Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Catalogue of Octagonal Dead Houses of Ontario: 8th Structures Identified

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It is my greatest joy to share the identification of the 8th identified Octagonal Dead House in Ontario with you all! This structure was located and relayed to me by Adam Montgomery, PhD, who runs @CaCemeteryHist on twitter and the Canadian Cemeteries History website. I was so excited to hear about this site, and to add it to my growing database of the structures.

If you’ve missed my previous posts on this topic, please find them HERE and HERE. Those posts cover the use of dead houses historically, and have images of the other structures! They range from ornate stone to simple brick, and are something to behold.

The known octagonal dead houses in Ontario are now:

  1. St. Michael’s Dead House, Toronto. 1855
  2. Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery Dead House. 1863
  3. Aurora Cemetery Dead House, Aurora. 1868
  4. King City Cemetery Dead House, King City. 1887
  5. Queensville Cemetery Dead House, Queensville. ???
  6. Laurel Hill Cemetery Dead House, Bolton. 1894
  7. Kettleby Cemetery Dead House, Kettleby. 1899
  8. Greenwood Cemetery Dead House, Waterford. ???



This is a unique structure when compared against the others, with its updated metal roof, lack of cupola, and window. The building is covered by stucco, and appears to have had a basement with a storm-door access at the back below the window. It is currently unknown whether the basement was an original feature of the building, but the window would have been a later addition, likely added when it was converted into a storage building rather than dead house for winter corpse storage.

Screenshot 2019-08-28 at 11.50.35 AM

Interior view of the dead house (photo by Adam Montgomery 2019, used with permission)

Adam was able to get photos of the interior of the structure, and I’m intrigued by the octagonal interior of the floor boards, which include a vent in the foreground of the image and side panelling around the walls with a chair rail. It is definitely possible the structure was used for something in between body and object storage roles… perhaps the interior was beautified for visitors? The space is quite large, and it is easy to see how it could have facilitated many coffins during the winter months. Unfortunately, the stucco on the exterior and interior wall coverings obscure the structural components of the dead house, but I suspect that it is brick, like the majority of the other dead houses.

Curiously, this is now the first octagonal dead house away from the GTA and the immediate Yonge Street area! Because we don’t have a construction date for this example yet, I can’t speak to the influence of the style spreading south or north with regards to the building function, but it is definitely an interesting point to note. If you live towards Brantford or Niagara, please keep your eye out for these unique structures…it seems we have more of them kicking around than we thought!

Here is an updated locations map, and of course, I’ll happily email you the .kml file if you are interested in seeing the exact locations of the sites. Also, if you have any information about the history of this particular building or site, please contact me!

Screenshot 2019-08-29 at 1.14.25 PM

As always, thanks for reading!!

Author: Robyn S. Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

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