It’s that time again friends, where we sit down to highlight yet another one of Canada’s Curious Canadian Cemeteries. Today, lets take a little look at the Brick Street Cemetery in London, Ontario, its history, ongoing protection, and its stone carvers.
I have only visited this site once myself, during London’s Door’s Open event several weeks ago. Doors Open is an event where historic sites and buildings around a city will open their doors free of charge to the public, and it’s a great way to go see museums and heritage sites in your community that you might not otherwise have a chance (or the funds) to visit! We visited several historic sites around town over the course of the weekend, but spent the most time at the Brick Street Cemetery.
The Brick Street Cemetery, located on Commissioners Road, is one of the oldest surviving burial grounds in the Westminster Township. It is a provincial heritage site, designated within the City of London, and opened in 1813 with the earliest gravestone dating to 1819. That’s quite early for the area, and really exciting to visit in person. While there is a church associated with the site today, I was told by a volunteer at the site that when it first opened, it did not have a church beside it. However, it may have still been associated with a church group and just not had the building erected yet, I do not know!
The site is situated on what would have been the crest of a low hill, which has since been cut east/west by the road. It’s quite crowded, and primarily has gravestones made from marble, among other materials. It’s quite clear that in the 1800s, marble was the material of choice for the dead buried at this site, but I was surprised not to see any ‘white bronze’ gravestones in the area, considering they were manufactured just half an hour south of town in St. Thomas.
The 1862 Tremaine map of Middlesex County shows a small plot of land marked ‘GYD’ for the ‘graveyard’ directly beside the Methodist church (‘METHO CH.’ on the map) and across the street from the ‘S.H’ or school house. The site was originally established on land that had been granted to Peter McNames and James Sheldon. A plaque on the side of the current Brick Street Methodist Church states that the church was founded in 1816, with the current structure having been built in 1852. The burial ground, as indicated by the 1862 map, was on the north end of Nathan Griffith’s property, who owned a brick yard which gave the site its name.
Something that I was intrigued by at this site was the gravestones which had carver names on them. Sometimes, especially into the 1800s, gravestone carvers began signing their work and even putting a place of work/residence on the gravestone so potential clients could admire work they liked, and know who to go for to get it. The Brick Street Cemetery has gravestone attributed to several local carvers, which was really exciting to see!
Marble (and a few granite) gravestones throughout the side were signed by Powell & Son., J.W. Smyth, Smyth & Son, J.R. Hughes, Teale, Hooper & Thomson, Heard & Flory, T.J. Heard & Co., E.A. Wilkens, and Teale & Wilkens. It’s often difficult to find carvers names at all, so to see suuuch a variety in one site is amazing, especially because each one of these stones had ‘London’ after the carver’s names! Based on my short survey of the site, here are the date breakdowns:
- Powell & Son.: 1869, 1872, 1878, 1878, 1889, 1892
- J.W. Smyth: 1870, 1877, 186[4/7]
- Smyth & Son: 1924
- J.R. Hughes: 1896, 1881, 1887
- Teale: 1871, 1871, 1873
- Hooper & Thomson: 1876
- Heard & Flory: 1881
- T.J. Head & Co.: 1879
- Teale & Wilkens: 1862, 1881, 1888
- E.A. Wilkens: 18[6/8]7
It seems that local gravestone carving really took off, or at least as visible by the 1860s in this area, and that Smyth and Son, likely associated with the earlier J.R. Smyth, continued working into the 1900s, and saw the switch from marble to granite monuments.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of locally carved gravestones at the site, but includes most of the local stones on the north half of the site…which is where I was when I noticed there were loads of the local gravestones there! Moving forward with this topic, I’m going to take some time to research each one of these businesses (next time I’m at the archives, probably), and hopefully find some historic photos or maybe sales records from some of the carvers, so we can see how much the carvers were charging for their work compared to one another in the same city.
All of these gravestones with carver names had them of the front. This is a clear advertising technique on their behalf, and an extra bonus for archaeologists. For most of human history, artifacts don’t usually have the names of the people who made them right on them. As writing systems throughout the world, people began to sign things they created, and gravestones were in that list, but they still weren’t signed as often as we would like!
If you are ever in the London area, definitely take some time out of your day to visit the Brick Street Cemetery. The assortment of gravestone styles, carvings, and settlers who contributed to the development of the City as it is known today that you can visit at the site are amazing, and it’s a really interesting place to start a historic tour of the area! The site has been restored by a local community group, who continues to maintain the space today for future generations to enjoy and learn from.