An Unexpected Update on the Scottish Cemetery…

All summer, our monument conservation students Rachel and Hannah have been taking care of upkeep of the Scottish Cemetery site, which you may remember we uncovered last summer. Thanks to the work of last year’s monument team, these stones are now visible to the public and rest in a limestone screening at the site where they were unearthed. Having done as much research as we thought we could, at the time, we made an archive of these stones and their inscriptions (which you can find here) and we compared this to a record of burials at St. Andrew’s Cemetery taken by local historian (and one-time president of the Ontario Genealogical Society) Leslie Grey in 1955.

This was all of the information we expected to find – after all, it’s pretty hard to access information about a cemetery that no longer technically exists, and we had exhausted our sources at the London Room and other archives in the city.

Yesterday morning, Leah and I were doing a little organization within our two vaults of archives, taking a catalogue of our resources, and making sure everything was in place. Imagine our surprise when we opened up a book that had been hiding on one of our back shelves only to discover that we held the original hand-written burial registers for St. Andrew’s, which were likely given to Woodland when the graves were moved in the 50s.

Now, this didn’t really give us any new information, per se – we knew the basic details of those who were buried there already. But shoved inside the front cover were about 19 sheets of type-written legal paper, laid out like this…


This record, which doesn’t contain a date or the name of the person who prepared it, is a grave-by-grave stock-taking of the First St. Andrew’s churchyard cemetery, and most importantly, the column on the right provides details abour the family, such as spelling of names, brief lineages, where the family is from, if they have members buried in other places, stories of their lives or deaths (if they were particularily interesting), and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of their (then)-living descendants.


In the above examples, you can see statements like “these two were cousins” or “this person was involved in the founding of the church” or “we think they moved to Stratford” or “we don’t know who this was, but definitely not from this family!” This isn’t usually the type of information that cemeteries usually keep on hand, and it certainly isn’t the type we collect.

More than that, a lot of the information seems to be speculative. On several pages, the transcriber notes “I could not find anyone who knew the family,” suggesting that they were going around London seeking out the living and having real conversations with these people about their family history. Based on one date included in the papers, we can place this after 1950, and it might be likely that these were prepared by Leslie Grey as well, who we know had a passion for preserving the history of FSA.


These papers are incrediby interesting for me, mostly due to the image they furnish of someone walking around London and personally getting in touch with families, asking these questions, and recording the answers as something of import. London was obviously a smaller community at the time, which is what allowed this person to make reference to “the Bell family on Oxford Street” and have that make total sense within the cultural lexicon (whereas I would have to do a bit of digging to find out who that family would have been).

Is this something that we could do today? Is it something we should be doing? London is a bigger city, and we quite often run up against important privacy laws when collecting information as a cemetery. However, it does mean that we rarely see the creation of more personal records such as these.


History in a “Post-Truth” Age

Another striking thing about these records is the fact that a lot of the facts recorded are admitted as conjectures. The phrase “I think” appears several times, and the transcriber alludes to being told things by family members personally. None of it is actually cross referenced to any outside source. Should we treat this record the same way that we treat our burial records, which is to say as the closest we can come to knowing the factual truth of our history?

In today’s world, we’re caught up in an important debate about fact, “fake news,” and what we can consider “truth”. As a society, we privilege objective fact – that’s why the first place we look when we’re researching are governmental documents, birth records, death records, anything “official”. We put stock and trust in these to give us an accurate picture of a life. And yet the stories we remember, and the stories we tell on our tours, are more likely to come from documents like this, or from newspaper accounts, or accounts that descendants of families continue to bring to us. Some would say this makes them less factual, and therefore less valuable. But some would say that the little fascinating tidbits of information like this are what makes the story worth telling, and what translates it into more than just names and dates.

It also makes me wonder how the history we’re creating today will be treated in the future. The things recorded in this document, in the sense that they are personal accounts, are the things that we might find on our Facebook pages in the future. Do you think that we should treat this record differently in terms of validity and truth than we might, in the future, treat a Facebook post as historical record? Or are their important differences in intent?


Bad Recordkeeping?

Perhaps the other moral of the story is not to judge an archive by its cover! We often wish our earlier counterparts had been a bit more careful with where and how they stored things – this is hardly the first time we’ve stumbled across a juicy / incredibly valuable find stuffed haphazardly between book pages. For a place like Woodland, this could have once been practical – for example, we often find handwritten letters from familiies about their plots, and these are kept in our plot books, where they once would have been most useful to those running the cemetery (long before we came to conside them historical artifacts)!

As the current custodians of Woodland Cemetery’s history, we need to be careful not to repeat the same mistakes. We may think that we’re recording something in a useful way, but will it be accessible to future generations once we’re not around to give context or explain it? Will people be able to search our archives and find what they need? The answer, for Woodland at least, is currently “no” – which is why we’re putting so much effort into doing a thorough catalogue of all of the historial material we have in our vault. It’s only been 139 years – I think it’s about time!


If anyone else is keeping track of the St. Andrew’s graves and would like a digital copy of this record (which includes more personal information than the transcriptions of the stones which we previously published), let us know by commenting below!


Monument Conservation in the Chadwick Family Lot

In the past weeks, Hannah and Rachel have been hard at work uncovering monuments for our walking tour, but they have returned to an earlier project from the beginning of the summer. In their first two days at Woodland, Hannah and Rachel pulled up a few stones in the Chadwick family lot, those belonging to Catherine, Eliza Florence, Frank, and John. After pulling the stones up, they cleaned them and prepared them for re-laying and rising. This can be done a couple of ways. One is to simply use an epoxy, which acts as a glue in order to fit the pieces together like a puzzle. Epoxy comes with a slight caveat though—it has a lifespan of about 25 years. This means that after 25 years, the epoxy will start to deteriorate before failing completely. In some cases, the epoxied pieces might even break off again. Another more extensive, yet more durable way is to pin the pieces back together. Pinning involves drilling holes on the inside surfaces of both pieces, making sure to line them up perfectly so that the fibreglass rods can slide into place. Then, a limestone mortar fills the gaps to hold the pieces together and the rods in place. After either method, the stones must cure for a few days, being held together by an adjustable strap and clamps. Once they are dry, the stones are ready for rising or re-laying.

Last Thursday, Hannah and Rachel raised Catherine’s monument with some help from Joey. It went up almost without difficulty. Since the stone was broken into pieces, it was quite fragile. As Joey and Hannah lowered the stone into its key, a small piece of the corner broke off. Luckily, the piece was not of substantial size or weight and could be reattached using an epoxy instead of having to remove the entire stone for re-pinning. As you can imagine, this process requires collaboration and teamwork. Hannah, Rachel, and Joey all had to move in sync with each other so that the 200lbs+ stone did not fall. Once the monument was upright, they supported it using clamps, shovels, and wooden horses. You might be thinking, a shovel to support a heavy stone? Since the shovel can be inserted into the ground, it actually provided extra stability to the stone as it cured over the weekend (not to mention, they kept the deer from knocking the stone over). Wooden horses were also used to keep the area contained just in case the supports failed.

The Chadwick lot is a rather special one for Hannah and Rachel. It was their very first project of the summer and also the lot where they learned all of the skills required to uncover the rest of the monuments this summer. Hannah says, “It was really great to finally see a finished product from one of our large projects. Rising the stone was quite fulfilling and it feels like we really are on our way to preserving history.” As you may recall from previous blog posts, this “preservation of history” we keep mentioning is really the core of our work this summer. If our team had not visited the Chadwick lot, if they had not raised Catherine’s monument, then memories might have been lost in the ground forever. The grass might have grown over them; the earth might have started to cover them. Now, these stones are ready to stand for another 100 years.

Catherine Chadwick’s monument after it was raised. It was then supported by clamps, shovels, and wooden horses over the weekend while setting.

Announcing our 2018 Walking Tour…

We’re excited to announce our 2018 public walking tour!
Lost & Found: Untold Stories from Woodland’s “Potter’s Fields”
Join us on July 7th, 2018 (tours at 1:00pm and 3:00pm) to learn about a different side of London’s history, and different approach to preserving memories.

Find our Facebook event here:

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We will be telling the stories of some of those buried in Woodland’s (and old St. Paul’s Cemetery’s) “Potter’s Fields”: those who were buried without much thought about how to preserve their memory for future generations. These people were often living in poverty, in institutions, were recent immigrants to the city, or met unfortunate ends. Their lives and stories, however, were just as vibrant as any of London’s founding families. Through our research and monument preservation work, we will be bringing some of this history to light.

This tour will help us understand more about the politics of memorialization, including whose stories we choose to remember and why.

Where: Woodland Cemetery, 493 Springbank Drive, London, ON
Cost: FREE
Parking is available on the cemetery grounds.
Walking tours will last approx. 1 to 1.5 hours.
Please bring a water bottle and sun protection.
Walking tours will include some uneven terrain; please let us know if you require any accommodation.

Stay tuned for more information upcoming!

Insane or in Vain: Woodland’s “Poor Grounds” and the London Asylum for the Insane

This week I write about the London Asylum for the Insane because of its prevalence in my research about the Victorian-era “poor grounds.” In our historical records there is usually a home address; however, for many who are buried in the “poor grounds,” the asylum is listed. Though this information is not of public concern today, it is worthwhile to speculate why it would have been recorded previously and why the asylum would have been noted instead of one’s permanent address. Did these people have homes? Did they have families? If not, why? Here is a little history about the asylum:

Photograph taken July 28, 2012 by Londononbridge. The former London Asylum would have been located at 850 Highbury Avenue. Still standing is the main examination building and infirmary.

In 1870, London introduced its first Asylum. It was a place for the disorderly, the insane, and the poor. As one of the first institutions to treat mental illness in Ontario, the London Asylum for the Insane was revolutionary. Within days, their 500 beds were full.

Located outside of the city center, the asylum initially focused on compassionate care and moral therapy. Their intent was to treat the patient as a whole being rather than focusing on a single symptom. As the Science Museum’s History of Medicine department in England describes, a “patient had a better chance of recovery if treated like a child rather than an animal.” These treatment plans suggested that rural seclusion and social conformity were the keys to one’s mental health. Patients would be “bettered” as members of society, fitting in with the community by keeping steady jobs and following strict social norms, thus curing their mental illnesses. I imagine that suppressing one’s sense of individuality in favour of conformity would be counterproductive to improving mental health today. However, I theorize that those who were subjected to moral therapy and compassionate care in the nineteenth century would have been happy to conform. Considering their society’s views on health at the time, where compliancy meant sanity and sanity was the ultimate goal, one’s sense of belonging would have been paramount.

Doctors at the asylum also performed several experimental surgeries. In fact Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, who believed failed reproductive organs to be the source of mental illness or “hysteria” in women, executed routine hysterectomies. Moving into the 1930s, shock therapy was introduced to treat symptoms of schizophrenia by inducing seizures. Lobotomies were also completed between 1944 and 1967; though we do not know how many were performed in London, there were about 1 000 between these 23 years across Ontario.

One reason that someone would be sent to the asylum includes sexual deviation. What is shockingly expectant is that masturbation was identified as the root cause of a majority of mental illnesses. Dr. Bucke thought he had remedied this “self-abuse” by inserting a metal wire into the foreskin of a man’s penis so that masturbation was too painful and uncomfortable. Dr. Bucke did not know that masturbation is actually a positive action for sexual health and is not the cause of mental illness, as he would later discover after 11 failed attempts of reversing “self-abuse.”

You will find that The London Asylum for the Insane went through a few name changes which all reflect changing attitudes and discoveries about mental health. The first renaming occurred in 1932 resulting in the “Ontario Hospital for the Mentally Ill, London.” Years later in 1968, the name changed to “London Psychiatric Hospital” and again in 2001 to “Regional Mental Health Care” until finally closing in 2014. These name changes are crucial in removing the stigma from mental illness. When we hear “asylum,” we imagine screaming patients running down halls before being locked in their prison-like cells. Using the term “care” is much more empathetic and agentic. In the early days of the LAI, living with a mental illness was shameful. Some families even mourned a member’s committal as though they had actually died. For this reason, some of the people who did die at the Asylum were destined for the “poor grounds” at the Woodland Cemetery.

For more information and an extended history of the London Asylum for the Insane, check out these links: