Reflections on Woodland

As the summer draws to a close and this blog nears its end for the year, I’ll devote my final post to reflecting on my experiences at the cemetery. I’ve spent nearly four months in a cemetery this summer, and I still enjoy the looks I get when telling people what my summer job was. As cliche as it may sound this summer has taught me a great deal not only about what it takes to preserve history, but also on the kind of role a cemetery plays in every day human life.

Every day at Woodland our team has striven to preserve history, whether by physically repairing monuments that go back as far as the early 1800s, or by conducting research to uncover the stories of those the stones were made for. But over this summer, we were forced to approach history in a slightly different manner than we are used to as academics. As students, we were accustomed to writing history in an academic manner, presenting research to be critiqued by our instructors and fellow students. This work was seldom read outside of the confines of academia. The same is true for the vast majority of academic publishing. What set our time at Woodland apart was that we actively sought to bring history out of the academic setting and into the public setting, which turned out to be an entirely new challenge for us.

When working on the Scottish site, we developed our display in a way that allowed curious visitors to walk among the stones and clearly experience the relics themselves. When we repaired buried or broken stones, it was not because they yielded new knowledge to us, it was because we wanted them to be accessible for the next hundred years to curious onlookers. Our research was not presented in 12 point font, Times New Roman, and cited according to the Chicago Manual of Citations. (For those who don’t know, this is generally the default way to present research in social sciences) Instead, it was published on our blog, on our Facebook, and on our Instagram, and aimed at the general public. Presenting it in such a manner is a vastly different experience for us, and one that we had to adjust to. We spent less time concerned with ensuring our writing was of the proper tone, and more time attempting to share knowledge and stories as far as possible. It was an entirely new experience that forced us to develop our public speaking skills and our outreach skills. Even on days where we were exhausted from work, we forced ourselves to be presentable, friendly, and approachable to curious onlookers who might have a few questions about what our work entails. Or perhaps they were wondering what I was doing wandering into old cemetery sections carrying a shovel.

In addition to approaching history in such a new way, I also learned of what a cemetery has to offer a society. A cemetery does not exist to serve the dead. The dead do not require a gravestone, a casket, or an urn. They do not require a funeral service, and they are certainly incapable of demanding such things. We as human’s could dispose of our dead in a far more efficient way than we do, but we choose not to. This is because cemeteries exist primarily to serve the living. It is the living who place value in laying our loved ones to rest in a dignified manner. Loss of a family member or friend is something every human being experiences throughout their life. It is a traumatic experience, and cemeteries allow us to begin the process of celebrating one’s life, preserving their legacy, and healing our broken hearts. We are provided with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a loved one’s remains will be cared for, will be protected, and will remain undisturbed. A tombstone allows us to preserve their legacy, again giving us the comfort of mind that their life was not in vain, that they are not forgotten. A dignified funeral service provides families with a vital sense of closure, that allows the healing process to begin. The living need a physical place to mourn, and to remember. The memorial to John Parkinson Jr. is one such example of this. If you have not read my previous blog post, it was about a 17 year old Union soldier who died at Atlanta during the American Civil War, but is memorialized here at Woodland. Unable to return their son’s body to London, the Parkinsons decided to erect a memorial for John anyways, to provide themselves with a place to mourn, and with a sense of closure.

When we repair gravestones and display them in a dignified matter, we are serving those family and friends who paid dearly to have their loved one memorialized long into the future. The fight against time is a battle we can’t win, eventually all of the stones we work on, and all of the stones at Woodland will crumble and decay. But if we continue to make them accessible for at least the next several generations, then we can feel that we have done our part in both fulfilling grieving families’ desires, and preserving history as well.

It has been a privilege to serve at Woodland over the past several months, and an experience I will never forget. I carry with me great memories, new skills, and a sense of accomplishment.

An ancient Greek proverb states “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.” I think it summarizes why monument conservation is a worthy pursuit well.

Signing off for the last time,

Peter Dobrzynski


The Curious Case of Private John Parkinson Jr.

Located deep towards the back of Woodland Cemetery, in one of the ground’s oldest sections, lies a memorial to one John Parkinson Jr. A tall obelisk that dwarfs the graves of his parents buried beside him sheds light on the circumstances of his death. It reads “John, son of John and Bridget Parkinson, died at Atlanta, GA, October 15th 1864, aged 17 y’rs.”

Parkinson Stone

Immediately, this inspires curiosity in the observer. Why is there a memorial to a 17 year old at Woodland Cemetery in London, Ontario, when he died in Georgia? Although it was becoming more and more common for people from all walks of life to move about in the world, such an inscription still indicates interesting circumstances surrounding his death. At this point, anyone proficient in United States’ history will tell you that this was around the time of the Battle of Atlanta in the American Civil War.

Curious as to the possibility that John Parkinson may have served in the American Civil War I checked military records for anyone bearing his name. Immediately, I found a internment certificate that matched his name and age. As “John Parkinson” is a common name, the date of death was significant as it matched the date on his tombstone, confirming that this certificate did in fact belong to the Parkinson memorialized at Woodland. The document indicated that Parkinson had been buried in the Marietta National Cemetery, Georgia, and that he had a separate stone marking his actual burial location. internmentMarietta stone

The document also sheds light on his experience during the Civil War. It indicates that John served as a private in the Union Army, a member of the 10th Michigan Infantry. Curiously, the 10th Michigan Infantry, which operated from 1862-1865, was a volunteer battalion. This suggests that John Parkinson willingly traveled south to fight in the bloodiest conflict in American history.

Parkinson’s cause of death is listed in Union Army records as well, indicating that he succumbed to typhoid fever at a general hospital near Atlanta rather than being killed in combat. At the time, disease could be a far greater killer in war than combat itself, the inevitable result of thousands of humans packed close together, with poor hygiene practices and inadequate medical care. In fact, of the 20 deaths listed on the same page as John Parkinson, only one of them was killed in action.

Death Records 10th Michigan.jpg

However, there are still several questions about John Parkinson’s story that are more difficult to answer, such as his motivations for volunteering for the Union Army in the first place. An agricultural census taken in 1861 indicates that John Parkinson Sr. was a farmer in the region at the time, holding 30 acres of land. As such, we can assume that John Parkinson Jr. came from humble origins, and may have seen military service as a way to earn a decent wage.

Agricultural Census Middlesex

In a further step to uncover John Parkinson Jr.’s story, I accessed microfilm copies of the London Free Press from the Civil War Period, courtesy of Western University. While I did not track down any article describing a Londoner dying while serving the Union Army in the Civil War, there were several articles describing recruiting agents operating in the area. The Free Press alleged that recruiters were enticing young men from the area by painting an extremely enticing picture of life in the army, promising good wages and a dignified career. The article warned that such recruiters were not to be trusted, as some were not even representatives of the Union Army, but con artists seeking to steal the fee men paid for their uniforms and travel.

Based on such information it is entirely likely that John Parkinson Jr. was not content with his life as a farmer’s son for one reason or another, and instead traveled south to fight for the Union as a way of escaping from it. A recruiter may have played a prominent role in this decision, but that is uncertain. His parents, distraught as losing their son in a faraway land, chose to erect a monument at Woodland Cemetery so they could find a place to mourn and remember John. When the time came, they chose to be buried next to his monument.

I reached out to the 10th Michigan Re-enactment group, who still hold some files on the division, to see if any more details about his service could be revealed, however they could not provide me with anything new. Perhaps further research can uncover more details of what John experienced during his time serving in the army, as the story of a Londoner serving in the Union Army is certainly a unique one.

Reflections at the End of the Week

Good evening everybody!

I’d like to start today’s blog post with an apology for not posting at all in this week. It has been a week of transition as we delve into the second half of our year here at Woodland, which involves moving away from the Scottish Cemetery and beginning to find, recover, and study various other tombstones across Woodland Cemetery. Although we haven’t quite finished our work at the Scottish Cemetery, as the stones we have selected to be stood up haven’t been put in place yet, we need to wait for their bases to be completed. We build these bases at Woodland, but their creation is a highly time consuming process. As a result, we’ve moved on to explore other older sections of the cemetery for now.

Woodland Cemetery was opened in 1879, and some of the oldest records and maps available are handwritten. Not something a Google search can find for you.

There are a few differences between working at the Scottish Cemetery, which was populated by 130 gravestones, and individual Confederation era stones. The most significant difference is that the Scottish Cemetery site was not the final resting place for the gravestones. The bodies are in a mass grave somewhere else in the cemetery, while the stones were left in the corner of Woodland, seemingly as an afterthought by people simply looking to get them out of the way. In contrast to this, the separate stones we find around the cemetery, while some may have been transferred from St Paul’s cemetery, were put in places that were intended to be their final resting place. As a result, we often find the stones underground either still attached or very close to their bases. This means that after restoration we can immediately repair them if needed and stand them back up. Since the owners of the gravestones are interned there as well, the stone must be stood up in its original spot.

This week, we’ve been able find and stand up several stones. Firstly, we found three small sized gravestones, buried a foot beneath the earth, still settled in their bases. We spent half the afternoon digging, and fighting against the roots that had intertwined themselves around the gravestones and prevented us from removing them easily. When we returned them to the surface, we discovered they were in good condition, with only one of the three broken out of its base. A quick check in the cemetery records indicated that we had found the graves of three sisters, Minnie, Mary, and Clara, who died within several weeks of each other in 1891, possible victims of a contagious disease that could devastate families with young children at the time. Today, the sister’s graves have been restored and returned to the exact spot we found them it.

Sister Graves
The gravestones had sunken into the ground by a foot, there was no indication on the surface that something once stood in place here.
The white material below the graves is limestone screening, which will prevent them from beginning to sink into the ground again in the near future.
Sister graves 2
Cleaned, repaired, and reunited.

We also found a larger stone, belonging to Adeline Irene, daughter of the Ulbrich family, who died in 1892 aged 5. The stone was lying horizontally below the ground, with its base several feet deeper. It was broken at the very bottom of the base, so using an adhesive would not be sufficient to hold it down given the amount of weight it needs to support. This means that we need to pin the stone.

Sometimes, even the faintest discoloration in the grass can indicate an object buried beneath it. Other common visual indicators can include different densities or variations of grass and shrubbery growing in a specific spot.
Peeling back the soil reveals a damaged and entirely illegible stone, stained from decades underground.
Immediately below the gravestone we also found its original base, a blessing for us as we can restore it without having to create new foundations for it.
An initial scrubbing has the stone looking neater.

Pinning is a process used to stand up graves that need an extra amount of support. It involves drilling holes into the center of the stone and inserting fiberglass or wooden pins to stop it from being tipped over in situations where merely an adhesive would fail. To to this, we find a stone that ideally has been found alongside its original base, and we bore three holes alongside its length. We offset the central hole to spread out the weight distribution, and we drill three identically placed holes into the section of the stone that has broken off. We then fill the holes with adhesive and insert the pins, often four inches long, with two inches inserted into each part of the stone. We allow the adhesive to dry and then ensure the stone is sitting snugly in place. After this, we use a mortar to fill any gaps between the stone to secure it further and rebuild any designs or features of the stone that have been lost to time. After this process, if done correctly, the stone is able to withstand the elements, and remain standing both as a monument to the deceased and as a piece of history for the foreseeable future. With this stone, I’m happy to report that it is sitting quite securely in place!

We drill three holes into the base of the stone, and drill an identical pattern into the upright section.
In this instance, we used fiberglass pins as the internal support. In the background you can the the upright section of the gravestone upside down, as we drill an identical pattern into it’s base.
Ulbrich stone
The stone is set onto it’s original base with it’s new internal supports. It has been cleaned thoroughly and looks closer to what it would have looked like when it was carved in 1892. Visible on top is a sleeping lamb, symbolizing purity, a common indicator of a child’s grave in the Victorian era. The final step for this stone is to mortar the bottom section where bits of stone have crumbled away. This process we’ll begin on Monday and post an update when it is finished.


Anyways, that’s all I have for this week! A slightly longer post but it’s covered quite a bit. I hope it was enjoyable!

Have a good weekend everyone!

The Final Steps

Good evening, Peter here!

Over the last week we’ve been putting in the finishing touches to our Scottish grave site memorial. The layers of limestone have been poured, tampered, and sloped. The borders have been built, and we’ve moved the stones that do not need repairs into place. We’ve also continued to repair the cracked stones, and those that we’ve finished have also been moved into place. Despite our attempts, we’ve had to deem several stones irreparable, due to them being in advanced stages of decay. With these decayed stones, the cracked sections of stone crumble away at the slightest disturbance, so no amount of adhesive material is capable of making the stone whole again. To preserve these stones as best as possible, we place them inside the sandbox in the arrangement they were found, allowing them to at least be legible to our visitors.

However, repairs on the well-preserved stones are proceeding well. In addition to merely filling in the cracks, our team is recreating some of the designs that were originally created by the stone carvers. Where lettering previously crumbled away, we have recreated the original font. Where an expertly carved border was cracked away, it has been recreated and sealed together.

The work would be excruciating without the help of our equipment, as Sunny mentioned in her blog post, and a popped tire on one hand carts slowed our progress down for the day, but by our tours on Saturday the site will look very presentable for visitors. We’ve been receiving plenty of curious visitors in the afternoons here at Woodland, which we always welcome. If anyone has visited in the past few weeks, we’d recommend coming back in the next few days to see how our display has taken shape.


As you can see, we’re leaving a walking path in the middle to allow visitors to view them with relative ease. The design also discourages visitors from stepping over or on top of stones as they observe the site. Any one visiting the site should be aware that there is a bit of a walk to get to the stones, over some uneven ground.

In addition to finishing the Scottish cemetery site, we’ve also been putting the final touches into our Canadian Confederation tour taking place this Saturday, which has included finishing our research and making it presentable for an oral format. We’ve also been working to make the tour’s path as safe as possible for our visitors, cutting away any low hanging branches and filling in whatever uneven ground we encounter. We look forward to seeing anyone who is interested on Saturday, the forecast calls for a warm and sunny day! We recommend any attendees bring weather appropriate clothing, shoes that are comfortable to walk in, and an ample supply of water.

That’s all for tonight, we hope to see you soon!

Thomas Scatcherd: Early Beginnings and Political Career

Good evening everyone, tonight I thought I’d provide you with a more in-depth account of one of the subjects of our Confederation Era Canada tour, Thomas Scatcherd and his family.

Thomas Scatcherd

Thomas Scatcherd’s father, John, emigrated to Canada in 1820 and acquired a large tract of land in West Nissouri, to the northeast of London. A native of Yorkshire, England, John Scatcherd named his estate after his former community in England, Wyton. After marrying a neighbour and beginning a family, the Scatcherd’s began to develop significant industries in the region, including a woolen mill, tanner, and a lumber mill. In an act of kindness, Scatcherd hired mostly Irish workers in an era that often saw business owners write “No Irish need apply” on their “help wanted” signs. In addition to this, the Scatcherd family provided their Irish families with land on which to build homes. As the village continued to grow, other industries appeared in the area. Wagon makers, woodworkers, shoe makers, tailors, and even a hotel were opened in Wyton as the village swelled to a population of 200. Later on, a Methodist church was erected as well. In 1855, the Scatcherd’s refused to allow a railway station to be constructed in Wyton, a fatal decision for the village. Instead, a train station was constructed in Thorndale, three miles to the north, and that village began to grow at the expense of Wyton, which diminished until almost nothing of it remains today.

(Photo: Wyton on a Confederation Era map of London and the surrounding regions. To the northeast is the town of Thorndale, which today has a population of 13,000. A closer look at the picture reveals the numerous plots of land owned by several members of the Scatcherd family, demonstrating their influence in the area. Courtesy of Western Archives, Western University)

Thomas Scatcherd was born in Wyton in 1823, the eldest of twelve children. Educated in London and Toronto, he began to practice law in 1848, becoming the solicitor of London in 1849. In 1861, he was elected to represent the riding of Middlesex West, his fathers old seat, as a member of the Reform coalition, and was re-elected in 1863. His time with the Reform movement came to an end in 1864, when he broke ranks with the party over the issue of confederation. Scatcherd argued that the terms of the Quebec Resolutions, which laid out the framework for the Canadian constitution, were not in line with what had been agreed upon at the Reform convention in 1859. Instead, he believed that Canadian confederation was a ploy to construct the intercolonial railway, and to benefit Lower Canada at the at the expense of Upper Canada. Canada’s interests were better served, he believed, by the continued development of the Northwest Territories. Scatcherd died in office in 1876.

The story of Thomas Scatcherd and his family is revealing in several ways to us. The story of the doomed village of Wyton is an indicator of just how important the development of the railway was at the time across Ontario. Also, Thomas’ opposition to Canadian confederation teaches us that although the unification of Canada is something we celebrate in the modern era, it did not come without its struggles, controversies, and opposition. I would like to extend a note of thank you to Jennifer Grainger, whose work in Vanished Villages of Middlesex on the early beginnings of Wyton, used extensively in this blog post, allowed us to better understand the Scatcherd family’s early beginnings in Canada.

Research Days at Woodland

Good afternoon everyone,

It’s raining in London today, and as much as our team enjoys playing in the mud, we also have some research to be done as we finalize our various tours and videos. For the sake of convenience, we schedule visits to Western University and the London Public Library on such days. On such days we work to uncover more information on the history of our findings in addition to researching several other names interned at Woodland.

We use days like this to pour over old census, marriage, death records, and basically anything else we can get our hands on. We use this information to piece together stories of life in Confederation Era London, to be used for our tour bookings and for any mobile tour presentations we will offer this summer. Mackenzie Microfilm

Occasionally, when looking for more details on a certain person or event, or when something merely piques our curiosity, we turn to old newspapers. This was the case today, when we were searching for more information on a certain Thomas Francis. Francis had been a stone cutter in London around the time of Confederation. Our attention was brought to him by a local historian, Catherine McEwen, who asked we keep an eye out for any further gravestones bearing his signature.

The interest around Mr. Francis was because in addition to being responsible for carving gravestones for many of the city’s deceased, his story also had a dark and grisly ending. Using the information provided to us by Ms. McEwen, and an article from the London Free Press, we were able to piece together his tale.

Born in Ireland, Francis emigrated to Canada at an unknown date, living in Nova Scotia with his wife and several children. Some time around 1842, his family moved to London Ontario, where he worked as a stone and marble cutter. Following the death of his first wife, Francis remarried to a women 20 years his junior, in what was described as an unhappy marriage. After he suffered a stroke, rendering him unable to work as a stone carver, he opened the Ivy Green Hotel in 1861, but the marriage continued to falter due to Francis’ jealous attitude and hot temper. His wife successfully separated with him in 1866, purchasing the hotel he had since put up for sale and running it with her family. Throughout this time period, Francis tried desperately to reconcile with his former wife. On September 24th, 1867, he brought a pistol with him to the hotel, and attempted to shoot her when she refused to take him back once again. Due to the scuffle that ensued, his shot missed, allowing his former wife to escape. Thomas Francis was later found dead inside the hotel, having shot himself in the head.

According to our records at the cemetery, Francis is buried somewhere at Woodland in a single grave. However, the records do not indicate exactly where, nor do they indicate whether his headstone was also transferred here. Despite this, Francis remains an excellent example of the kinds of stories our headstones at Woodland are capable of telling.

Anyone interested in hearing more on life in London during Confederation is encouraged to come on one of the tours we are offering on Saturday June 24th, at 1 and 3 PM.

As always, follow our adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, @woodlandcemeteryhistory!

The Excavation Process

Good evening everyone,

Since we’re coming to the end of the excavation process at Woodland for the stones of the Scottish cemetery, I’m devoting tonight’s post to detailing the steps we go through when removing artifacts from where they’re originally found.

Generally, our excavation begins with preliminary probing, of the dig site. For this, we simply insert long metal rods into the ground, and listen for any contact it makes. A keen listener can tell the difference between striking metal, stone, or wood with a probe. After establishing that something is below the ground, we work to get an idea of the objects dimensions by probing further out in four different directions until we no longer make contact with the object. After this step, we know exactly how deep the object is. Measuring the objects dimensions allows us to break ground with shovels without fear of damaging the artifact. Although the stones of the Scottish cemetery were only buried several inches below the earth, we have probes capable of digging 4-5 feet into the ground if necessary. While probing is extremely useful for us, it is not infallible. Today, our team spent a significant portion of time digging to what we suspected may have been a gravestone several feet below the earth, only to discover we had struck a tightly packed grouping of rocks instead. All part of the job!


After probing is complete, we dig to the depth of our target. If we’re lucky, the object can be reached relatively easily merely by ripping out the top soil. If we’re not, we have to dig into the earth with conventional tools, and then travel down the last several inches with small wooden tools we utilize to avoid damaging an artifact should we make contact with it. The gravestones we have uncovered are largely sandstone, marble, or granite, and in various states of preservation. While a steel trowel can do significant damage to such stones, a blunt wooden tool is much less likely to do so.

As we uncovered the entirety of the Scottish cemetery, the sheer size of the gravestones astounded us. While we found many foot stones and children’s stones, which generally are smaller, the majority of the stones proved too much for our team of four to lift safely. Fearing for both our own health and the safety of the stones, it was time to bring the heavy machinery in. For the past two days we’ve been utilizing a backhoe to do the majority of the lifting for us, although it has taken some adaptation on our part. Despite having the backhoe at our disposal, we still had no way of safely sliding straps under the gravestones to allow us to lift them without causing scratches. At this point one of our safe members suggest we utilize the power of the digger to pry them up as well. Swiftly putting together a makeshift fulcrum, we utilized the backhoe to push down on a pry bar which allowed us to strap the underside of each gravestone before moving it off the ground.

Excavation day 2

While several stones still remain to be done tomorrow, the vast majority have now been removed from the dirt and will soon undergo restoration and reparation, which warrants another full length blog post for another day. As for today, I am happy to announce that, except for encountering a very angry colony of fire ants, the extraction process went off without a hitch.

That’s all for tonight, take care everyone!

Media Attention and Local Communities

Hi all! Peter here tonight.

I thought I’d devote my weekly post to speak a little about the role that the media and local communities can play in our own recovery and restoration efforts here at Woodland. Those that have been following our progress at the cemetery will be familiar with this, but for those that are new to our project, we have recently made a significant archaeological discovery. Several days ago we set out to remove a gravestone that was nearly buried underground to research and restore it. When we set about doing this we discovered that it was lined up side by side with dozens upon dozens of other gravestones. We proceeded to excavate a section of this forgotten section of headstones, and discovered that the vast majority of them were dated 1850-1880. As our funding from the Canada Summer Jobs program was provided with the goal of researching and restoring Confederation era monuments to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, the development was extremely exciting.

As Canada 150 approaches rapidly, Canadians are finding different ways to commemorate and celebrate the anniversary, one of which is an increased interest in our nation’s past. Naturally, the announcement of our discovery resulted in a significant amount of press attention, some of which can be seen here, here, here, and here. In a time where we are increasingly seeing fewer and fewer students elect to study history and other social sciences in academia, it is this sort of coverage that really makes a difference in terms of displaying the value and potential rewards of continuing to fund history.

Soon after the press release, the volume of visitors we had to the site increased significantly. People from various backgrounds came to see the work we’re doing at Woodland, whether it be random passerby with little formal schooling in history, or grizzled local historians eager to share what they know about London’s past. Regardless of their understanding, what has struck me over the past several days is that every single visitor has something to contribute. And no, that’s not a cliche. Whether it is an excited woman who is writing a book on the history of stone carvers in the London area identifying those responsible for creating the headstones, or a gentleman who potentially recognizes one of the names as his late friend’s grandfather, or a neighbor who allows us to use his backyard’s garden hose because our cemetery’s water wasn’t running yet, each person we interact with brings us one step closer to our main goal, understanding the past. It is a mutually beneficial and rewarding interaction, and something that shouldn’t be underestimated. In an age where the press is unfortunately pressured to write what will garner ad revenue, it is gratifying to see time being taken to cover local historical developments.

The role of the press, and the community around us. cannot be understated in furthering our understanding of the region’s history. As always you can keep up with our findings on this blog, as well as on Facebook page “Woodland Cemetery History” and our Instagram handle, @WoodlandCemeteryHistory.

Signing off for the week, take care everyone!

Peter Dobrzynski