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,

Alyssa

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… 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.

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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.

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Leeds General Cemetery in disrepair. Leeds, England.
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Woodhouse Cemetery in St George’s Field at the University of Leeds.

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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.

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A war cemetery at Vimy Ridge in France.

Victoria Grace Blackburn: London’s (Original!) Literary Powerhouse

For my historical blog this week, I want to talk about a woman whose gravestone I often wander by: Victoria Grace Blackburn (pen name: FanFan). Though her biography hints at a fascinating life, I get the feeling that she was someone who you would have had to meet in person in order to truly feel the force of her personality.

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As you may be able to tell from the name, Victoria was part of the Blackburn clan who founded the London Free Press. She was born on April 17, 1864 as the fifth daughter of Josiah Blackburn and Emma Jane Delamere, in Quebec. As a young woman, she studied at Hellmuth Ladies’ College in London, where she likely learned her passion for letters. After she graduated, she worked as a teacher in the United States, following her desire to remain in an intellectual environment (in one of the only stations an intellectual woman could occupy, at the time).

Fortunately for Miss Blackburn, her family’s newspaper provided the perfect opportunity to launch her career in another direction. In 1894, she began occasionally writing for the London Free Press while she embarked on studies of journalism, theatre, and literary criticism in New York and Europe. Being unmarried, she travelled the world with her sisters.

By 1900, Victoria had become the full time literary and drama critic for the Free Press. Having natural talent as well as fortunate station, she quickly became one of Canada’s leading and well-known critics, her fame spreading beyond London’s city limits.

She was an important player in London’s cultural scene, but one gets the sense that the town wasn’t always the right fit for her. Being well travelled, she often commented on London’s lack of growth, publishing (loving) criticisms such as “[London is a city that] has not believed sufficiently in herself” in the Free Press. Regardless of some detractors she gained in this manner, she became the managing editor of the London Free Press in 1918, and remained in that position until her death in 1928.

Though some believed that her success was due only to her family connections, she had many professional admirers, and gained praise (like that below, published The Editor) not only for her reporting work but for her literary endeavours.

“A writer with a large brain and a big, warm heart: a twentieth century thinker, with the individuality of original thought and expression: a poet just beginning to realize her gift, and its underlying responsibility: one of the best equipped of our literary and dramatic critics, and with the faculty of logical and comprehensive interpretation–altogether, a distinct force in the intellectual life of the Dominion, of whom much may be expected.” –The Editor.

In addition to writing for the newspaper, Victoria also authored several poems, a novel, and two plays. Her expansive style ranged from satire to tragedy, and she explored themes such as ill-fated love, sacrifice, war, and loss. While none of her work ever reached the level of fame that would have caused it to be well-known today, many of her original hand-written manuscripts are still housed at the Archives at Western University. (Fun fact: after her death, her sister Susan M. Blackburn established a fund, bequeathed to Western University, to purchase Canadian literature in both English and French in memory of her sister Victoria)!

Blackburn’s most critically acclaimed work was The Man Child (published in 1930, 2 years after her death). A novel about the First World War, it is much more serious than many of her other works. The novel follows Jack Winchester, a Canadian boy who leaves London for the trenches of France during WWI. Though its tone is sometimes celebratory of the war (a common attitude of the time), it chooses to celebrate the soldiers who gave their lives over any grand nationalist cause. Many Londoners enjoyed the book because it was a thinly veiled portrait of our city (and the nearby hamlet of Byron), acknowledging the war as a personal and painful experience rather than just a far-away event.

In addition to being a literary powerhouse, she was also active in her community. She founded the Women’s Canadian Club and was the president of the London Women’s Press Club; she was a participant in London’s own little theatre scene as well. She lived at 652 Talbot street with three of her sisters, where a historical plaque still stands to mark her significance.

In 1928, at the age of 61, Victoria suffered a lengthy illness: uterine cancer. She spent the last few weeks of her life in St. Joseph’s Hospital, likely surrounded by her many friends and remaining family members. She died on March 4, 1928, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery (in the Blackburn plot in Section S) shortly thereafter.

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More fortunate than many other Confederation Era Canadian writers, much of her work has survived to the present day. Below is one of her poems, published during WWI, which may give us a feeling for her literary style as well as her compassion:

 

Epic of the Yser
Dead with his face to the foe!’
From Hastings to Yser
Our men have died so.
The lad is a hero–
Great Canada’s pride:
We sent him with glory,
For glory he died–
So ring out the church-bells! Float the flag high!

Then I heard at my elbow a fierce mother-cry.

On the desolate plain
Where the dark Yser flows
They’ll bury him, maybe,
Our Child of the Snows:
The message we sent them
Through fire and through flood
He signed it and sealed it
To-day with his blood–
United we stand! Our Empire is One!

But this woman beside me? . . . The boy was her son.

 

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John Robert Peel, the stone carver

Hi everyone,

Today I thought it would be interesting to share one of the stories that was featured on our walking tour! On our tour, we talked a bit about stone carvers and John Robert Peel was one of them.

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John was born on September 26, 1830 in England. He got married to Amelia Margaret Hall, who is buried at Woodland Cemetery with her husband, in 1849. There are no records of his occupation in England, but we know that when John and Amelia moved to London, Canada (then Canada West) in 1852, John instantly became an artistic figurehead in London. John earned his living as a drawing instructor and also as a marble cutter, making headstones and monuments. John owned his own firm for his marble cutting business named London Marble Works. John was known for his remarkable sculpting skills, especially his lamb sculptures. These lamb sculptures are often found on children’s grave because it symbolizes purity and innocence. John was also involved in several art initiatives in London. Most notably, he was a co-founder of the Western School of Arts and Design and he also organized the first Art Loan exhibition in London.

Another fun fact about John Robert Peel: He was the father of Paul Peel, a world renowned artist from London. In 1890, he won a bronze medal at Paris Salon for his painting After the Bath, making him one of the first Canadian artists to receive international recognition during his lifetime.

Paul Peel
After the Bath
1890
oil on canvas
147.3 x 110.5 cm

It is said that Paul Peel was artistically inclined from a young age thanks to his father’s artistic abilities. After all, Paul was trained by his father until the age of 14. On the monument of John and Amelia, Paul Peel’s name is also engraved on it, but Paul Peel is not buried here. He died in Paris from lung infection and he is buried in Paris. We are not entirely certain why Paul’s name is engraved here. It can’t be that they wanted their children’s name on their monument since they had several children together but only Paul’s name is on. We think it maybe because John and Amelia

  1. wanted to remember their son, who passed away at relatively young age of 31
  2. were very proud of their son’s achievement and wanted others to remember him as well

Or it could possibly be both!

Peel House
Peel House located in Fanshawe Pioneer Village; the house was originally located at 230 Richmond Street, south of Horton Street.

John died in 1904 from bowel troubles at the age of 74. At the Fanshawe Pioneer Village here in London, the house John and Margaret lived is preserved as a Paul Peel’s childhood home!

First day after the Walking Tour

Hi everyone,

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!

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So many people at the tour! Thank you all for coming!

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.

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Learning how to repair headstones that are wobbly

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. 🙂

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Checking out a potential headstone that can be repaired and restored

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!

Janet Barbara Groshow: A Mother’s Love Lasting Through Time

We are busy with preparations for our Walking Tour on Saturday and the documentary we are preparing for Rogers TV, but I wanted to find the time to tell this fascinating story nonetheless! Our blog today is about another one of our “Women of Woodland” – Janet Barbara Groshow. We discovered her story while we were researching for our military tours last summer – she is one of the women we have buried here that served in the First World War as a nurse. The story of why she did so, however, is unique and touching.

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Janet was born on November 3, 1860, and appears to have lived in the United States for a while before moving to London. In London, and worked as a Matron at the Victoria Home for Incurables, which is now Parkwood Hospital. She was married and had three sons – William, James, and Thomas.

Shortly before the First World War, Janet’s husband died, leaving her a widow. When her son William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in September of 1914, it must have been a loss she felt doubly. William was her youngest son, and had been working as an accountant before he decided to serve. Janet continued her work as a Matron, anxiously awaiting any news of her son’s service. We know from several public historical accounts of mothers who had sons serving in WWI how hopeless and worried she must have felt.

It was after the second battle of Ypres that William was reported Missing in Action, presumed dead. Janet never knew anything more of his fate. To make matters worse, perhaps prompted by their brother’s probably death, Janet’s other sons James and Thomas decided to enlist as well, in early 1916. They left for France, leaving Janet alone in London.

Instead of accepting the loss of her youngest and the potential loss of her other children, like many mothers of the time were forced to do, Janet decided to take matters into her own hands. Instead of remaining in London, helplessly awaiting news, Janet decided to enlist herself – as a nurse in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She sailed to France, hoping dually to discover what had become of William, and to be geographically nearer to Thomas and James as they fought.

Janet’s incredible decision makes the Groshow family possibly the only mother/son group to serve together in the same war. Janet was 56 years old at the time of her enlistment, making her officially too old to serve, under C. E. F. guidelines. She may have lied about her age when enlisting, or perhaps a recruitment officer knew of her story and decided to let her serve.

Overseas, Janet served as Matron at a Red Cross Hospital in Kent, as Superintendent of CAMC’s Cliveden Hospital, on HM Transport 2810, which carried troops across the Atlantic, and at No. 7 Canadian General Hospital in Étaples, France. Her service files reveal that she suffered a nervous breakdown after a series of air raids, and spent some time in the hospital. However, after every obstacle that was thrown her way, she got back on her feet and continued to perform her duties as a nurse.

Janet served for 3 years before she was invalided home due to her contraction of tuberculosis in 1919. The war was not kind to her other two sons either. James, her eldest son, suffered a rifle bullet wound to the right forearm near the beginning of his service, but survived. Later, he was diagnosed with cardio disease due to the strain of active service. He also had trench fever, a disease caused by the horrendous living conditions in the trenches. He was invalided home on May 5, 1919, the same year as his mother. Janet’s middle son, Thomas, suffered perhaps a worse fate. His military service file notes that he started experiencing mental health issues due to the horrors of war on January 29, 1917. He was officially diagnosed with Shell Shock (neurasthenia) on April 10, 1917, which caused rapid dementia starting at age 24. His Shell Shock symptoms started after a heavy shelling, and prompted a 56 day stay in the hospital, during which he could not speak and was in a constant stupor. He was discharged to duty from the hospital several times until, finally, in 1918 his symptoms were bad enough that is was recommended he not return to France. Back then, mental illnesses were not treated as debilitating conditions but as signs of weakness of which to be ashamed. After his discharge, Thomas was not able to receive any treatment for what we may now refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He moved to Detroit, and died fairly young, of causes unknown.

Despite the losses that Janet suffered due to the war, her service to her community continued once she was back in London. She spent some time recovering from her TB at the Queen Alexandra Sanatorium. Once she was well enough, she devoted herself to helping other tuberculosis veterans and supporting their families. She also spent a great deal supporting active service members.

She became the first female president of a soldier’s branch of the Canadian Legion – Byron Branch 69, which eventually honored her with a lifetime membership. During the Second World War, she provided hospitality to wounded soldiers and assisted war brides arriving in London. Her life exemplified London’s strong connection to the British Empire and its military traditions. She is pictured here with her Legion Members at a meeting for Veterans, colloquially referred to as the “Old Boy’s Club,” in which she found an unlikely but celebrated place.

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By the time Janet died in 1960, Woodland Cemetery’s Veteran’s section was well established. This allowed Janet to be buried next to both Thomas and James (William’s body was, unfortunately, never recovered). Janet’s love for her boys sent her across the ocean into a war zone, so it is only fitting that the family unit stayed together, side by side, in death.

Only Five Days Away!

Hello everyone,

I hope you had a great weekend.

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.

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Thanks Levi for this awesome flyer!

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.

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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!

Sunny

One more week to go!

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!

Bonus Blog: Uncovering Stones with New Friends!

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.

-Levi

Harriet Ann Boomer: London’s Social Philanthropy Scene and Early Feminism

For today’s blog post I want to put a spotlight on one of our “Women of Woodland” – someone who was often called a pushy, nosy “old busybody,” strong-willed and forceful, assertive, and “unwomanly” – in other words, my kind of person!

Her name was Harriet Ann (Mills) Boomer, and she is now widely considered to be one of London’s early social activists. She was born on July 10, 1835  in England and lived through Confederation in London, Ontario. Harriet’s father died during her youth, and her widowed mother began to take on students as an educator in order to support herself and her two daughters – which is likely where Harriet learned some of her stubborn independence.

In 1851, Harriet’s mother Ann was offered the position of Principal of St. Cross School in Red River, Manitoba, which is how the family came to Canada. She later became an educator at Queen’s College in England. Harriet married her first husband, Alfred Roche (a geologist) in 1858, after meeting him in England. They were together almost 20 years before Alfred passed away while he was on a business trip, along with Harriet, to South Africa (where he owned shares in the mines).

Suddenly a young widow, as her mother had been, Harriet had to find some way to support herself. She ended up writing a (quite successful) memoir of her travels to South Africa, entitled: On trek in the Transvaal: or, over berg and veldt in South Africa (London, 1878).

Soon after Alfred’s death, Harriet decided to once again settle in London, Ontario, where she married Rev. Michael Boomer – the principal of Huron College at the time – in 1878. (*Interesting fact – our research in the Lee family (see Sunny’s blog post) tells us that Rev. Boomer was the one to perform the marriage ceremony for the Lees in 1856!) Rev. Boomer passed away in 1888, but Harriet’s work in the city of London was just beginning.

In 1888, Harriet was a big part of the establishment of the London Convalescent Home. A few years later, she attended the founding meeting of the National Council of Women in Canada, which would become her main focus for the next few years, as she took it upon herself to found the London branch. She served as president of the London Council from 1897 to 1920 – the longest term of any council president. She was also the vice-president of the Ontario branch of the council, and attending all of the national meetings, often presenting papers. As she began to be known for her advocacy work, she travelled to England in 1899 to attend the International Congress of Women.

Harriet likely used some of the insights she gained from these meetings to further her involvement in the London community. Proper health care for women and children was her main goal, and that of the London council. It is no surprise that, in 1898, Harriet was responsible for securing most of the funding to build the children’s wing at Victoria Hospital. She also played a leading role establishing the London branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses, and became president of the board. In 1900, Harried also established London’s first Red Cross Society to send aid to soldiers stationed in South Africa during the Boer War (*interesting note: Archibald Becher, from the Becher Brothers post, was one of these soldiers!) The society lasted into wartime, and raised almost $1 million for efforts in the First World War.

She was also active with the Canadian Club, the Mothers’ Union, the St. John Ambulance Association and the Women’s Christian Association.

While these accomplishments were incredible on their own, Harriet’s main focus was education. She believed firmly in the importance of educating women (one of the main tenets of early feminist movements) and felt there should be more opportunities for women worldwide. There was a need, she maintained in the National Council’s annual report, “to cultivate more and more of the business faculty of which men are supposed to have a monopoly, but of which we women are not bereft.”

Harriet felt that the study of domestic science and business for women was vital to this goal. She also thought that all young men should be trained in technical classes. As the London school board did not have any of these classes (especially those for young women) at the time, Harriet campaigned for them to introduce it – her lobbying was successful in 1905. This is perhaps what lead her to seek out a position on London’s school board, which was, at the time, mostly comprised of men.

Early 19th century feminists believed that women needed to be more involved in education – both as educators and students – as a lot of inequality stemmed from the difference in skill and knowledge provided to boys and girls at young ages. They also believe that it was important to have women on school boards because they, as maternal figures, were the natural educators of children (a sentiment that contemporary feminists may well dispute!)

Harriet logically pointed out to the London board that women had been successful in charitable works and served on boards elsewhere – therefore, it did not make sense to bar her from a position based on her sex. Thus, in 1898 she was appointed as London’s first female trustee; during her three-year term she “learnt woman’s hardest lesson – how to be silent.” It is not known how “successful” she was in that regard, but she was unfortunately not reappointed after her term, and the school board did not have another female trustee until 1919.

She died at age 85 in the year 1921, and she was buried in Woodland Cemetery next to her late husband Rev. Boomer. Her gravestone is interesting to me precisely because it stands on its own – most women at that time were simply furnished an inscription on their gravestone as the “wife of” the more elaborate name above theirs. Harriet got her own gravestone, just as intricate as her husband’s.

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In her obituaries in the paper, she was called “London’s most philanthropic and patriotic worker” (London Free Press) and was said to have been able to face all situations “with an indomitable courage, [and] unfailing laughter that kept youth ever bright in her heart.” This praise exists in contradiction with the many real enemies that she made by being forceful and assertive in an era where women were not meant to be heard in the public sphere.

The site of Harriet’s home was demolished to make way for H. B. Beal Technical school in 1916: a school that took as its heart the very skills and values Harriet had fought for during her life. A plaque memorializing her and her endless work hangs in Beal today, by the auditorium entrance.

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As a student of feminist theory, it is interesting for me to research London’s early activists. The increased presence and autonomy of women that Harriet encouraged through her practice and work has lived on even as cultural values shift, and from 150 years in the future, it seems like we are well on our way to creating a society that Harriet would be proud of (though I am sure she would say that we have our work cut out for us)!

– Levi