As the summer winds down, I have been thinking about how I have accomplished and learned so many more things than I could have possibly imagined at the beginning of the summer. We completed almost the entire project of the Scottish Cemetery (130 stones!), repaired and restored approximately a dozen others around the cemetery, including ones that were completely underground, and stood up thirteen of the gravestones from Old St Paul’s Cemetery. We put together a walking tour, each of us completed several radio/tv/newspaper interviews, and we helped uncover some of the lost history of Woodland Cemetery.
During our last few weeks, we will be doing a couple of things. We are wrapping up our final project (the standing of the corner stones in Section U), we are doing repairs to fallen gravestones around the cemetery (fallen or loose monuments), and we are hoping to finish up our video diary / documentary on tombstone archeology.
The video has been quite a challenge. Sunny and I have been learning to use Final Cut Pro, which has forced me to recall my high school days in media arts classes, and we have had to go out into the cemetery and get some final additional footage for the project. Regardless of whether it airs or not, I think that this part of the job has been the most challenging for me (I am not that great with technology), and may provide a great sense of satisfaction when it is complete. It encompasses most of the work we completed this summer, all the new skills we learned, our progressing thoughts and expectations of the job, and showcases our team’s deep appreciation for the history of Woodland Cemetery.
People don’t often acknowledge cemeteries. Yes, we drive by them on our way to work, the grocery store, and the movies, but we look past them. We don’t see the beauty within historical cemeteries such as Woodland and the history it holds. I think most of us don’t really think about them until we are forced to go under unfortunate circumstances. When I was younger, cemeteries terrified me. It was only two years ago, when I was living in Europe, did I discover my deep appreciation for cemeteries and the ways in which they preserve memory. Working at Woodland has been a fantastic experience and I have greatly enjoyed my time here. Our manager, and every member of staff at Woodland works hard to preserve the cemetery’s natural beauty, help people through difficult times in their lives, and ensure that everyone’s deceased loved ones are guaranteed a proper and respectful memorialization, in whatever way the family wishes to do it.
Our work is not yet done at Woodland Cemetery. Hopefully next year’s students will be able to carry on our work and finish the projects we did not get the chance to complete.
For the past three months, we have learned a great deal about cemeteries. Our manager, Paul, is always eager to tell us everything he knows about the history of our cemetery and others around London, local historians such as Catherine McEwen and Dan Brock are eager to share their expertise on Middlesex County stonecarvers, and the librarians, archivists, and others working in the many libraries and archives we have visited alway seem pleased to see us and interested in our latest research. Everyone we have encountered has been extremely helpful in providing information and support in our efforts to uncover more and more Woodland Cemetery history.
As stated in the last blog post, Woodland was forced to move twice due to city expansion. Originally it was a church graveyard, but because it became overcrowded, a park-style cemetery was established outside city limits, where it was eventually overtaken by building and moved again to Woodland Park. These park-style cemeteries originated in Britain and were quickly picked up in the United States and Canada as well. Mourning was in fashion in the Victorian age, Queen Victoria’s mourning of her husband for much of her life influenced the way people thought of death and dying. Beautiful stone tablets were created as memorials for deceased loved ones and elaborate mourning customs were established to celebrate the dead. Death was romanticized, and was viewed as a natural part of life for the Victorians (see references to Victorian post-mortem photography). Cemeteries reflected this. While cities expanded and land within city limits became more desirable for living space, cemeteries were moved outside of cities to large parks for space and beautiful surroundings.
A few park-style cemeteries in England eventually became run down and repurposed into open spaces for the public. Gravestones were taken down or demolished and most signs that a cemetery was ever present vanished.
Woodhouse Cemetery at the University of Leeds is a strange place. If one visits, it does not seem like a cemetery at all. The original stones that survived the area’s transformation are placed along a short path near one of the entrances and placed close together. The tiles that make up the walk way around the cemetery’s original chapel list the names of people who are buried in the field, with anywhere from one to around twenty on each stone. In the image above, you can see there is writing on the path (people’s names).
The Victorian cemetery allowed for people to openly celebrate the beauty of death. They would take picnics to the cemetery, visit their deceased loved ones, and make a day of it. They showcased the art of the day and popularized the idea of public parks for socializing and relaxing. They served as a beautiful quiet space inside of rapidly expanding, industrializing, and dirty cities.
However, the First World War ended this desire for park-style cemeteries. Death was no longer celebrated as young men died by the thousands, and death became viewed as more brutal, terrifying, and unknown. Cemeteries became quieter places, the sheer volume of deaths taking place during the war caused thousands of monuments to be erected in cemeteries to commemorate the brave sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands who fought for their country. Stones lost their unique artistry as death became less personal. Mourning became more private and with that, personality left the cemeteries.
I am sure you have been enjoying some of our historical blog posts, but today I thought I would simply update you on what we have been doing. For the past few weeks after we finished our Scottish site – by the way, the transcript from the stones found at the site has been released, which can be found HERE – we went around the old sections of the cemetery, probing for stones, finding stones, and repairing stones.
One of the discoveries our team made was also the gravestone of Charles Sturgess. Alyssa, MacKenzie and I initially thought it was a small project, which turned out to be wrong. Our initial evaluation was that it merely needed a simple repair.
We planned to simply attach the piece fallen off from the footstone back on it and raise the footstone a bit. But as we were edging around the footstone to raise it up, we were hitting another stone. We weren’t really sure what could be there because there normally isn’t a thing between a headstone and a footstone. What we discovered was something completely unexpected. There were two stones that ran across from the headstone to the footstone. And the ends of the stones were attached to the headstone and footstone! (I will now refer to these stones as “borders”) So, as it turned out to be a bigger project than Alyssa, MacKenzie, and I have anticipated, Peter and Jonathon joined us to help.
After digging out all the dirt around the stones, we realized the borders made the grave look like a child’s crib. It was something that I had never seen. Our team eventually brought up the borders and footstones; cleaned stones; repaired any damage (including our initial objective – attaching the part of the footstone that had fallen off. We suspect that there used to be a garden in the empty space. We do not think that we can re-create the garden that was there, but we are planning on making it look better than how it looks in the picture for sure! We have poured top soil on it and we will be planting grass seeds in the near future.
A few days later, I went on to London Room in the Central branch of London Public Library to research little more about the person buried in the grave stone. The plot belonged to Charles Sturgess, who passed away at the age of four. Due to this age, my research was not as fruitful as I hoped it to be. However, there were few things I found out. Charles was born in Croydon, Surrey, England. And his family, of course, was part of the Church of England. It seems that his family moved from England to London, Canada after 1871 since the family does not appear on census records. However, City directories from 1873 indicate that the family was definitely living in the area by 1873, a year before Charles’ death. Charles died from diseases called croup (official medical term: laryngotracheobronchitis).
Croup is a type of respiratory infection that occurs mostly among children between the age of 6 months and 5. Croup’s initial symptoms are very similar to common flu. It causes a patient to cough, fever, and runny nose. I, personally, had never heard of the disease named croup prior to conducting this research. I learned that croup is still fairly common in nowadays, but it is preventable with a vaccine. Before vaccination, croup was often related to diphtheria and was very fatal.
Now, that is the end of the story I wanted to share for today. But before I end the blog, I would like to inform you that we have found ourselves another big project. I no longer have space to elaborate this big project on this blog so I will leave it to the next person who writes a blog post. So stay tuned!
For the final blog post of the week, I thought I would talk a little about the history of cemeteries. Since we work in one, it seemed overdue that we talk a little bit about the history of cemeteries in London as well as Woodland Cemetery in particular. There is a fantastic short history of Woodland Cemetery written by Levi a couple years ago that gives a brief overview of the movements of St Paul’s Cemetery from 1849 until the mid-1880s when the graves were settled in their final resting places.
Now, this summer has been quite the learning experience for me, as I have discovered a great deal about the history of London. Our team has had several visits from local historians, and our boss, Paul, is extremely knowledgable about much of London’s exciting history. The 1832 Cholera Epidemic – while the mortality rate was not exceptionally high, Londoners such as Dr Elam Stimson (mentioned in a previous blog post), lost loved ones and suffered through the epidemic as London was still a small, but growing city. The 1874 Komoka Train Fire, where a train car caught fire on its way from London to Sarnia. We only discovered this disaster as a memorial stone for two of the victims of the fire is located in Woodland and somewhat describes the incident (the rest of the story had to be researched from the Komoka Railway Museum’s website, but as someone who loves to learn about trains, this was no issue for me).
The Victoria Day Disaster in 1881, when a steamship carrying 650 passengers capsized in the Thames and over 180 died in the disaster, many of whom were buried at Woodland Cemetery. Severe natural disasters, the Deluge of London West in 1883 and the Great Flood of London (1937) and fatal building collapses speckle London’s rich history and traces of them and their impacts can be seen at Woodland. While these stories are all extremely interesting and tragic, one can’t help but ask what these disasters have to do with cemeteries. Cemeteries are the resting places of the victims of these kinds of disasters. Through mourning practices of the time period, historians and the public can glean an idea of what life was like in different eras,
Cemeteries and the burial and mourning of the dead are centuries-old traditions that develop differently around the world based on available resources, religion, and cultural practices. We know of many burial practices for the ‘rich and famous’ of the ancient world. From mummification, and the great pyramids in Egypt and all the treasures they hold, the Terracotta Army protecting Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife, and the Mausoleum of Augustus, which houses many Roman Emperors.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, in Egypt
Terracotta soldiers in Xi’an, China
An engraving of how the Mausoleum of Augustus appeared in 1575
In the late-Medieval and early modern period, we come across many more elaborate and fantastical monuments and burial tombs for the prosperous. Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, and more modern cemeteries such as the Arlington National Cemetery, house royals, government figures, and other prominent societal figures. But what about the common people?
Also known as “grave fields”, prehistoric cemeteries varied based on geography, and the religion and culture of the society. The ancient pagans used many of the same burial rituals, such as burial mounds, shaft tombs, and cremation.
The Zoroastrians in Persia used ossuaries, often stone boxes where the remains of loved ones would be interred after they had decomposed, in order to preserve burial space. Over time, these ossuaries evolved to become much more elaborate (see the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic).
Much of the following information about Woodland Cemetery can be found in a wonderful brochure created by Levi, which I would highly recommend! Woodland Cemetery was not established until 1879, but we have graves from many years prior to the opening of the cemetery. These older graves comes from St Paul’s Cemetery, which was originally located right on the church’s grounds. In 1849, it was determined that the cemetery and all of its contents should be moved outside of town limits to where the Western Fairgrounds are today. It is also interesting to note that a cemetery located in a church yard is more commonly referred to as a graveyard and that a cemetery not within a church’s yard cannot be a graveyard (all graveyards are cemeteries but not all cemeteries are graveyards). The movement of many of the graves was due to overcrowding within the downtown area of London (the desire to allocate space for the living rather than the dead), and sanitation issues. Having water for city inhabitants running through a graveyard would be damaging to the health of people and could cause dangerous outbreaks of disease. So it was decided that they would be moved far outside of town limits where St Paul’s had purchased land for this purpose. The cemetery continued to function much like the cemeteries of the time. It had family lots for purchase and a Potter’s field, for those unable to purchase lots themselves. However, within 30 years, the city’s expansion overcame the new cemetery and St Paul’s looked to the west end of the city to build their new cemetery. In 1879, they purchased the land where Woodland stands today, established their Victorian park-style cemetery, and moved all the graves from the Western Fairgrounds, which took six years to complete!
This all seems fairly ridiculous to us now. How could they keep moving a cemetery, filled with hundreds of bodies and gravestones to each new plot of land without missing any? They didn’t! Gravestones break in transit, particularly the tall, flat gravestones of the Victorian age, keys (the bottom part of the grave that goes into the ground and keeps the actual stone upright) were often taken and repurposed, leaving stones lying flat on the ground over the burial. Bodies were missed, stones misplaced, but it is still quite impressive that they moved so many without the technology and machinery we have today.
In the Victorian Era, mourning practices were extremely important. Queen Victoria herself had inspired a certain style for commoners in her realm to follow; wearing black, sombre gatherings, and the commissioning of detailed, personalized monuments for the dead gained popularity among the people of London, Ontario. The end of the American Civil War in the 1860s and the completion of the railroad in the late-nineteenth century allowed for more sturdy material to be brought in for building gravestones. Marble came in from quarries in Vermont, largely replacing the older sandstone gravestones as it was less likely to erode and break, and was more aesthetically pleasing.
This post is becoming a little bit long and I wanted to include more about the week we had so I will have to conclude the history of cemeteries another week. Stay tuned!
This week was much of the same, but the poor weather conditions prevented us from mortaring and gluing stones. So we had a couple of research days and did what we could at the cemetery, cleaning and using putty to seal multi-level monuments back into place. We also got to visit the Museum of Ontario Archeology on Wednesday, which was a great deal of fun! We spoke to the archeology summer campers and got to tell them all about tombstone archeology. The campers had a lot of really good questions and they were a great audience!
I came across an interesting article while researching cemeteries, so if you’re interested in reading up on pet burials, here is a short article on interesting cases of animals being given ritualistic burials.
As Peter previously mentioned in Friday’s blog post, we discovered the gravestones of 3 young girls, Mary, Minnie, and Clara, last week. Initially, we thought they were orphans from the Protestant Orphan’s Home due to the small size and lackluster appearance of the markers, but soon discovered that they were in fact, sisters. Their cemetery plot had been purchased by their father, James Perkins. Given this information, and the short period of time in which they died (January-March 1891), we concluded they must have died from some kind of contagious disease.
MacKenzie suspected that they could have died from the Russian Flu, as the time of their deaths occurs shortly after the disease reached the big cities in Canada, including London. This lead me to research more on the Russian flu epidemic, particularly its presence and impact in Canada.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about the Russian flu (even though it caused around one million deaths worldwide – in relation to today’s population, it would be around 420 million people suddenly dying), let alone the Russian flu in Canada. It reached major Canadian cities in early 1890, including Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal, and even London. The image below is a map compiled by a team of international scholars in the early 1890s, showing the spread of the flu across the globe.
The Russian flu was not as detrimental as the later, and more famous, Spanish flu, but it is hypothesized that the Russian flu made the Spanish one following the First World War, much more dangerous. Based on the theory of ‘first antigenic sin’, it seems that the arrival of the Russian flu made survivors develop antibodies that would prove useless against the more evolved Spanish flu that occurred later.
It is difficult to track the progress of the Russian flu, as it is not as heavily studied as other influenza epidemics in North America. The articles that exist are heavily based on medical and statistical analyses (luckily I love statistics, so it has been enjoyable for me!), and can be difficult for historians to interpret.
It would be difficult to track the direct deaths from the epidemic as many, such as the Perkins sisters, could have perished due to complications. Based on their death records, two of the sisters died from respiratory infections that were likely caused by the flu. Furthermore, it is likely that Canadian newspapers were not eager to publish reports and outbreaks of the flu in their cities as it would discourage immigration, which was needed to help grow the nation’s population and economy.
This research on the Russian flu proved to be very interesting. I learned about something I had never heard of before, and had the pleasure of looking at plenty of statistical charts and maps!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
First of all, I would like to thank each and every one of you who joined us on Saturday for our walking tour. It was so good to meet you all. We hope you enjoyed the tour as much as we did and for those of you who unfortunately could not make it, we hope you will get a chance to do a self-guided walking tour with our very user-friendly brochure. We are also available for private booking with no charge if you have a group of ten or more people!
So, today being the first work day after our big event – walking tour – we were not entirely sure what was waiting for us today. We knew we needed a break from the Scottish Cemetery site because we have been working on it since the beginning of May. Therefore, we only spent a very short period of time at the Scottish Cemetery to evaluate what needs to be done and off we went! Don’t worry – We are not done with the Scottish cemetery site. We will be sure to come back to it sometime soon to finish it. There are some works that need to be done!
What did we do for the rest of the day? Well, we learned different ways to repair headstones and monuments! There are different ways to approach headstones that require repairs depending on the type of the stone, the way it is placed, and the problem it has. At the Scottish cemetery site, we mostly dealt with the headstones that were laying down and were going to be placed back laying down. We learned how to fix the stones that were going back laying down, quite a while back and we have been utilizing that skill for the past few weeks. However, today we were taught completely different methods to repair the headstones.
We learned how to deal with the stones that are still in upright positions. These are the stones that may look nice and safe, but in fact, dangerous. Headstones are often made out of a few different parts rather than one giant headstone, which means that some seals that were done decades ago wares off and parts of the headstone becomes wobbly. Long story short, we learned how to fix these wobbly stones. We were also taught how to fix the stones that are broken in pieces but cannot be fixed with the glue we are using. It’s a little complicated process and I think we will dedicate another blog to the fiberglass rod method later. 🙂
In short, a lot of learning was done today and we are eager to fix stones with the new methods we newly learned! Later in the afternoon, we went around the old section of the cemetery and flagged the potential stones that can be fixed. We have flagged quite a few, which I am very excited to work on!
Today was another exciting day here at Woodland. Walking tour being only five days away, we entered the final stretch of the project. We started our morning by promoting the walking tour. We went around the neighbourhood and distributed flyers about the walking tour. I hope these flyers intrigue people, and hopefully, they will join us this Saturday.
We would like to have as many people as possible on the tour! We are eager to share the stories of our so-called discovery (of the Scottish cemetery) and stories of others who are buried at Woodland. This tour focuses on the people who lived the confederation era (the mid-1800s to the late 1800s) for 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada! Not many people know this – but London has a very rich local history and we would love to share these stories with as many people as possible. So if you are interested in coming, please spread the word to your friends and family.
In the afternoon, we continued cleaning and fixing the monuments. Later in the afternoon, we started putting the cleaned and repaired stones to the sandbox we created. This is the final (almost) stage of the Scottish Cemetery project and we were very excited to place the stones. We had to figure out the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing layout for the stones. It was difficult to reach a consensus, but in the end, we all agreed that we must place some on sideways for the stones to fit in the sandbox. You can get a sense of how it will look like in the end from the picture below.
We only got to maybe a quarter of the stones today, and we hope to finish as soon as possible so they are ready to be seen on the walking tour. This job, of course, cannot be done by ourselves. Most of the headstones are very – VERY – heavy. Without a backhoe, it would not be possible to move many of them. So I would like to thank Bruce and Will for helping us moving and placing the stones on sandbox!
Last but not least, I just want to say it once more, just so you don’t forget. Our walking tour is on June 24th (this Saturday!) at 1PM and 3PM. I can’t wait to meet you all!
Just over a week until we welcome visitors to Woodland Cemetery for our Canada 150 Walking Tour!
This morning we set up our GIANT promotional signs for the walking tour and the memorial trees. The first one took some time, but with teamwork and collaboration, we managed to put it together and stand it up near the front gate of the cemetery. The second one was much easier.
Our week was slow. Monday was hot, we worked on the limestone sandbox that will display the Scottish Cemetery stones, and we had visitors from St Andrew’s Parish come visit us in the afternoon! They were very interested in our work and we loved seeing them here, showing them our progress and discussing our future plans for the memorial!
We were absent from Woodland on Tuesday (due to our convocation at Western University). Wednesday was our most exciting day. We welcomed a group of children to our work site and told them all about our work. They even uncovered and cleaned a gravestone themselves! They were so wonderful to have here! We joined them on their Victoria Day Disaster Tour, where one of the children gave a wonderful summary of the event! Levi was of course also a fantastic guide and told us all about some of the people we have at Woodland who died in the disaster. It was very informative and interesting.
We have finally put together the script for the walking tour so we will be working tirelessly all next week in order to memorize the information for all of our visitors on June 24th! Please come out for a day full of London history: the every-men, the dramatic, and the scandalous. Hopefully it’ll be nice, but not too hot!
This afternoon we had a lovely tour with a school group who came to Woodland as part of their day-long field trip! They helped us find and uncover, and clean up this grave marker for “Baby Leeson” – and we thought we would share the information that we found out about this stone later in the afternoon!
The stone was carved to go on a grave of a stillborn baby – a baby that did not live past their birth. The baby was born and died on February 24th, 1916, and was buried at Woodland the day after. The baby was not given a name, which might have been because their parents were grieving over losing their child and chose not to name them.
The father of the baby was named William H. Leeson, and he and his wife lived at 701 Becher Street here in London. That is in South London by the Children’s Museum, and the street was likely named after the Becher family that I wrote about a few weeks ago.
From what I can find in the census records, it looks like William’s parents immigrated to St. Thomas, Ontario from England around the time of Confederation. He grew up there with 5 other siblings before moving to London. Unfortunately, I can’t find his marriage record or the name of his wife. I’m also not sure if they ever had any other children.
When Baby Leeson died, William purchased a special gravesite at the back of the cemetery where we visited today – this was a section just for infants. When William died sometime around 1948, he was also buried in a Woodland Cemetery – but it was the Woodland in Kitchener-Waterloo, not in London!
We also discovered something interesting about the gravestone. If you turn it over, it has some inscriptions on it that are partially cut off. This means it was probably a recycled stone that somebody didn’t need anymore. Since the stone was so small, they probably cut a piece off of a larger recycled stone and reused it for Baby Leeson. This likely cost the family less money, and made good use of the materials that were available.
Thanks for helping us uncover this piece of London history today, and for including us in your field trip! Hopefully we will find out a little bit more about the Leeson family as time goes on.