing donation drive for the homeless and disenfranchised citizens of London.

Lem, Toye and their eight children

Lem’s eight children remember him as a kind-hearted forward thinking man. He had Toye’s feet unbound and encouraged both his sons and daughters to pursue higher education. When discussing his immigration experience as a Chinese Canadian he used to tell his children; “You should take only the best of both worlds.”

Lem Wong was never a rich man, but he was a facet of the downtown for years. In his time he shaped the experiences and culture of London as much as any of the city’s more famous residents.

Ghosts and Ivy-Covered Homes: Growing Up in 1950’s Woodland Pt. 1

Marjorie didn’t really want to move into Woodland Cemetery back in 1948. Her father, Arthur, was Woodland’s manager from 1947 until 1967. “We didn’t have any choice,” Marjorie said, “we just packed up and left. We had a nice, comfortable house on Gerrard Street in Old South and friends and everything. Anyhow, I had to sort of leave that and move on.”

Marjorie Rand lived in the cemetery’s house in the 1950s. She told us the only ghost story we’ve heard to date.

Welcome to another Woodland Cemetery blog post! Meagan and I have been hard at work entering data, but we managed to sneak away to the heart of Old South to get you this story. We were tipped off earlier in the summer that a woman who lived in the old house in the front of the cemetery would like to talk to us about her life and tell us some cemetery stories. We rushed to meet Marjorie once we had time.

We bussed over to Marjorie’s home and found her sitting on her porch enjoying the breeze of an otherwise hot August afternoon. She had been planning to garden that day but hadn’t gotten around to it yet – it was much too hot. She welcomed us into her home and told us about life in our cemetery.

A yellow brick house with a few windows, white paneling, and an awning over the door.
This yellow brick house sits just to the right of our cemetery gates. Marjorie moved here just after the house was built in 1948.

Marjorie didn’t really want to move into Woodland Cemetery back in 1948. Her father, Arthur, was Woodland’s manager from 1947 until 1967. “We didn’t have any choice,” Marjorie said, “we just packed up and left. We had a nice, comfortable house on Gerrard Street in Old South and friends and everything. Anyhow, I had to sort of leave that and move on.” Marjorie was about to enter grade nine. That’s a turbulent time for anyone. Now imagine switching schools and moving into a cemetery at the same time.

Marjorie was nervous to let anyone know where she lived. She had a few tricks up her sleeve to keep her cemetery house from friends and teachers. “In school we had to fill in a lot of records back then,” Marjorie recalled. “I always put my address as 493 Springbank Drive. Sometimes Woodland Lodge, but never Woodland Cemetery.” Marjorie admitted that calling it Woodland Lodge didn’t work out for her. Teachers would often question her about what the Lodge was until she admitted that it was really a cemetery.

She was so secretive because living in a cemetery could take a toll on her social standing. “Take yourself back to when you’re a gangly kid and very conscious of what people think of you. The girls particularly in high school could be devastating. But you grow out of that.”

It was a haunted cemetery (well, sort of).

Description of the house vs what’s there today

Marjorie’s old Woodland house is hard to miss when you come through the front gates. We even used that building as our office space until the current red brick building was built in 2004. But Marjorie recalls a house that was there before either of those buildings existed. “The old house that was there was scary,” Marjorie admitted. “It was covered with ivy and was a gothic thing like you might see in a movie.” Marjorie notes that the building was far away from the cemetery gravestones, but the house was still eerie.

A framed photograph of a two story ivy covered house. Trees frame the house and a family poses in front of the door.
You can find this photo of the pre-1958 house on display in our office. You can hardly make out the family in front of the door through all that ivy!

This current house was constructed for Arthur and his family once he took over as the cemetery manager. It looked and felt less creepy than the old house. “The new house was quite nice. It was much bigger than the one that we lived in. And we each had our own bedroom which was good.” Marjorie lived with her two parents, two brothers, and a sister, so more room was much appreciated.

The house wasn’t the only spooky thing about the cemetery. Marjorie told us the only ghost story I’ve ever heard at Woodland, and she tells it best:

“As I got into my teens, I was in the young people’s group at St. Paul’s. And they loved coming out after church and just hanging around. One fellow had a car but the rest of us just biked all over the place. It got to be sort of a club with people coming out and then we’d just walk around the cemetery. Sometimes we’d go out at night and that was a little scary. But when you’re with a crowd of people it doesn’t seem to matter.”

“My brothers would throw a towel or a sheet over themselves and pop up. Now they have all those solar lights out there, but then there was nothing. It was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything. Well, except brothers in sheets. They would just jump out and say, “Boo!” or something and retreat.”

Marjorie notes that her brothers scared her just that first time. Every time after that one was just annoying.

The cemetery grew on Marjorie over time despite the pranks and the secrecy at school. “I liked the cemetery once I got used to it. My sister and I would roam all over the place and check things out.” Marjorie was married in 1954 and was out of the house by then, but she still came back to visit her home in the cemetery from time to time.

Any questions?

I hope you enjoyed reading about this glimpse into Woodland’s past as much as we loved hearing about it from Marjorie! We’ll have some more stories about speedboats, military funerals, and trains coming next week. Comment any questions you have for Marjorie below and we’ll do our best to ask her the next time we visit her.

What We Did This Summer: Monument Conservators Reflections

It’s the classic troupe. You get back from summer holidays in grade school, and your teachers make you write about what you did over the summer holidays. We’re not in grade school anymore, but we’d like to bring you a little bit of what we’ve learned over the ‘summer’ while working at monument conservators at Woodland, our best and worst experiences, and maybe a few of our favourite experiences and photos too!

What was your favourite gravestone to work on this summer?

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Brienna filling out a form for little Billie

Robyn: I think I’m going to have to go with the Carter Sisters on this one! Originally, we thought they were one stone…maybe a ledger that had cracked in several places or something, but when we took the sod off the stones we realized it was two different stones from the 1850s! They both had the bases in situ, right beside on another too and didn’t need a key made, so we were able to get them standing next to each other again…even if it did take 2 weeks to finish!

Brienna: Probably Maurice’s? Although, it’s hard to choose. I remember feeling really excited uncovering my first completely sunken monument, and Robert Cooper’s stone was also exciting because of its richness in history. I enjoyed working on Maurice’s monument because it felt like there was a surprise with every dig. We decided to work on the monument because we had nearly finished all of the fallen monuments in Section K, and wanted to finish the rest of them. We found Maurice’s monument laying flat in two pieces under a pine tree, and thought, “Okay, cool! Another one to lay down in screening!” But we were so wrong. While digging the monument out, we realized it had broken off, and the marble continued straight into the ground. While we tried to get that up, we realized it was in cement and surrounded by thick roots. While we tried to get the cement out, we realized there was a key underneath. And finally, while we tried to get that out, we realized it was in more cement! We ended up with what I’m dubbing the largest hole on Earth, but that was the exciting part! We never knew what to expect with this stone!

Best gravestone conservation tip for the public?

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Don’t break the stones!

Robyn: OhhhHHhh there are so many to chose from! Lets go with this: Please do not take rubbings of any gravestones, or add any substance to the gravestone to make it ‘easier’ to read, such as talcum powder, flour, or any other household powder. They all contain substances that leech into the stone and cause internal damage when they get wet…the particles expand, crack the stone, and eventually ruin the inscriptions. Please just take pictures, make notes, and lightly feel the stone with your finger tips to determine letters!

Brienna: Please please pleaseeeee don’t go probing around cemeteries to look for stuff. Even if it’s your families plot, please ask for consent from the institution. For example, if at Woodland Cemetery, you should go into the office and ask the staff. This is for many reasons. Firstly, you could scratch the monument with what you are using to probe the ground. Secondly, you could dig up something that the family intended to be buried with the person. Thirdly, it’s an active site, and you don’t know what’s below the surface. What if the burial is shallow? Or what if that plot is still in use? Please just ask the staff inside, they will be happy to assist you.

What was your favourite animal encounter?

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Fredrick/Franklin the squirrel!

Brienna: Watching a deer give birth! Even though it was a stillbirth and sad, we learned a lot. We found the deer sitting, with a pink sack next to her. Once she was done giving birth, she pulled the sack off of the fawn with her teeth! This looked super gruesome, as bits of the sack and blood dripped from her mouth. It was pretty intense!

Robyn: Definitely going to have to go with Fredrick/Franklin the squirrel for this one! It was one of our first days at Woodland, and as we were going for lunch this young squirrel was chasing us down the road while we walked! After we realized he was a hungry baby and not a rabid creature, we let him follow us over to lunch. We gave him water and a cashew, and he hung out with us for part of the afternoon! He rode around on our shoulders, snuggled inside my jacket, and rode on my backpack for a while. Once we got our golf cart running though, he ran off. I really hope he’s doing ok out there, friendly little guy!

Hardest part of the job?

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Some heavy lifting required!

Robyn: I could go with something physical here, but I think as an archaeologist I’m pretty used to figuring out how to lift large, heavy buckets of stuff (and stones). I think the hardest part of the job was just figuring out what gravestone repairs are the priority for us to work on. You could spend literal years at the cemetery, probably even in only one or two sections, making sure each stone is level, stable, etc., but our priorities need to be to older stones that can be repaired, unsafe stones, etc. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the work that needs doing, or excited about X stone here and Y stone and start several projects at once (guilty!), so prioritizing based on need and safety is super important.

Brienna: I think just getting used to the conditions. I had not exercised much in a while prior to starting the job, and my body was in for quite the shock! Haha. I had a few muscle cramps at first from all the lifting and digging, but they quickly went away. And similar to Robyn, I also had difficulty prioritizing projects and accepting the fact that there’s no way we can fix everything. Once Thomas said, “You can’t get saviour complex for the cemetery!” Which is so true, but hard to accept! If we had more hands, there are so many easy fixes lying around Woodland. I’m happy that this program exists every summer though, so I can hope future monument conservators will get to them.

Best part of the job?

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2019 Woodland History Team!

Robyn: Besides meeting and working with all these amazing people? Getting to work in a historic cemetery, of course! I’m a huge advocate of public archaeology and heritage, so getting to work in a public site where we can answer questions from interested members of the public is huge! We have worked really hard this summer to up our online presence as a way to interact with people too, but it is so much more rewarding to be able to answer questions in person. I want everyone to know how interesting historic burial sites are!

Brienna: So many things!! Our team was amazing to work with; the job was essentially stress-free (well, unless you count stressing about the heat?); and our Tuesday visits to the gluten-free bakery across the road for baked goods were always amazing. I also really loved getting to choose what projects to do, based on what which repairs we preferred and which stones spoke to us. This allowed us to complete whole areas and family stones, areas in the shade, and really ambitious week-long projects (looking at you, Hugessen)! Finally, it’s an amazing feeling to find a completely sunken monument, and raise it so that their memory is restored. We’ve conserved and restored quite a few stones that weren’t visible to the public just 2 months ago, and now so many more people can acknowledge these people and their history, and perhaps do more research in their own time.

Tips for working outdoors in *This Heat*?

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…and summer follows spring.

Brienna: Drink 3x as much water as you think you need, and don’t feel bad for taking breaks! If you work your body to the point of exhaustion in this heat, your work will be subpar anyways. So, it’s better for you and your productivity to sit in the shade every once in a while! Robyn and I were lucky enough to have access to popsicles and freezies in the break room, and eating those made for fun breaks!

Robyn: Get yourself an ‘archaeology’ hat (ugh can you hear me groaning at that joke from here?) to keep the sun off your face, ears, and neck! Trust me, it will save you! Also, look up the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke so you can take a rest if you feel one of them coming on. Heat is dangerous, especially if you aren’t prepared!

Most surprising part of working in an active cemetery?

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Section R, our home away from home

Robyn: I study burial grounds so I wasn’t concerned about being around graves at all. In fact, I find them rather peaceful! However, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel being around the contemporary deceased, since everyone I research has been dead for a long time. When we got a chance to shadow in the crematory, I was a bit surprised to find that I’m fairly comfortable in that environment as well (archaeologists often don’t go beyond bones), and was/still am very interested about that kind of work. The burial process is fascinating.

Brienna: There were a few times throughout the summer I’d forgotten that we were working in an active cemetery. When you’re working on monuments from the Victorian Era, dating as far back as 1851, it’s so easy to remove yourself and forget that those were people just like us. We often referred to the stones as if they were the people they commemorated (“Robert, why are you so dirty!?”), or spoke of them as if they were still alive. I found myself being reminded that the people of the monuments we were working on were deceased when we could see services nearby, or when we visited the crematory.

How do you feel about death & dying after working at Woodland?

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The wildlife at Woodland is amazing!

Brienna: I think I’ve started thinking more about how sudden my death could be. As I just stated, it’s easy to remove yourself from situations at the cemetery, and to create a mental dichotomy between the dead and the alive. But that could change at any moment! This hasn’t made me more worrisome or cautious, because life happens, it’s just made me think about it.

Robyn: I’ve always heard that it is healthy to think about mortality, that considering your own finite time on earth allows you to live more fully. I didn’t come into this job scared of mortality, but I feel like I’m leaving with a better understanding and respect for the individuals who work in the funeral industry, providing support, compassion, and guidance to bereaved families during their time of need. It takes great strength to work in this industry, to be with these individuals during their last moments on the surface, or before cremation, and those moments are also part of the death & dying process in our world today. I feel privileged to have had this experience and a chance to be part of those moments too.

Thank you so much for joining us on this journey in monument conservation. We’ve loved working on these blogs and bringing the history, and the conservation processes to you this summer! Keep up with Woodland Cemetery History here on the blog, and on social media all year round to find out more about the exciting work being done at the cemetery, and to get info on upcoming tours and talks. Au revoir!

-Robyn & Brienna, 2019 Monument Conservators

Cementburg: The Tale of Maurice Baker

Maurice’s grave, before edging and uncovering

Unlike most of the stories we’ve told this summer, this one doesn’t have an ending quite yet. This is because like any good research or fieldwork, you always find the most exciting thing right when you’re about to run out of time. Our last-minute project appeared in the form of Maurice Baker, his four children, and his monumental (hah) gravestone.

It was a find day on our last week at Woodland, and Brienna and myself were busy finishing up some projects and finding a couple easy ones to do along the way. We had just finished resetting a broken stone in some limestone screening on the ground, and moved over to a large broken gravestone nearby in Section K. We thought we were just going to be able to reset the stone on the ground, and began edging around it. Boy, were we ever wrong there! This gravestone would turn out to be one of the most challenging, and certainly the largest, of the stones we’ve worked on this summer.

After the two visible pieces of the gravestone were removed from the ground, we realized that the base of the stone was in situ to the west of the main portion of the monument. Since the stone dated to the 1853, we thought that it must have been the style that goes deep underground, rather than having been set in a key. Excitedly, we started digging down into the ground to get the base out, in order to reset it and get the stone standing.

Joey trying to free the key from the cement

We hadn’t gone down very far when our shovels hit cement. Cement! What was that doing there? Luckily, it was full of large inclusions and the roots of the surrounding grasses had grown down into the cement, weakening it, so it was relatively easy to break apart. As the cement kept going father and father down, and our hole got larger and deeper, we were left wondering what kind of a gravestone this was going to be! Suddenly, we saw a smooth surface below the cement…a tell-tale sign that there was a key down there. This was a surprise, especially when we were approaching 2-feet below the ground surface! We freed the cement and removed all we could, before we realize that the key itself was set into a base of even more dense cement, lower in the ground. No wonder this stone had sunk!

It appeared that the Baker family, who have a monument adjacent to Maurice’s, likely had the stone moved to their new plot in Woodland after St. Paul’s, and apparently set the stone in cement in an attempt to preserve it. As we tried to free the base from the key, the weakened marble snapped off in our hands (see above photo of me looking sad). Unfortunately this happens, especially with decomposing, damp stone, but we can fix that. Once freed from the encasing cement, we were able to pull the remainder of the stone free from the key…but then it was time to call in the back-hoe.

You see, it appeared that the key was still lodged within the cement. With the help of the back-hoe, it easily came free and could be rolled to the surface. Once the key was free, we filled the hole with limestone screening and laid two pieces of gridforce to prevent sinking or tilting in the future. Once the key was level, we used lime mortar to secure the bottom portion of the gravestone back in the key.

While cleaning the stone, we also noticed some abstract designs carved into one of the lower pieces. It appears that the carver was practicing or testing his tools on Maurice’s stone!

Now that the base was reset, it was time to prepare the rest of the gravestone for raising. This involved drilling holes with the masonry bit, as we have done many times before this summer, and planning how to reattach several very large pieces of stone. It took several battery charges to get through all of the pieces, and the help of Tom and his crew from Memorial Restorations to lift the final piece into place. Maurice’s stone is staggeringly large, and we are so happy to have had the chance to finish raising it again! All that remains is to mortar the last break, but we were too excited to wait before showing you all!

The (mostly) completed stone!

Sacred
to the Memory
of
MAURICE BAKER
who departed this life
May 27, 1853
Aged 38 Yrs.
And also of his four Children
Who lie here with him.

Rest though with loved ones gone before
To join the ransomed throng above
Thy spirit called by God did Soar
To swell the ceaseless song of love
We mourn thee not though often here
Thy absence makes a lonely heart
Yet still thy Saviour’s here to cheer
Through him we’ll make no more to part.

We don’t know much about Maurice or his children. The 1875 ‘McAlpine’s London City and county of Middlesex Directory‘ available through the Library and Archives of Canada, lists an Eliza Baker, widow of Maurice Bake, who lived at the corner of Waterloo and St. James Street, London. She may have continued to reside in their family home after her husband’s death. Beside Maurice’s gravestone at Woodland is a stone with two Eliza’s names…potentially his wife and daughter? Hopefully further research will reveal more!

Don’t forget to visit Woodland Cemetery for Doors Open London, this September 14th & 15th. Brienna and myself will be there to do monument conservation demonstrations and answer all your burning questions. See you in September!

Secrets of the Gravestones!

During our time at Woodland, we have come across many odd little happenings that we would not have noticed in the cemetery without working here. For example, we met a small squirrel that crawled up our (clothed) legs and opted for a ride on our backpacks. We also watched a deer give birth, which was the coolest, but perhaps not the best lunchtime entertainment. And, we recently realized the purple markings on our white marble monuments is actually mulberry bird poop. We’ve had daily, if not hourly, instances where we’ve exclaimed something along the lines of “what! that’s so cool!” And, we’ve even had a few moments where we’ve flipped over a monument to be reset, only to uncover something even cooler on the back.

Marion Phillips’s gravestone, 1851.

We found our first monument surprise while preparing the stones for Meagan and Thomas’ tour, “A Newcomer’s Guide to Resting in Woodland.” This mainly involved cleaning the monuments they planned to talk about, but we also wanted to reset a monument that had fallen directly in front of a tour stop, Thomas Phillips, M.D. Upon edging and pulling the grass back from the stone, we realized it was the daughter of Phillips, Marion Phillips, who died in 1851. The entire monument was there but broken into three pieces, so we initially thought we would raise it again. That was until we realized this was the coolest stone we’ve ever seen!

While we were scrubbing away at the stone, Robyn started freaking out in excitement- the stone had carved faces in the bottom! She had initially thought the unfamiliar patterns were from root markings, but soon recognized them as ‘carver doodles.’ There are two full faces, complete with eyes and lips, and an extra set of lips to the left of them carved into the bottom of the stone. This monument was a long slab of marble without a key, which meant at least a foot of it was to be buried underground to anchor it. Apparently, when a carver knew that a portion of the stone was to be buried and hidden from sight, they would practice lettering, or in our case just doodle, on that portion of the stone.

Because this was unprecedented in any of the stones we found, it was quickly decided that the historical significance of these doodles outweighed our original desire to erect this stone. Instead, we filled the hole where it laid with limestone screening, and placed in back on top. This way, everyone can enjoy the carver’s doodles. If you want to find them, they are along the road in the back of Section S, to the west of the large ornamental sandstone ring cross) monument. They are most evident when you angle a flashlight across or pour water on them.

Robyn and I found our next monument with a secret in section EC, one of Woodland’s old children’s sections, while we were randomly edging up tablets while waiting to get our drill. I noticed a tablet to ‘Baby Sloman’ was stained green and on its way to becoming sunken, so I decided to pull it up to pack limestone screening underneath and dig out a frame for it. But much to our delight, there were inscriptions on the back!

The monument had crystal clear iconography of a lamb underneath a willow, and it read, ‘IN memory of SARAH Daughter of,’ before it broke off in a perfectly straight line. We think that the carver discarded Sarah’s stone, for unknown reasons, and recycled the slab of marble to use the front! I get the logic, why not reuse material if it’s going to sit as a tablet in the ground, anyways? This sitting in the dirt is actually why the iconography was persevered so well. Even though Sloman’s stone was erected in 1912, the back was protected by dirt and obviously not exposed to the regular substances that stain marble stones in the air.

Unfortunately, since the nature of a tablet only allows one side to be showing at once, we had to rebury the back of the monument. The good news however is that we were able to document this, so that all of you lovely people can see it on the Internet, instead!

Strange zig-zags on Maurice Baker’s stone, 1853.

On one of our final gravestones, we found another little carver doodle in the form of some squiggles. They are fairly uniform, but do not appear on both sides of the stone so are likely from a tool, rather than being lifted by machinery, etc. This could have been carved on the stone before it was a gravestone, or maybe was the result of the carver testing their tools? This particular stone was carved by one Mr. Thomas Francis, a gravestone carver here in London. If only he was still around to ask about this!

Our final gravestone surprise was occurred while we worked on the many fallen monuments lining the south end of Section K. We decided to work in this area mainly because it was shaded by a tree on either side, so we had coverage throughout the entire day, but also because this was along the tour route, and we had decided to give our demonstration here.

Contemporary hidden writing!

While we were primarily working on older stones, I also realized that there was a sunken granite tablet, which turned out to be from 1983. We have no idea how it sunk a few inches underground in such a short time frame! I needed the assistance of Thomas to help me pull the tablet out of its hole, because granite is a heavy material, and the tablet was quite large in a cement frame. We flipped it onto the grass, and realized there was black writing on the back! This indicated the size of the stone, and that the maker of the monument was Ideal Monuments. This seems like a rather mundane discovery, but this was the only time we had ever come across this! Usually tablets are straight and flat across the back, with no indication of where they came from. Standing monuments, on the contrary, sometimes list the carver on the front of the bottom on Victorian Era monuments, and on the back of newer monuments.

The results of a rusted pin…

There are a few secrets to the ‘typical’ stones we’ve worked on, too. First, many of the multilayered marble stones have metal rods that connect the pieces together. However, many of these rods have eroded, and only gravity holds the stones up. When we drilled wooden pins into stones, we make our own holes, as the old ones are too wide for us and have metal bits left them. And finally, most of the marble stones we’ve pulled out of the ground have peculiar dirt patterns covering the side facing down. This is because of all the ant tunnels! We’ve unfortunately learned that ants like to nest, and make egg pools right underneath stones. As a result of this, we’re usually cautious to raise stones, quickly looking to see if any ants are too close for comfort!

Isn’t it amazing, what secrets can lie just below the surface? Gravestone hold more than just information about the people they memorialize, they carry the personalities and work of their carvers, family ties and faiths, personal interests, history, and sometimes clues about the environment in which they stand. We feel extremely lucky to be the first people to see some of these ‘cemetery secrets’ in decades, and we hope you have enjoyed learning about them with us!

Perfectly Preserved: Baby Ida Grace

This summer we have uncovered and rest many gravestones that belonged to infants or children. Unfortunately, due to high mortality rates in the past, this is not all together unusual. This doesn’t make it any less jarring when a stone comes out of the ground and we see the tell-tale lamp carving, or see the abbreviations of ‘months’ and ‘days’ at the base of the stone. Through our work here at Woodland, we are happy to have been able to raise many infant stones and remind people of these young individuals who didn’t get to experience a full life, and perhaps a little of what life was like back then.

Today’s post is about a gravestone that has been near to our hearts all summer long, that of baby Ida Grace Laing. We uncovered her stone at the northeast side of Section R, near the tall granite monument with the polished ball on the top, near the beginning of our time at the cemetery. Like many of the small gravestones we have worked with over the last eight weeks, Ida’s stone was completely underground. Luckily, Brienna is the queen of finding buried monuments like these, and while probing a row with a suspicious break in it, came across the stone!

Once we knew there was a stone there, we started the exciting task of edging and uncovering the stone. This is always the most exciting part, because we have no idea what we are going to find below the sod layer…will it be a natural rock, a tree root, a section marker or pin (ugh not again), or a stone? Will the stone be intact? Will it have a key? Will it even need one?? It’s always a surprise!

When we peeled back the sod, a wonderful sight befell our eyes…the perfectly preserved and intact gravestone of Ida Grace, complete with a tiny lamb on the top, barely weathered inscription, and to our delight, no major staining. It is likely that the stone sunk or was covered fairly quickly after it fell over (or was laid down), and biological grown or chemical weathering were not given the opportunity to discolour of otherwise adversely affect the surface of the stone. This is wonderful news, and meant that when we cleaned the stone it would come out beautifully.

D2, water, and a little elbow grease, and Ida’s stone was cleaned without too much trouble. If you look in the photos, you’ll see that the base of the stone has a tab sticking out of it. That was set into the original key, which we were unfortunately unable to locate in the area. Instead, we decided to have a new key made from cement! This does not mean cementing gravestones in place. This is a bad idea and is detrimental to the stone.

Preparing the key was a relatively simple process. Joey made a simple wood frame, and we used the measurements of the frame to dig a hole in the ground for it to be set. We dug farther than the base of the key would sit, in order to fill the hole with limestone screening to help keep it level and provide drainage. One the frame was in place, cement from the bucket of the back-hoe was shoveled in, and a little mould was screwed in place to create the slot for the gravestone. This piece was covered in plastic, so it could easily be removed from the cement after it had set.

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Joey, putting cement in the frame. Ida’s gleaming white stone is in the centre of the image!

Two days later we returned to the area, and removed the mould. Unfortunately the cement wasn’t completely dry yet, so we would have to wait a little longer before we could reset the stone completely! While it could probably have been set at that point, we didn’t want to take any chances with the gravestone leaning and putting unnecessary pressure on the tacky cement, potentially causing it to crack and/or fail.

Luckily we only had to wait 2 more days before the cement was cured enough to work with! To set Ida’s stone, we mixed limestone mortar and applied it to the slot in the newly-made key. Then, we carefully lifted Ida’s stone and lowered it into the slot. The stone was then braced on both sides (once we checked that it was level of course) and left to dry. After the limestone had dried, we used some more mortar to point the base of the stone to prevent water from getting inside…and voila! Ida Grace’s stone was finished! Her inscription reads:

In Memory
of
IDA GRACE
Infant Daughter
of
George & Caroline Laing.
DIED
Aug. 29. 1872,
AE 1 yr 2 Mo’s & 4 Dys
________
Suffer little children to come
unto me, and forbid them not.
Luke. XVIII. 16

Powell & Son.

As always, thank you for reading and following along with our conservation journeys at Woodland Cemetery! If you are interested in visiting Ida, or any of the stones we have talked about on the blog, staff at Woodland would be happy to assist you in locating their graves.

Sharon’s Field Placement in Thanatology

*This post was written by thanatology student Sharon Swiderski.*

On May 30th, our thanatology class from Kings University College visited Woodland Cemetery. This was one of our prearranged agency visits, where we visited various services in the community dealing with persons/families living with life threatening illness, bereavement and possibly, death. We were greeted by Roula Drossos, the manager, who visited with our class and answered our questions before we were taken on a walking tour conducted by Thomas Sayers and Meagan Fillmore, the Historian and Archivists. During the tour we were introduced to Brienna French and Robyn Lacy, monument conservators, employed as summer students to conserve and sometimes restore gravestones that have sunken into the ground or been damaged. Walking through the park-like setting of the cemetery, the storytelling of these enthusiastic tour guides introduced us to a few of the notorious lives here at Woodland. We also visited the mausoleum, were entertained by deer dancing among the trees, which truly presented an interesting and enchanting visit that afternoon.

Well, as fortune would have it, I am the student who has been spending time with this group at Woodland Cemetery, “hands on” (on a shovel, that is!) with Brienna and Robyn learning how to edge around a gravestone from having sunken into the ground, raise it by filling the hole with dirt, clean it and erect it again in honour of the person below. On one occasion, Robyn and Brienna were trying to teach me how to chisel old mortar off a stone to make it smooth again. Being a “mature student,” I secretly marvel at their patience with me! One day last week we were shown the cremation process, another day Woodland’s arborist gave us a walking tour to introduce us to the magnificent trees that have grown here over the years. To be given this opportunity to observe firsthand what occurs beyond the front gates is such a privilege and I am looking forward to the remaining time I have here to enjoy these people and learn more.

Buried together: The Carter Sisters

Today’s story of gravestone conservation is actually about a pair of gravestones that we repaired simultaneously, as is only befitting of young sisters. These marble markers, in Section K beside the crematory, were both transported over from St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard. The sisters, Margret Matilda and Caroline F., died in 1855 and 1859 at young ages. Their parents ordered large, ornate gravestones to commemorate these losses, and our story today details their uncovering and restoration…all 2 weeks of it!

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The Carter stones before cleaning.

Initially, we though that these stones were both part of the same monument, perhaps a large ledger that had cracked under the weight of years of lawnmowers driving over it. Once we removed the sod layers, however, it became apparent that it was actually two gravestones laid to rest side by side!

As you can see in this photo, there is a base to Caroline’s stone on the left, still sticking up out of the ground. This suggests to us that a) her gravestone was not the style that included a separate key, with the 1850s dates a good indication that neither of them had keys, and b) these stones were once erected directly beside one another, after were laid in the same location after they broke.

This was both an exciting realization and a troublesome one, because while it meant that we would be able to raise the stones without making new keys, it also meant a *lot* more excavation to remove the two bases of the stones, still buried in the ground. And yes, once we removed Margret’s stone and probed below, it was evident that the base of her stone was still in situ below the surface as well. It was our lucky day!

Once the bases were excavated (which took ages) and the stones were cleaned, it was time to start digging out the ‘foundation area’ in order to reset the stones. We decided to go about this by digging down further than the gravestone bases were buried to, in order to pack the bottom with a level foundation of limestone screening. Once the limestone was in place and level, we made sure the bases were placed with the break just above ground level (for repairing) and packed limestone up to ground level to ensure they couldn’t budge out of place. Then…the difficult part began.

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Breinna attempting to drill a dowel hole.

You might be thinking, what difficult part? Surely hauling massive pieces of marble out of the ground with little more than your bare hands was the difficult part? Not so, my friend, not so. Normally when we get to this part of a restoration case, it’s a simple job of spending an afternoon measuring and drilling holes into the stone with a masonry drill, inserting the dowels, and clamping support boards around the crack until the sealant sets. Unfortunately, these gravestones were not so agreeable and turned out to be the hardest marble ever! Our drill skipped, the batteries were eaten almost immediately, and we called over auxiliary help (Joey) to make sure the sun hadn’t weakened us and it was actually fine but no, no this was the toughest marble that any of us had ever seen!

In a day, we were driving to and from the mechanical/tools compound to charge batteries multiple times, although the masonry drill bit we were using looked fine. It was slow going, until Grant the crematory operator suggested we use his drill, which was typically used to remove metal casket handles before the caskets went into the retorts. It hadn’t been used much and was nearly new, and we happily took the shiny, blue power drill outside. From there on it was mostly smooth sailing, and we only had to recharge the drill about once a day!

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Gravestones nearly finished, with Brienna checking out the broken corner.

With the better drill, we were able to finally move a little quicker, but it did take a total of two weeks from start to finish to locate, uncover, clean, and reset these gravestones. This includes limestone pointing on the cracks after the dowels had set in place. Initially, we had attached the top corner of Caroline’s stone with just some adhesive, due to the small size of the piece, but unfortunately because of the state of the stone’s weathering the surface was sugaring. The adhesive stuck to the detached grains of the stone and the piece broke off again in the same place! Second attempt included a dowel and it reattached with some ease.

Once the final two cracks were repaired (Caroline’s stone took longer, as it was in 4 pieces rather than just 3), it was just a matter of removing the final braces, pointing the breaks to protect the interior and the dowels, and voila!

We are very happy with how these two gravestones turned out! After the Hugessen monument, this was absolutely the largest (or at least most time consuming) project we have undertaken this summer! The stones are beautifully preserved due to their time underground, with Margret’s stone depicting a rose in the centre with additional foliage around the edges, with a Gothic arch. Caroline’s stone depicts a woman mourning, a tree with a bird in the branches, and a small lamb curled below it.

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Margret died when she was just about a year old, and her sister Caroline when she was just 6 years old. It’s clear that they were deeply missed by their parents, and it’s lovely to see that they can stand together even still, having been relocated from their original resting place to Woodland Cemetery.

Margret’s stone ends with a poem which reads:

Sleep on sweet babe and
take thy rest
God called three home, he
thought it best’ 

Catherine’s stone reads:

Farewell dear friend
this world is vain
in heaven hope
will meet again’

So often the poems on gravestones are difficult to read, due to the inscriptions being much shallower than the main body of the inscription, but these stones were partially covered, protecting the wonderful epitaphs. We think they are fitting tributes to these young girls.

As always, thank you for reading! We’re looking forward to bringing you more posts about Woodland’s history and restoration!

Crane* Day! (*Actually a Backhoe)

All of the projects Robyn and I have worked on up until this point have been challenging but we’ve only recently started using machinery in our work. This week, we’ve raised two monuments using a backhoe, which we’ve gleefully dubbed our ‘crane.’ This is because the monuments were too large for us to lift safely (or at all, for that matter).

This is why you don’t lean on monuments!

The first stone we raised with the backhoe was a marble ring cross monument to three women: Jane Gildersleeves, Olive Eastty, and Jane Booker. Their death dates ranged from 1907 to 1919. Unlike most of the stones we’ve worked on this summer, this stone was standing when we found it. However, we realized it was incredibly unstable, to the point of being dangerous, while we were visiting the monument to Paul Peel and his family nearby. I touched the 1.45m monument, and it wobbled like it was about to fall over!

In no time, Robyn and I had laid wooden planks against the base of the monument, and leaned the cross onto them. We learned that the cross had a metal rod at one point, but this had rusted and broken long ago. This is why we now work with wooden monuments, as the rust can harm the stone! We also learned that the cross was sitting on lead spaces, and had globs of old, hard sealant. So, we put on our masks and safety glasses and started chiseling away! Both the base and cross needed chiseling, and we managed to flatten the remaining bits of the metal rod, too.

Cleaning, drilling, and chiseling the monument!

Since it’s dangerous to have too many people chiseling in one area (you know, all the flying stones and whatnot), I started to clean the cross while Robyn and Sharon chiseled the base. I even had enough time to edge out and raise a nearby sunken tablet! Once the chiseling was complete, we were able to drill the base and cross. We do this by drilling the holes on the base first, and measuring where to drill the holes on top with calibers. After this, we had to wait for Joey, who has helped us on many previous projects, and Bruce, the backhoe operator to help us raise the cross.

A few days later, Joey notified us they were ready to help us finish our project! We met them at the monument, and cleared the cobwebs out of our hardhats, ready to learn how to guide the cross back into it’s base. First, Joey strategically wrapped a loop shaped strap around the cross, so that it could easily be lifted by the hook of the backhoe. Bruce gave us a fright here, as when we turned around to see how he was doing, he was wearing a monster mask! Haha. We’ve since learned he must have a costume store’s worth of supplies hidden in the cab of his backhoe.

When Bruce raised the arm of the backhoe, he was able to dangle the cross directly on top of the base, while we guided it into place. Here, we fixed it in place by matching our drilled holes on the bottom of the monument to the dowels in the holes in the base. The holes were filled with a cohesive substance to keep the cross mounted to the base.

And with that, it was standing again! We supported it by propping wood planks on either side of the cross, and came back the next day to fill the rest of the crack at the base of the monument with lime mortar.

A few days after setting the ring cross monument, we decided to raise another cross using the same method! A tall granite cross had broken into two and fallen from its base in Section K, and we wanted to raise it. However, granite is practically infinitely harder to drill compared to marble!! We naively decided to try drilling it, but gave up shortly when we realized we were going nowhere.

Instead of pinning this cross, we glued it together with our adhesive. Because of the weight of the monument, Joey helped us put the cross back together on the ground. We tightened ratchet straps around it to support it as it dried. A few days later, Bruce helped us raise the granite cross with the backhoe on one of his “sandwich breaks.” There was no way we could have lifted this without a machine!

Once the monument was upright in its proper position, we filled it’s base with adhesive. This position was difficult to determine, because the base was circular and the cross had no text to indicate the front. But we eventually figured it out with some trial and error!

This monument is ridiculously tall and heavy, and we felt the need to add some extra protective measures to ensure it could dry without falling and harming any people or wildlife. Joey made some interesting yet sturdy supports to hold it in place (I can’t describe them… just reference the images and see for yourself), and we wound caution tape around the area.

After a few days had passed, Joey took the supports down, and shook the monument to ensure it was secure and safe. If it wiggled in its base at all, we would have taken it down and waited for someone with a drill thats capable of drilling granite to pin it up. Thankfully, the monument is sturdy in place, and we were able to leave it standing for everyone to enjoy!

The final product.