Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Curious Canadian Cemeteries: The Rockwood Cemetery, Rockwood, Ontario

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Hello burial team, it’s finally time for another addition of Curious Canadian Cemeteries! This week we are looking at the Rockwood Cemetery, in the settlement of Rockwood, Township of Guelph/Eramosa, Wellington County, Ontario. This is my first ‘close-to-me’ cemetery that I’ll be covering!

I’ve talked about Rockwood before on this blog, when I posted about John Harris, my great x4 grandfather, who helped found the current settlement of Rockwood, and Thomas Harris, my great x3 grandfather who constructed Harris Woolen Mill with his brother and brother-in-law. The Mill is still present today by the Eramosa River as a ruin that can be visited and explored! Those very same relatives were buried in the the Rockwood Cemetery. 

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The sign & chapel at the Rockwood Cemetery (photo by author, 2018)

The Rockwood Cemetery services the town of Rockwood, founded in 1820 in part by the settler John Harris, who purchased Lot 3 Concession 3 and built one of the first European-settler houses in the area. It is likely that the Rockwood Cemetery began its life as the family burial plot of the Harris Family. Located on the eastern extent on Lot 3 Con 4, the cemetery’s oldest burials date back to the 1840s, while John Harris himself died in 1857 and was buried in the cemetery’s historic portion. Part of this area was the Harris family’s own plot, and contains the graves of several more members of the family.

The cemetery is located just south of the Rockwood Academy, opened in 1850 by William Wetherald, the brother(?) of Jane Harris (née Wetherald, wife of John Harris) (Ontario Heritage Trust 1986). It features the lovely Gladys Hanna Chapel, designed and built in 1991 by local architect Charles Simon (Township of Guelph/Eramosa 2018)(pictured above).

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Rockwood Cemetery map. Note the portion in the middle of the right-hand side of the map with a small number in the middle, but not mapped grave plots. This is where most of the early graves are found. (photo by author, 2018)

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A portion of the Harris Family Plot. Text indicates what each small marker says. (photo by author, 2018)

The photo above shows a portion of the Harris family plot within the cemetery. The large monument in the background reading ‘Harris’ was erected for John Richard Harris by one of his sons, most likely. In front of it, two small stones read ‘Father’, John Richard Harris (J.R.H.) and ‘Mother’, Mary-Anna Harris (M.A.H.). A deceased child, John Arthur Harris (J.A.H.) was buried beside their graves, and his grandfather, John Harris and grandmother, Jane Harris, were buried there as well. The small markers, all made from what appears to be local limestone, were all added to the plot at roughly the same time, based on the visible weathering, size, and style of text. This suggests that earlier gravestones were removed or had fallen apart in earlier years, and John Richard’s son or daughter had them re-marked with matching stones around or before the larger. John Richard died in 1899, and it is possible that the larger granite gravestone was erected then, or at a later date by his son Richard, who is buried nearby.

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The ruins of the Harris Woolen Mill at the Rockwood Conservation Area (photo by author, 2018).

While John Harris died in 1857, there are several earlier gravestones which have dates from the 1840s and early 1850s. If the Harris’ had started a family plot for an earlier death in the family that went unrecorded (or the gravestone no longer exists), they may have opened the plot up to burials from other early settler families in the area. This can be seen in other, earlier settler communities across Canada and America, such as the Ancient Norwich Burying Ground in Norwich, CT. Many small family plots can be seen across Ontario, just by driving through the countryside and keeping one’s eyes peeled.

The likelihood of it having been a small family plot or small burial ground on private land are quite high. In the early years of colonial Ontario, towns were few and far between, and settlers had to create their own burial spaces within their farmsteads and surrounding landscape. It was common to have a family plot on the farm, and the Harris’ could very well have done the same! Indeed, it seems likely as it was located on the land that made up their farmstead from 1820 up through 1861 at the very least, when son Thomas Harris owned the property.

At the northwest corner of the cemetery, is a large cement wall with a series of marble gravestones set into it. These gravestones, or at least the ones on the east-facing facade, are in exceptional condition, leading me to suspect that they were either buried underground, or stored inside for the last several years (at least). Due to marble’s large grain-size and softness, it weathers and erodes fairly quickly when compared to something like granite, and so you almost never see marble gravestones from the mid-19th-century in such good condition as these. In fact, I’ve never seen the background details like the peck-marks behind the clasped hands before!

Unfortunately, the stones are set in cement, which if you remember from my earlier posts on gravestone conservation is not good for the conservation of historic gravestones. It seems to be a fairly popular thing to do in this region, to set historic gravestones into cement walls as a means of preservation. While the stones in the photos above seem fine right now, this is mainly because of a cement moulded lip above them, which keeps the rain off. The west-facing side of the structure, however, had a moulded lip which has since collapsed into the ground, allowing rain to weather the stones. This, coupled with being set it cement, will increase the chances that the stones will deteriorate. (Not to mention, the gravestones themselves are wildly out of context now…)

The cemetery itself is still in use, and is overall a well-kept, fairly large garden-style cemetery, complete with mowed lawns, trees, and benches for visitors, and a very interesting chapel that I wish we could have gone inside of. I think one of my favourite features, however, was the entrance sign!

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Iconic. (photo by Ian Petty, 2018)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little post, and if you have any further information on the history or development of this site, I’d love to hear it! If you have any questions, do send me a message 🙂

 

Work cited

Ontario Heritage Trust. 1986. Rockwood Academy. Canada’s Historic Places. Available online at: http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=10546

Township of Guelph/Eramosa. 2018. Gladys Hanna Chapel. Guelph/Eramosa Township. Available online at: http://www.get.on.ca/gladys-hanna-chapel.aspx

 

 

 

 

Author: Robyn Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage Specialist / Illustrator.

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