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 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!

woodland
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.

Advertisements

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.

blackburn

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.

Death Certificate.png

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.

 

Blackburn1.jpg

 

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.

19970670_10155427832218665_1612309623_n
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.
19883583_10155427831938665_987094871_n
The white material below the graves is limestone screening, which will prevent them from beginning to sink into the ground again in the near future.
Sister graves 2
Cleaned, repaired, and reunited.

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

19873598_10155427833043665_190514673_n
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.
19894174_10155427833078665_1131604890_n
Peeling back the soil reveals a damaged and entirely illegible stone, stained from decades underground.
19849246_10155427833008665_666597982_n
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.
19866451_10155427833033665_56966288_n
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!

19904642_10155427831868665_1543226089_n
We drill three holes into the base of the stone, and drill an identical pattern into the upright section.
19874062_10155427831728665_593481863_n
In this instance, we used fiberglass pins as the internal support. In the background you can the the upright section of the gravestone upside down, as we drill an identical pattern into it’s base.
Ulbrich stone
The stone is set onto it’s original base with it’s new internal supports. It has been cleaned thoroughly and looks closer to what it would have looked like when it was carved in 1892. Visible on top is a sleeping lamb, symbolizing purity, a common indicator of a child’s grave in the Victorian era. The final step for this stone is to mortar the bottom section where bits of stone have crumbled away. This process we’ll begin on Monday and post an update when it is finished.

 

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

Have a good weekend everyone!

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!

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!

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.

OldBoysReunion1938-2

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.

OldBoysReunion1938

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.

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.

Boomer1.jpg

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.

BoomerPlaque

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

With heat warning in effect…

Hi everyone,

Happy Monday! Hope you didn’t get any heat illness today – it was extremely hot! If you worried about us by any chance, do not worry. We made sure we were hydrated and we also got longer breaks. And we also took things little slower than usual.

In the morning, we continued working on our sandbox project. I am sure there is a more professional way of calling this stage of the project, but we are content with calling it “sandbox” so that’s how it will be referred to! You may recall that we got our limestone shale a few weeks back. The limestone shale is what sandbox will constitute of. Last Friday, we – with a tremendous help from Joey and Will – started building a border of the sandbox. We then proceeded to make a slope inside the box, in which the stones from the Scottish Cemetery will be placed on. We are creating a V-shaped slope, with a walking path in the middle.

Slope
You can see the slope we started to build!

The sandbox is sloped because it is the best way to preserve the headstones in the best condition possible. We wouldn’t want them to disappear into history once again. The limestone shale allows the water to run right through them, and the slope will help the water to run down from the stone. Essentially, the sloped limestone shale prevents a puddle to form under the stones or on the stones.

In the afternoon, we were visited by a few of the members from the St Andrew’s parish. This was an awaited visit, so we were quite excited about it. The Scottish Cemetery we discovered, after all, belonged to St Andrew’s! MacKenzie gave the tour of the Scottish Cemetery to the visitors. I think both MacKenzie and the visitors enjoyed the tour.

tour
MacKenzie talking about Thomas F. Kingsmill and his scandal

We also got to practice for our upcoming Canada 150 tour with different visitors. (Which, by the way, is on Saturday, June 24th. Mark your calendars!) We would like to thank these visitors, who very generously agreed on coming on our beta version of the tour. We found out that we had to memorize the information little better and practice little more. After all the research we’ve done, we just didn’t know which information to tell! I wanted to tell them everything but of course not every little detail needs to be told. Let’s just say that my brain was working faster than my mouth could keep up with. Now that we know what we have to and can improve on, we will practice, practice, and practice!

We are off tomorrow because four of us are attending our convocation! I have to say, we are pretty excited to graduate. Don’t worry. our Instagram will still be updated with a picture of an interesting monument. If you haven’t followed our Instagram already, please do follow it. (@woodlandcemeteryhistory) I promise you, you won’t regret it!

Until next week then! 🙂

With the walking tour fast approaching…

Another hectic week for us here at Woodland!

We completed the usual tasks: cleaning, looking for monuments under the surface, and researched. We are excited to confirm that the brochure for the walking tour is underway and we are slowly putting together all of the exciting information we want to share with our walking tour participants! You’ve already learned about the Scatcherds, Kingsmills, and Thomas Francis from earlier posts, but we have so much more to share with our visitors, so if you’re in the London area on June 24th, please stop by! We would love to show you everything we’ve been doing and learning for the past month!

Major event this week: we finally completed the first layer of limestone shale for the Scottish Cemetery display we will put in Section U. We received the shipment a while ago, but it has been a great deal of work getting all the stone in our pit, and smoothing it out across the lot.

banner

My favourite day was probably Wednesday. We did research in the afternoon, Sunny and Peter went to Central Library, and MacKenzie and I spent our afternoon at Western Archives and in the Map and Data Centre at Western University (we were later joined by Sunny). The Map and Data Centre is amazing. We went through all of the centre’s maps on 1850-1880s London, and chose with maps we hope to use for the walking tour. The Map Librarian, Cheryl Woods, was ever so helpful and assisted us with questions we had and suggested ways for us to scan a map that we wanted to use (she even helped us scan it at the centre). Below is one of the many interesting maps we found showing London in the 1870s. The digitized version is available on the Map & Data Centre’s website.

2103201

“Bird’s Eye View of London,” from the Map & Data Centre at Western University

Also this week, we learned how to do basic repairs on stones. We cleaned the breaks, allowed them to dry, and applied a line of adhesive gel with a caulking gun. We then placed the second piece in line with the break, applied pressure, and made sure the break lined up so that the stone was aligned. We then had to clamp the stone so that there was no risk of slipping or the broken piece falling off. After it dried (about a day later), we fill in any cracks with a lime mortar. We all found the process very interesting and I think a few of us found it fun as well!

The four of us have our university graduation on Tuesday so hopefully we will have beautiful weather for that! We are also excited to welcome representatives from St Andrew’s Parish on Monday, and on Wednesday, we are hosting the mayor, and a group of children from WD Sutton! We will be very excited to welcome all of them to Woodland!