Cemetery Styles Mini Series: Part 1

We’ve talked about woodland cemetery’s long history on this blog before. Moving the cemetery four times has made our history complicated and unique. Because Woodland has been around in one for or another since the 1830s it has exemplified every popular cemetery style since then. 

In order to take advantage of our unique history this blog will cover a short miniseries on the history of cemetery styles and paradigms starting with the churchyard and classic Victorian cemeteries.

A churchyard is exactly what it sounds like; a plot of land attached to or adjacent to a church that serves as a burial site for its members. This model was popular in Europe and early Canada. It works best for rural areas and small villages or towns. And would have been the style used for St Paul’s church at our original location. Early headstones were usually simple and often added long after burial. Both the availability of headstones and the level of embellishment was dependent on the presents of carvers.

Part 1: The Victorian Era and the Rural Cemetery Movement

The Victorian Cemetery is perhaps the most spectacular and well known of all cemetery styles. It remains a popular style to depict in movies and television because it’s so visually interesting and distinct.

In fact it’s probably the style you know best. Even if you aren’t aware of it. A Lot of the distinct features of Victorian cemeteries are still what we think of when we picture the cemetery today.

The actual reign of queen Victoria lasted from 1837 to 1901. However the timeline for the Victorian Era is usually recorded as around 1820 to 1914. While this period technically refers only to the United Kingdom proper their cultural influence extended all across the then-empire. 

And of course London Ontario was no exception.

While the roughly 80 years of the Victorian Era saw massive change in its views of social systems, death, and the corpse some elements of the Victorian cemetery remain strikingly distinct and recognizable.

The Victorian cemetery is characterized by some very specific features. All of which were heavily influenced by class structure. 

These features include; family plots, fences, or kerbsets, large monuments and the shift to park style cemeteries.

One thing you might notice in the older parts of Woodland are that the plots appear larger. These are family plots and they are exactly as they sound; large plots of land with the space for multiple graves that would be owned by a family. This ability to own land and pass it onto your children is the kind of expression of class scholars mean when they talk about Victorian cemeteries as a manifestation of class disparity.

These plots might feature one large monument with the names of all the family buried there. These larger family monuments often engraved all available sides. But they might also feature smaller individual markers that signify the place of each individual family member.

These family plots were often fenced in with either stone or metal. Victorian families were encouraged to treat their grave plots like any other property and separate them from outsiders. There is probably nothing more markedly Victorian than a grave lot fence. These fences might be made of either stone or metal.

Robey family monument with stone fence border (fences at woodland are all stone)

Another kind of grave fence common in the Victorian era is a kerbset. A kerbset is basically a grave fence for an individual grave instead of a family lot. Kerbsets could be a more affordable option. In the case a stone kerbset was too expensive a raised mound with a permanent earth platform would indicate the new burial. This would provide visitors with a place to leave their goods. Oddly enough despite the raised mound having fallen out of use for more than a century it continues to be associated with the idea of a ‘fresh grave’.

Images left to right: modern kerbset, Victorian kerbset, Halloween depiction of kerbset

The large monuments of the Victorian era were typically made of marble and then later granite. Marble was popular among carvers because it is a soft stone easy to work with and has a distinct white colour. Granite later overtook it in popularity because of its durability.

These large monuments typically featured either christian or classical symbolism. Some common christian symbols on top of monument are angels and crosses. One particular hallmark of the Victorian cemetery were the classics. Ancient Roman, Greece and Egypt were all the rage in Victorian England.

The most distinct of these is the Egyptian obelisk. They can be found all across European, Canadian and American cemeteries from the era. And would often be combined with other embellishments.

The Ardill Family Monument; a granite obelisk

Greek and Roman columns were also popular. They would often be combined with other symbols like the cremation urn. Cremation was becoming an option in England during the late Victorian era with the establishment of the Cremation Society of England in 1874 and the practice being legalized in 1902 under the Cremation Act.

However the popularity of urns as a symbol predates this and was based on cremation as an ancient roman funerary practice. So the urns carved on headstone or sometimes on top of columns or obelisks were designed to look like their Roman equivalents. 

Again the urn might be combined with more Victorian imagery like a Victorian mourning shroud.

A selection of draped urns from Woodland Cemetery

The layout of Woodland is itself a product of the Victorian era. Woodland at Springbank is a rural or park cemetery. Park style cemeteries also called garden cemeteries or rural cemeteries are a kind of cemetery that emphasizes sprawling walking paths, benches and beautiful scenery. In England this style of cemetery was a product of the mid to late Victorian Era. While in the Americas this trend began in the early Victorian Era.

In both cases this change was motivated by concerns about space and changing theories about public health and disease. 

In the United States as early as the 1820s American cities were running out of space for the living and the dead. Urban churchyard cemeteries were filling up. Cramped living conditions meant disease spread rapidly and few people had access to green spaces. A single solution to both these problems was proposed by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1831. Their vision was for a cemetery built outside of city limits that would act as a public recreation area. They modeled this new cemetery after the Victorian gardens popular in Europe at the time. This new cemetery style was called a garden or rural cemetery with the first of its kind being Mount Auburn Cemetery.

PHOTO: of Mt Auburn

Comparison of Mount Auburn(Left) and Woodland(Right)

This new style quickly spread in popularity across the county with other notable examples being Green-Wood in Brooklyn to Laurel Hill in Philadelphia. This new model of cemetery not only solved the problems of over crowded urban cemeteries but also became the first public parks in the country.

In England these cemeteries, typically called park cemeteries, would be built later on in the era after much public debate. This debate was ultimately about whether or not it was appropriate or safe for cemeteries to serve the dual purpose of burial and recreational space.

The Victorian era saw a changing view on the dangers posed by the corpse. During the beginning of the era it was widely believed that the corpse could cause illness mainly in the form of producing a toxic miasma. Indeed this was a reason for moving Woodland to its current location. However as the century progressed this belief was gradually replaced with Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch’s germ theory. 

By the 1880s it was believed that the greatest risk to public health was the contamination of city living rather than corpses. Poor health, called physical deterioration, was said to be caused by insufficient amounts of pure air, sunlight, and exercise.

While this belief was not universal it was this shift in the view of illness that convinced the English public it was both safe to use cemeteries as a public parks and necessary as it provided a much needed source for these green spaces.

However unlike in the United States and Canada, where cemeteries could be built in this new style outside of the city limits, existing English cemeteries needed to be reformed or restructured. This typically meant moving or removing some headstones, landscaping, and adding benches and rest spaces for the public.

Sources for this post:

Rugg Julie. Lawn cemeteries: the emergence of a new landscape of death. Urban History. 2006.

Thorsheim, Peter. The Corpse in the Garden: Burial, Health, and the Environment in Nineteenth-CenturyLondon. Environmental History, Vol. 16, No. 1 (JANUARY 2011).

Williams, Tate. In the Garden Cemetery: The Revival of America’s First Urban Parks. Washington Vol. 120, Iss. 2,  (Spring 2014).

2020 Tour

The Cemetery Itself: Art and Architecture at Woodland

This summer we’ve been hard at work designing a tour that focuses on some of the unique elements of Woodland Cemetery. Woodland’s expansive history has seen many changes in cemetery paradigms and monument styles. These changes are all connected to historic developments like the expansion of cities, and broad artistic movements in art and architecture. 

In many ways Woodland Cemetery is a walk through history. This tour, The Cemetery Itself: Art and Architecture at Woodland will help guests recognize some of the things they’ve already seen at Woodland and place them in a broader historical context.

Please join us from the comfort of your own home this Saturday August 1st at 1 pm EST.

Send an email to woodlandcemeteryhistory@gmail to request a zoom link.

The Pandemics Pt. II – The 1918 Pandemic & Capt. Henry Ardagh Kingsmill

Continuing the history of Woodland’s brushes with pandemics…

Make sure to check out Meagan’s article on tuberculosis to get caught up on the series so far before checking out this story.

I’d like to introduce you to someone whose name you might recognize if you ever went shopping in downtown London in the last 50 plus years: Henry Ardagh Kingsmill. We usually tell his story to talk about the stones of soldiers that sit atop empty graves.

Henry is the odd one out on this tour, as he died in 1920 after the war ended. But his cause of death, pneumonia and influenza, links him to the 1918 Pandemic, which has seen recent media attention given our current situation.

A photo of a mustachioed soldier, Capt. Henry Ardagh Kingsmill, taken at Frank Cooper's photo studio in London, ON.
This photo was taken by Frank Cooper, another Woodland resident. Photo retrieved from Veteran Affairs Canada.

Let’s piece together a brief timeline.

Henry completed his infantry training at the Wolseley Barracks in 1891 when he was 23 years old. It would take another 27 years for Henry to train as a doctor at the University of Western Ontario and then enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s Army Medical Corps.

Henry signed his Officer’s Declaration Papers, basically a resume of his past experiences with the military, on April 10, 1918. He would have arrived in England to a network of general hospitals, stationary hospitals, and casualty clearing stations spread across England and France.

While Henry was off keeping Canadian soldiers alive, Canada was dealing with its own medical crisis. The first wave of the 1918 Pandemic took place between March and May of 1918. Academics still argue to this day over whether the virus got its start in America, Europe, or Asia. But no matter where the disease began, the Great War helped spread it around the world by bringing soldiers from all over the world into one place.

A more fleshed-out timeline of the pandemic is available from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, but we’re most interested here in the aftermath of the third wave. That third wave took place during the winter of 1918 into 1919 and extended in some cases into 2020 and could have caused Henry’s death after he returned from fighting.

Transcribing Henry’s last days…

The sad story of Henry’s illness and death is available in a collection of his military files, though they were at first locked away due to the stereotypical doctor chicken scratch. Here’s what I can make out – thanks to Janet for helping with some of the trickier words and letters in the comments.

Photo retrieved from Library and Archives Canada.

Reported sick on
Tuesday 2-2-20 with cough and
general malaise – temp 103°, general
condition not good – some pain in lower
left-side chest.

Cough severe but expectoration slight
Examination of chest reveals an
existing bronchitis – (AR Hodgins in
attendance, being personal friend and by request)

4-2-20 | temp 104°+ delirium at times
general condition far from good. Expectoration
more profuse – typical complaints of pain
in chest and all over body.

6-2-20 | temp remains high with delirium
and prostration – bronchopneumonia.

7-2-20 | condition unchanged.

9-2-20| condition worse – delirium more frequent
very restless – difficult to restrain in bed. Did
not respond to treatment – stimulation indifferent
breathing more encumbered – decided rattle,
chest seems to be filling up.

10-2-20 – condition worse, temp remains high
103° + to 104°. Quite delirious.

11-2-20. condition much worse, died 7:30PM.

Henry’s Circumstances of Death form offers a summary of these hospital days and lists influenza as the cause of death: “Received all possible medical attention, but pneumonia developing, case rapidly became hopeless, patient died after an illness of eight days.” The takeaway here is that influenza and pneumonia were the main causes of death.

Henry’s timeline fits in well enough with the tail-end of the third wave of the 1918 Pandemic, but his case is rarer because of his age. The 1918 Pandemic was notorious for its high mortality rate for younger folks. Older generations’ previous exposure to the 1889 Pandemic might have contributed to their lower mortality rates – more on that on this Defining Moments Canada article. The median soldier admitted to military hospitals for pneumonia and influenza was 23 years, which makes Henry an unfortunate outlier.

You might come across Henry’s veteran’s stone if you find yourself walking along the back section of the cemetery. Any stone dedicated to a soldier who passed away before 1939 predates the quiet, sloped veterans section near the front of the cemetery. Some families also preferred their loved ones to be buried in family plots, as was the case for Henry.

Interested in learning more?

Henry is featured in our “They Are Not Here” walking tour – that brochure is available right here. Here’s his brochure blurb as well as some other links about the 1918 Pandemic.

Henry “Harry” Ardagh Kingsmill was a member of the famous Kingsmill family who owned the store on Dundas St. A Confederation baby, Harry worked in the store as a youth and went on to graduate the University of Western Ontario’s medical school in 1895. He also studied medicine in England and had practices in both countries. In 1902 he married Inez Ethelyn Smith, a blonde American singer, and they had 2 children. Harry was a member of the 1st Hussars of London, but did not officially enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces until April 10, 1918, at which time he served in the Medical Corps. He is one of the only WWI soldiers to be buried in Woodland, as he did not die overseas but at home, where he fell victim to the soldier’s flu epidemic in 1920.


Public Books’ Syllabus on Pandemics, which includes some readings on the 1918 Pandemic

TVO’s When the Spanish Flu Came to Ontario for a regional look at the pandemic.

More on the Spanish Flu Epidemic, as recommended by Western Medicine.


PART 1- Tuberculosis

This year we are doing a mini series on historical pandemics in Canada. Partly because it is incredibly topical in the year 2020. But also because disease and preventing its spread has had an incredible impact on our history. 

The first disease we will cover here is tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis. It generally affects the lungs. When TB affects the lungs it is referred to as pulmonary tuberculosis. This is the most common form of TB and the one most people are familiar with. When TB spreads outside of the lungs it is called extrapulmonary tuberculosis. The pleura, central nervous system, lymphatic system as well as the bones and joints are all common areas for  extrapulmonary infection.

Tuberculous can be either active or latent. Active TB means symptoms are present even if they are mild and the infected person can spread the disease to others. While latent TB produces no symptoms and cannot be transmitted to others. However it can become active in the infected person when their immune system weakens. 

The symptoms of active pulmonary tuberculosis include a cough with sputum and blood at times, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. The bacteria is transmitted through infected aerosol droplets in the breath, mucus, cough and spit of the person with active TB.

Tuberculosis was previously called consumption or the white plague. The name consumption referred to the way it ‘consumed’ the afflicted through rapid weight lose. While the white plague referenced the pallor the afflicted developed. Today TB is thought of as a historical illness. In fact the disease is often used in historical fiction to give readers a sense of time and place. And this may be people’s first understanding of the illness.

Regrettably tuberculosis is far from a relic of bygone days, and is very much still present in many parts of the world such as India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa. According to the World Health Organization in 2018 an estimated 10 million people fell ill with tuberculosis and 1.5 million people died from the disease world wide. 

The exact origins of the disease is unknown but it is believed to have been with us since at least the Neolithic transition. This makes a truly comprehensive history of tuberculosis beyond the scope of this blog. So this post will focus on efforts to control TB over the last 200 years and some of its influences on other aspects of material culture.


For much of human history disease was an inevitable part of life. During the Victorian era, specifically the mid-1800s, TB was so common it affected standards of beauty among the upper class. Unlike other illnesses that disfigured the afflicted tuberculosis seemed only to enhance the qualities that were already established as attractive in women.

Indeed the Victorian image of a pale, lithe woman with rosy cheeks and red lips is in fact the signs of someone suffering from tuberculosis. The thin figure popular in the era was intensified by the rapid weight loss of TB. And the ‘sparkling’ or dilated eyes, rosy cheeks and red lips prized by Victorians are actually the characteristics of chronic low-grade fever. 

Marie Duplessis; french courtesan, fashion icon, tuberculosis sufferer

This ‘consumptive chic’ as it is called by Carolyn Day (author of Consumptive Chic: A History of Fashion, Beauty and Disease) would dominate the fashion industry until 1882, when Robert Koch (inventor of germ theory) discovered the cause of tuberculosis. This new awareness of microorganisms meant that voluminous skirts and beards popular in the victorian era came to be seen as possible vectors of disease. 


In Europe, the United States and Canada the understanding of contagious diseases lead to the building of sanatoriums and public awareness campaigns. 

The sanatorium was a completely separate facility designed to quarantine the afflicted and treat their symptoms. 

Fifteen years after Koch’s discovery Canada opened its first tuberculosis sanatorium, the Muskoka Cottage Sanatorium in 1897. In the following years many other sanatoriums would be built to keep up with demands including London’s own Queen Alexandra Sanatorium in 1910. While people came to understand the contagious nature of TB a cure was still unknown. The major form of treating the illness was fresh air, good diet and rest. Regrettably, Sanatoriums often did little to prevent death in patients as their treatments were not effective. Many of Queen Alexandra Sanatorium’s patients are buried here at Woodland.

Queen Alexandra Sanatorium- Cliff Infirmary, London ON. Courtesy of the Ivey Family London Room Digital Collections

Regardless of its ineffectiveness this treatment was not available to all Canadians. Despite the high rates of TB among indigenous populations the government was reluctant to spend money building facilities for indigenous communities. Of course once sanatorium treatment was expanded to include indigenous people in the 1960s there were still problems. While staying in a sanatorium was often not voluntary indigenous people were relocated across much greater distances than their non-indigenous counterparts. For example Inuit would often be transported to southern Sanatoriums for treatment. And when Inuit patients died in sanatoriums they would often be buried in the south without notifying their families.

This “rest cure” at sanitariums remained the most common treatment until an antibiotic was developed in the 1950s. In 1946 Streptomycin, the first antibiotic found to kill TB was discovered. In the ensuing decades this and other antibiotics would see wide spread use and lead to shorter sanatorium stays and greater recovery rates. However this drug treatment was not a cure and could only be administered after a person was already ill with active pulmonary tuberculosis. 


The real driving force in the fight against tuberculosis was prevention through public awareness, testing and contact tracing. Especially during the beginning of the twentieth century before drug treatments were developed. 

The Provincial Board of Health carried out public awareness and prevention campaigns against tuberculosis in the form of printed pamphlets, silent films, lectures, displays and travelling train car exhibitions. The goal of these campaigns was to familiarize people with the means of preventing the disease. Some of these were the fresh air and good diet believed to prevent the illness while others were about containing its spread through washing hands, covering the mouth and avoiding spitting. Another goal was educating Canadians on the symptoms of TB so that they could recognize them early on and seek treatment.

Testing was a government imperative. In 1923 a travelling chest clinic surveyed school and pre-school aged children in Dundas-West Flamborough to find cases of tuberculosis and collect chest disease data. This free testing, typically in the form of chest X-rays was expanded to include people of all ages and continued into the 1950s. 

Filing systems recommended by the Division of Tuberculosis Prevention in their publication “The Organization and Maintenance of a Tuberculosis Case Register”, 1945 Tuberculosis Reports
Reference Code: RG 10-97-0-25
Archives of Ontario

Contact tracing was also a huge priority for the government. In 1934 a Division of Tuberculosis Prevention was created in the Ontario Department of Health. Their goal was to monitor and record the spread of the disease through the creation of a Tuberculosis Case Register. This was a colour coded index card system that collected information from family physicians, sanatoria, hospitals, clinics, laboratories and public health nurses. The goal was to allow medical professionals to treat and follow up with TB Patients. It also created a database for the disease that could be studied to better understand the spread of TB through Canada.

Ultimately it was a combination of all these that lead to the reduction of Tuberculosis in Canada. These concerted efforts by public health professionals, scientists and government workers took a disease that was once the leading cause of death in Canada and made it feel like a memory of a bygone era.


Comas, Iñaki and Gagneux, Sebastien, “The Past and Future of Tuberculosis Research,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2009 Oct; 5(10): e1000600, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2745564/

Day, Carolyn Consumptive Chic: A History of Fashion, Beauty and Disease. New York: Bloombury Academic, 2017.

“History of tuberculosis,” Canadian Association of Public Health, (n.d) https://www.cpha.ca/history-tuberculosis 

“Medical Records at the Archives of Ontario: Tuberculosis Recording,” Archives of Ontario, (n.d) http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/health_records/tuberculosis.aspx

Mullin Emily, “How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion,”The Smithsonian Mag, last modified May 10, 2016, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-tuberculosis-shaped-victorian-fashion-180959029/

Rutty, Christopher and Sullivan, Sue. “This is Public Health A Canadian History,” Canadian Public Health Association, 2010, https://www.cpha.ca/sites/default/files/assets/history/book/history-book-print_all_e.pdf 

“Tuberculosis,” The World Health Organization, last modified March 24, 2020, https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tuberculosis

Where on Earth is Ida Grace Laing’s Death Certificate?

Pulling back the historical research curtain…

You might remember a particular story from last year: we found Ida Grace Laing’s perfectly preserved stone. We kept digging through our archives as well as public documents to learn more about the Laing family, but couldn’t find Ida’s all-important birth certificate.

Let’s unveil our research process and learn a little bit more about record keeping in early colonial Canada…

What were our first steps?

We first scoured our burial books for Ida’s information. In the late 1800s we took down the occupation of the deceased but didn’t record their cause of death. Ida’s occupation is listed as “father merchant.” This turned out to be a dead end in Ida’s case, so next we double checked the 1881 census to see if Ida showed up on it.

Ida isn’t listed in the 1881 census, but this makes sense when we look at how the census was conducted. The 1881 census recorded information on eight schedules. The first schedule is titled the Nominal Return of the Living and lists everyone in a household as of April 4, 1881. This is where we found that Ida’s family consisted of her parents George and Caroline Laing as well as her siblings Florence, Edith, Oswald, George, and Percy. Ida was born on August 29, 1871 and so was born nearly five months too late to be included in the 1871 census’ first schedule.

Why it makes sense(us) that Ida wasn’t in the census.

The second schedule is titled the Nominal Return of the Deaths Within the Last Twelve Months. This schedule contains an individual’s info such as the name, sex, age, whether they were born within the last 12 months, and, among other things, the cause of death. Ida is once again absent from this second schedule because she died more than twelve months ago.

This page from the 1871 Census shows what you could expect to find on a Nominal Return of the Dead. Note the causes of death – we’ll come to those later. Image retrieved from Library and Archives Canada.

Ida Grace Laing isn’t in the census, but that makes sense with that new information about the above return. But she should have been registered and given a death certificate because she died after the Ontario Vital Statistics Act was passed in 1869. This required specific vital events like birth, marriage, and death to be recorded for statistical purposes. Under the new act, households had to report a birth within 30 days, a minister had to report marriages within 90 days, and households again had to report a death within 10 days of internment. These documents would be sent to regional registrars who then sent them to their higher-ups.

Shouldn’t Ida be in the death registry?

Ida would have a death certificate in a perfect world, but a 1993 book titled Facts of Life: The Social Construction of Vital Statistics, Ontario 1869-1952 which writes that the 1869 Act was pretty much ignored in the late 1800s (Emery 31). The registrar general estimated that in 1870, just two years before Ida died, only one fifth off all deaths, one third of all births, and two thirds of all marriages were recorded and submitted in Ontario (Emery 32). That would give us about a 1 in 20 chance that Ida’s death certificate exists. Sadly, we didn’t luck out.

There were fines for doctors and family members who didn’t register vital events, but the people who processed these documents were also in charge of pressing charges. They were often underpaid for their processing work and didn’t have much of an incentive to charge a neighbor or a prominent doctor (Emery 32). This would have been more awkward in a small town where everyone knew each other well, but it still happened in urban centers like London.

Some doctors were also opposed to the Vital Statistics Act. The Registrar General couldn’t explain this but guessed that doctors might not have wanted to fill out paperwork without payment. Emery also notes that late 1800s physicians in Ontario had been trained through apprenticeship rather than formal training. The new act and its registration requirements must have slipped George and Caroline’s mind when Ida passed away and thus leaving us with no death certificate and thus no recorded cause of death.

How could she have died?

We can’t know for sure how Ida died, but we can conjure up some educated possibilities based on other causes of death at the time. The 1871 census death schedule lists anything from inflammation, water on the brain, diphtheria, inflammatory croup, and convulsions as a cause of death for young children. Consumption was also a leading cause of death at the time – we would know it as tuberculosis today. We couldn’t confirm anything without seeing a death certificate or census records. The details of Ida’s death might have lived on in George and Caroline’s memory, but they’re not formally recorded anywhere.

So, unfortunately, us cemetery historians have to accept that not every story at Woodland will have the recorded beginning, middle, and end that we expect to find. If you’re interested in reading more about the work that we do each summer, check out this blog post from 2018 on record keeping (or a lack-thereof) in the Scottish Cemetery and how we found its notes hidden inside a book’s pages.

Victorians in Mourning

Victorian fashion, especially for the upper classes, was characterized by drama and opulence.

Tight-laced corsets contrasted with voluminous skirts, which were supported first by layers of petticoats and later by the newly-invented cage crinoline. As the 19th century progressed, sewing machines became more easily produced, and allowed for mass production to begin.

Victorian society was structured by strict rules of propriety, which were built on class hierarchies (especially in British society). Women often bore the brunt of expectation to conform to strict hierarchies and rules, though men were bound to them too. Victorian opulence was also displayed in death and funeral ritual; the most easily recognizable example of the Victorian penchant for the dramatic is in the strict rules for mourning.

Queen Victoria’s Mourning Dress. After her husband Albert’s death in 1861, Victoria wore mourning until her death in 1901

The rules for dressing while in mourning were complex, and depended on the relationship of the mourner to the deceased.

This relationship was often based on family, but also included the more complex network of social class which dictated how people could socialise. Women, who had much stricter rules to follow while in mourning, were expected to follow a prescribed system of dress for certain lengths of time. Although every woman was expected to follow this system, undoubtedly the most rigid was reserved for the widow.

For the widow, the beginning phase was the period of First Mourning, which lasted for one year and one month. During First Mourning, she would wear only simple black dresses; if it was affordable, the dresses were made of bombazine fabric. Her accessories, including buttons and fastenings, were to be entirely jet black; in the summer she would have a parasol, and in the winter she would have very dark furs to stay warm.

Widows would wear a white widow’s cap, which was an outward symbol of their grief; it also differentiated them from unmarried women. 1883 Portrait of Queen Victoria

Mourning was also a period of confinement from society, as women were expected to stay away from society so they could properly grieve their husband. If a widow had to be in public, she was expected to be covered by a veil made of a crimped silk fabric called crape.

This veil was also referred to as a weeping veil, and could allow the widow to be physically separated from society in her grief. A veil also resembles a shroud, which was occasionally represented on Victorian headstones.

A draped Victorian urn tombstone

After 13 months, Second Mourning would begin, and would last for 6 months. This was a transitional period, which began the process of rejoining society. Widows would wear less crape, but would still be in simple black dresses and would remain withdrawn from society. White linen collars and cuffs could be substituted for the black crape of first mourning, and some black jewelry could be worn. 

The next stage was known as Ordinary Mourning, or sometimes deep mourning. This would last for six months, and was a further transition stage. Widows would replace their (expensive) bombazine fabric with silk or wool, and no longer had to only wear black. They could have dresses of white and black, solid grey, solid purple, or a combination of these colours. Lighter purple, however, was reserved for the final stage of mourning.

The final stage for the widow was Half Mourning, and allowed for grey, lavender, or mauve dresses. Additionally, accessories such as lace cuffs and jewelry were allowed again, and women could move more freely in the world. 

The Art of Dressing Well details the complicated rules of wearing mourning

Of all the complicated and dramatic items of mourning dress, the veil was perhaps the biggest threat to women’s health.

Victorian Mourning Ensemble, featuring a typical long black veil. The most elaborate could drape down the back and trail with the dress. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Women were advised to use only the best materials, but for someone of the lower class, it was often more prudent to invest in the veil and the widow’s cap, and dye regular dresses black. 

In the same etiquette guide which gave rules for mourning above, there is a recipe for removing black dye stains; it is toxic and the guide recommends that only a pharmacist mixed it in order to avoid poisoning.

The Art of Dressing Well gives a poisonous recipe to remove dye stains

The dyes would be breathed in throughout the day, which could lead to illness. In the most extreme cases, women could become blind or could die, from breathing in toxic chemicals. 

Veils were seen as a necessity for women who were respectable. Thankfully, their popularity waned by the end of the 19th century; women were urged to stick to a light net veil, or wear the heavier crape version down their back instead of covering their face. The major manufacturer of crape in Britain, a company called Courtaulds, shifted their emphasis on ranges of dyed silks and to a new synthetic material, rayon. 

An 1887 ad for a Mourning Warehouse

Sources for this blog post:

Baker, Lindsey. “Mourning Glory: Two Centuries of Funeral Dress.” BBC Culture, November 3, 2014. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20141103-mourning-glory-funeral-style

Sears, Jocelyn. “Wearing a 19th-Century Mourning Veil Could Result in – Twist – Death.” Racked. Racked, March 29, 2018. https://www.racked.com/2018/3/29/17156818/19th-century-mourning-veil

Frost, S. Annie. “Mourning.” In The Art of Dressing Well: A Complete Guide to Economy, Style and Propriety of Costume., 90–100. New York:, NY: Dick & Fitzgerald, publishers, no. 18 Ann Street., 1870.

Foster, Frank P, ed. “Conventional Mourning, or Health?” The New York Medical Journal, a Weekly Review of Medicine Volume L (September 14, 1889): 289–90.

Introducing Woodland Cemetery History’s 2020 Team!

The cemetery gates are open, but us historians are holed up at home…

…and we’re so excited to bring Woodland’s history to light! We spent yesterday welcoming Leah Nap, our newest cemetery historian, and showing them around the grounds. 

We’ll be conducting most of our research online this summer, but getting to know the space is so important. I can’t count the number of times I’ve found a great story by walking through the cemetery, spotting an interesting stone, and using the stone to springboard into research. Ida Grace’s perfectly preserved stone led to research on her family history and taught me about the history of Vital Statistics forms, and Robert Cooper’s explosive-soda-canister-inscribed stone had enough to say as it was.

Leah, Thomas, and Meagan stand a few feet apart from each other. Cemetery monuments dot the background.
We’ll be doing most of our work from home, but we made sure to distance ourselves when walking through Woodland! Photo by Leah.

This summer is going to look a bit different for us historians, but we’re up to the challenge. We’re currently brainstorming the kind of research we want to work on and how to best show that off to Londoners, whether that’s through videos, guided audio tours, or blog posts.

Now is a perfect time to remind you all that each of our previous tour brochures are available right here on our website – check them out!

Keep reading to hear about what we’re most excited to work on this summer…

What’s Thomas excited to work on?

This is my third summer working at Woodland (the time has just flown by!), so I have a pretty good idea of what I want to work on!

First, I’m excited to work on some new ways to walk through the cemetery and hear our stories through audio and video. I also want to get people thinking about what it means to walk through a cemetery and share how I’ve come to walk through the cemetery after the time I’ve spent here.

I’ve toyed with the idea of a new walking tour focusing on pandemics and disease throughout Woodland’s history. How has London responded to and treated disease in the past, like during cholera outbreaks or the 1918 pandemic? Only time (and research!) will start to answer those questions.

You’ll hear more from me on these topics as the summer goes on…

What has Meagan been working on?

This will be my second summer at Woodland. This cemetery is such an expansive and sometimes overwhelming place. I’ve spent the last year trying to observe the different sections of the cemetery. Lately I’ve been researching some of these observations with the goal of making them into a series of their own. Possibly blog posts, possibly a future tour. Who knows at this point?

Woodland has a long history. So long it looks like there’s a section or a monument that exemplifies every trend in monument style and cemetery construction throughout its own history. In many ways Woodland is a walk through time, or at least through cemetery history.

So far I’ve managed to identify what all these cool cemetery paradigms are. Now the real challenge will be organizing them together into a comprehensive history.

What is Leah most excited about researching?

It’s my first summer at Woodland, and I am eager to dive into learning all I can about it! I will definitely be spending time studying the map, as I’m not used to how big Woodland is quite yet. I’m really eager to discover the stories that make up the cemetery’s past, especially those that link the early days of London to the modern. I’m also excited to dive into the new ways of accessing Woodland we will be working on this summer, which are far different from previous years. I look forward to discovering the seemingly ordinary details which make up the daily life of an individual, and I hope I can help bring those every-day stories to the world of 2020. Above all, I’m so thrilled for the opportunity to learn history that can be overlooked when we think about what makes up the past, and how I can bring that history to more people who want to learn what makes London the city it is. 

Stay tuned…

…we’ll have more coming your way next week! Until then, stay dry and keep safe.

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.