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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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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.

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Ancient burial mounds in Bahrain, photographed in 1956. From http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/world/meast/in-bahrain-development-chips-away/index.html

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!

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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.

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This image from <https://circulatingnow.nlm.nih.gov/2014/08/11/mapping-the-1889-1890-russian-flu/> 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!

Reflections at the End of the Week

Good evening everybody!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Have a good weekend everyone!

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.

JR Peel

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!

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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