Final Thoughts for the Summer

Hi there!

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.

Thank you for keeping up with our work!

For the last time,



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.

Documentary on Tombstone Archaeology?

Hello everyone,

Sorry for not posting a blog yesterday! I hope you had a great long weekend (that is if you are reading this from Canada; so if not, hope you had a good weekend regardless!). Our week so far has been very productive.

We came to a realization this week that we got only 12 work days, as of August 09, left for the summer! Wow! Time really does fly. It seems like the first day we started our job – May 4th – was yesterday. I like to think that our team accomplished a lot of things during the three month period. Throughout the summer, we have been thoroughly video recording what we were doing. So cleaning, repairing, giving tours, etc. were all recorded!

Alyssa filming Peter and MacKenzie

Now, what are we doing with all these video footages, you may ask. We hope to make a documentary out of these footages to be aired on Rogers TV. For now, we are calling it the “Tombstone Archaeology” documentary. I think it will be very interesting given that our job is very interesting. So we are not too far in the process since we started editing it this week. But I would like to share the process we have made so far.

First, we, as a group, reviewed all the footages we have. It was both very enjoyable and embarrassing experience. Listening to all the conversations we had was pretty hilarious. And all those bloopers! They were very – and I mean VERY – funny. Of course, if we were making mistakes or were not successful doing some job and were caught on camera (for example, there is a footage of me failing to shovel), they were quite embarrassing to watch.

Then Alyssa and I, who are responsible for creating this documentary, created a general story line we want to tell through the documentary and labeled our footages accordingly. We believed we were on the right track. We had all the file numbers written down on a sheet of paper, and what could possibly go wrong?

video notes
Notes we were making for the documentary

Well, it was the file numbers that went wrong. As we were importing the video files to the program, Final Cut Pro, we are using, all the files renamed themselves. Video file #25 was no longer 25 but rather 20. This meant that Alyssa and I had to go through all the imported footages again to check if they were, in fact, the videos we wanted. When this was sorted out, we finally started editing the actual video! And this meant that we had to go through all the footages at least once more! We only did preliminary editing today. However, this was more tedious process than I had anticipated. All the side comments we made throughout the summer, made us laugh at the time, but editing those out… let’s just say it is less than pleasant. That being said, I am still enjoying the editing videos. I always enjoy learning new things! I can’t wait to finish editing them and share with you all.

… and a little bit more

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.

Queen Victoria in mourning clothes

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.

MS 421_6_1_5 Photograph of Leeds General Cemetery 1962
Leeds General Cemetery in disrepair. Leeds, England.
Woodhouse Cemetery in St George’s Field at the University of Leeds.


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.

A war cemetery at Vimy Ridge in France.

Another week, another project

Hello everyone,

For the past two weeks, a lot has been going on at Woodland Cemetery. For us, we decided to start another project that would take us until the end of the summer. For those of you that know the cemetery well, in the northeast corner, there are approximately thirty stones that are lying down on the ground. These stones have been here since before anyone can remember, and they’ve been deteriorating over the decades. Likely, they’ve been lying down since the 1880’s when they were moved from the St. Pauls cemetery (where the Western Fair Grounds are today) to Woodland. When we decided to tackle them, many were in a severely deteriorated stage, but some we identified as excellent candidates to repair.


Before we began taking them out of the ground, we first had to decide where we would place them. We considered standing them just behind where they were found. However, we quickly scrapped that idea because the ground is slopped and we didn’t want to deal with the lean the stones would develop. I mean, they will develop a lean within a few decades, but it would happen on the sloped ground much faster. The other option was to either find an empty plot nearby or use an old walkway where no one would have been buried. After a lot of searching through plot books, we eventually decided on an empty plot that is close to our Scottish cemetery display.

Once we decided on a place, we started to bring the stones up the hill, clean them off, and then start the process of placing them back on the ground. Since we are not using keys or bases, we have to bury the stones quite deep in the ground. Depending on the stone, that can be anywhere from a foot to two feet. Its truly exhausting having to dig two feet down, especially when you constantly hit tree roots and layers of clay. Once the hole is dug, we place the stone in, level it, then fill the hole with a bunch of lime shale to make it stable. It’s a long process, but it’s worth it in the end.


We are nowhere near finished, but it is starting to come together. It almost looks like a mini cemetery within the larger one. We’re trying to keep the rows as uniform as possible and keep a good distance between them, but everything is working out!


In addition to repairing the stones, we’re also trying to find information about the people they belong to. The archivist at St. Pauls Cathedral recommended we go to Huron University College because they hold the Diocese of Huron Archives, of which St. Paul’s is included. Last Friday we went and with the help of the staff there, we were able to find a lot of information. They had the original burial, baptism, and marriage registers. They also had a lot on what previous researchers had found about the history of Woodland. It was very informative, and we’re planning on returning tomorrow to see what we can find.


One other interesting development is that we were shown the old vault that they have at Woodland. It was originally used to hold money since Woodland was nowhere close to anywhere, but over time it has turned more into storage for old documents. It was really interesting to see what they keep, such as receipts for plots and stones that date back to the 1880’s. We also found the old transfer receipts for when graves and stones were being moved from St.Pauls, which was a cool find. Plus, some old photographs, one was even from Victory in Europe day, 1945.

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Well, that’s it for today! Alyssa should be back on Friday for a continuation of her “History of Cemeteries” blog from a few weeks ago, so stay tuned for that!



Edit: In my original post I simply referred to The Diocese of Huron Archives as the archives at Huron University College. The blog has been changed to reflect their true title. If you are interested in researching at The Diocese of Huron Archives, located at Huron University College, their email is as follows;

Byzantine Catacomb Art and Victorian Symbolism

The Victorians and the Byzantines were both vastly different societies, yet to compare the ways in which they approached death and mourning is extremely interesting. The Victorians, the English who lived during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), were very strict about their funeral customs. The Byzantines, on the other hand, were the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire that surrounded the Mediterranean. This empire lasted significantly longer than the Victorian era, from 330 CE – 1453. While extremely different in their methods of burial, especially interesting was just how similar they were about the decoration of their loved one’s final resting places.

Whereas Victorians predominately buried their dead similar to how we would today, cremation was the principal method of burial for the Byzantines until the 2nd century. The transition to inhumation (to inter the dead) only came when it became difficult to find fuel for the fires. When cremations ‘died out’, the development of catacombs became important in the Holy Roman Empire due to lack of available surface space. While cremation was the most efficient and space-saving method, catacombs were the next best choice. The Byzantines hired individuals to dig their catacombs, called Fossors, and they very quickly transitioned into quite elaborate burial spaces. The surface area of the walls allowed for loved ones to create elaborate funeral art for their deceased, art that would represent the ideals that were most dear to them. The artwork used primarily depended on their religion and while it was possible that multiple religions would use the same catacomb, each chamber would often be dedicated to separate religions.

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A Fossor at work. 

Byzantium’s beginnings were not in Christianity, but in Paganism and Judaism, but all three religions are represented in their catacomb artwork. As Christianity was illegal in Rome until the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, Christians would often have to hire Pagan or Jewish artists and ask them to paint scenes from the Old Testament, as they followed both the old and the new. They would also adopt pagan motifs as a way to not raise suspicion. The fish (Ichthys), had been used by many religions prior and had therefore not risen suspicion. The story of Orpheus was often used to represent Christ. One of the most famous aspects of the Orpheus myth is the story of Orpheus’s  descent into Hades to rescue his love Eurydice, who had been snatched from him by an untimely death. While he was ultimately not successful in recovering Eurydice, he himself emerged from the underworld alive. This particular aspect of the myth resonated with early Christians, who saw this as an allegorical reference to Christ’s descent into and return from the fiery depths of hell. Orpheus thus became a symbol of victory over death, and a symbol of eternal life.

Orpheus as Christ. Catacombs of Marcellius and Peter. Rome.

Once it was legalized, scenes from the New Testament, such as Jesus and the Woman of Samaria at Jacob’s Well, became popular. Also used were the symbols of the dove, the anchor, and the cross (Christos). All of these symbols had profound meaning, often taken from scripture. For instance, the anchor a symbol of hope in future existence because the anchor was regarded in ancient times as a symbol of safety. In other words, it represents Christianity’s firm belief in eternal life, their hope of their future existence in heaven.

Woman of Samaria at Jacobs Well – Via Latina Catacomb, Rome. 
The Fish and the Anchor – St. Pricilla Catacombs

Another central theme to Christian Catacomb art was death and resurrection. Through the use of Old Testament imagery, they focused on alluding to post-death salvation. An example of this is the story of Jonah being swallowed by the fish, then three days later being vomited back out. This was seen by early Christians as a resurrection story. The message being: “Save me [Lord] as you have saved Jonah from the belly of the great fish.”

Jonah being Vomitted from the Great Fish – Resurrection Icon. Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter. 

Jewish frescos would often depict a Menorah, the Arch of the Covenant,, the Shofar (horn), the Lulav (branch/twigs), etc. They would also use scenes from the Old Testament, often making it difficult to tell the difference between a Jewish and Christian tomb.

Typical Jewish scene from the Catacomb in Villa Torlona. Two Menorahs flank the Arch of the Covenant. The Shofar, Lulav, and etrog (fruit) are all depicted. 3rd Century CE. 


Jewish Catacomb Art. Villa Torlonia.



Jewish Catacomb. Vigna Randanini.

Pagan artwork would use the symbols of the Putti, the peacock (immortality as the peacock’s flesh did not decay, or so they believed) and the phoenix (rebirth), while also taking scenes from Roman/Greek myths and legends to declare their beliefs. For instance, the scene of Hercules leading Alcestis to her husband Admetus in the Catacombs of Via Latina. This scene is commemorating a wives loyalty to her husband during his illness, that she would have given up her life to save him, as Alcestis does for Admetus in the legend (see below). Though it should also be mentioned that both Judaism and Christianity took pagan symbols and shaped them for their own, as can be seen in the photo above this paragraph where a Jewish catacomb is showcasing icons of the peacock.


Hercules leads Alcestis to Admetus. Via Latina Cubiculum N. 


As can be seen, unlike Victorian monument symbols, there is no virtually no reference to sorrow or mourning in Byzantine catacomb art. The majority of the focus is on the religiosity, the life that the deceased lived, or their death and resurrection (which was not considered something to be in sorrow about).

The Victorians, however, seemed to do the opposite. Not much of the artwork decorating their monuments is overtly religious, though much of it has religious connotations. Icons such as the willow tree, the rose, the laurel and clasped hands are extremely common at Woodland Cemetery, and each of them has a separate meaning. As Levi mentioned in an earlier post, the Victorians were fixated on symbolism, and when they erected a gravestone for a loved one, they wanted to make sure it reflected something of that person’s disposition, their career, their relationships, or their life. The willow tree, symbolizing mourning, is an example of how much Victorian death rites focused on the mourning and loss that the loved one’s family was feeling. A broken column stands for an individual who was cut off in the prime of life, often the head of the family. The clasped hands were religious as well, showing the hope of re-unification in the next life.

Clasped Hands
Willow Tree

Overall, although the two societies lived centuries apart, there are commonalities in their mourning customs. Byzantine art, while overtly religious, often has hidden meanings about the deceased’s life. Victorian symbolism, while not usually obviously religious, also was carved in the belief that the monument should reflect not only the life of the deceased but the sorrow of the loved ones. Both used artwork as a way to depict a life lived and lost, and to show their dedication even after death.

Sidenote: Thanks for reading this blog post! I know that it’s different from other weeks, but we spend so much time with Victorian symbols that I thought it would be interesting to see how a different culture would approach mourning artwork.



Mobile Tour and New Stones

Another week, another mobile tour. Yesterday we had the pleasure to be welcomed by Chartwell Riverside Residence. As usual, it went swimmingly, and the residents were extremely interested in the stories that we were sharing. These mobile tours are fun because it gives us a chance to continue to share our research with the public, and it also gives us a bit of a break from the heat!

Speaking of working in the heat, Alyssa, Sunny and I have been working on uncovering and repairing another stone that we found broken in section R. At first, we thought it may be an easy fix, as it seemed to be already uncovered and a clean break. When we set out to level out the base, it seemed that our assumptions were wrong. The proper base of the stone was a little more than a foot underground, and a substantial part of the inscription was with it.

Once we were able to get the base out of the ground, we added limestone screening to the whole in order to properly level out the ground underneath. One issue that we typically have with this step in the process is that the sections that we work in there are a lot of hills. This makes it a little bit of a longer process to level.

After placing the stone into the levelled hole, we were able to begin repairing the stone. Since it is relatively thick (more then 2 inches wide), the team was able to practice our skills in pinning. Peter explained this in a previous week, so I won’t go into extreme detail, but pinning just allows the stone to become more stable then it would be if we just used epoxy. While this method is widely used in the monument restoration community, it is not one that we have utilized a great deal over the summer. Therefore, I was not comfortable with it at first, especially since we have to use power drills to make (3) two-inch holes into each side of the broken pieces. I am always nervous that I will break the stone. Thankfully, we were taught how to do it correctly and we haven’t had any issues yet!

You also may be wondering why the stone in the above-far-right photo is slightly red – we use lipstick in order to make the holes on each side of the stone in line with each other! It was a funny experience asking Eric, who is in charge of the grounds-crew to pick us up some. We kept insisting on specific shades and brands, so much so that he didn’t believe we actually needed it at first!

The final step of the process after drilling the holes is to put the fibre-glass rods into place. The combination of the fibre-glass rods and a bit of epoxy allows the stone to become stable and it won’t fall down once placed upright. See photos below. The clamps on the stone just hold it in place until the epoxy can completely dry!

Last bit for today, we have completed another step of our Scottish Cemetery project! For the walking tour, we had to quickly place the stones into the sandbox, as we wanted as few tripping hazards as possible. Unfortunately, that meant that we would have to go back and move around the stones enough for us to fit seven more stones in the box. It took us awhile, but we finally got it all done! The only step left is to place the seven stones that we wanted upright into the area of the mass grave site. For this, we have to wait until proper keys are made, and that is the part that takes the longest!


Anyway, that is it for today. Thanks for following along with our weekly adventures!


A little bit on cemeteries…

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).19911695_10209276870215330_1580958185_o

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.

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.

bahrain burial
Ancient burial mounds in Bahrain, photographed in 1956. From

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!

A streetcar on the Springbank Line c.1896. Woodland Cemetery is located on the right and the Thames River is on the left. Photo is from the London Room at London Public Library.

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.

The Russian Flu Pandemic 1889-93

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.

This image from <> tracks the arrival and movement 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!