Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Castleton Cemetery, ON

Leave a comment

Hello dear readers, it has been a while since I have written an entry for ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’! Today, I’d like to discuss the Castleton Cemetery in eastern Ontario, which I visited while on a camping weekend away. This site was opened in 1828and has been in continuous use for nearly 200 years. The site features many unique gravestones and examples of conservation and restoration that I’m excited to discuss with you all.

The site is located on the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, Anishinabewaki, and Mississauga Indigenous peoples (Native Lands 2020). All images in this post were taken by me on November 14th, 2020.

Sign at the entrance to the cemetery.
Portion of the 1878 Belben map of Cramahe Township (Belben 1878).

I visited this site after seeing it on our drive on a holiday weekend away to go ‘glamping’ at a tiny house in eastern Ontario. It was wonderful weekend of card games and antiquing, and I was very excited to fit in a little wander around a historic cemetery into the weekend (all covid safe, of course). Castleton is located in Cremahe Township, Northumberland County. The Euro-Canadian settlement was established first by a settler by the name of Joseph Keeler in 1792. It is in Lot 32, Concession 7, and is visible on the Belden 1878 map of Cramahe Township, indicated with a cross on the east extent of the lot. It was subdivided from land owned by J. Keeler, in an area with was otherwise already further divided for the centre of the community. It shows how well established and in use the site was through the 19th century.

There were a number of interesting historic gravestones at this site which were carved locally, with very unique names. some of my favourites were Elishnar Moore, Hettie and Flossie, Lumrra, Thelbert A. Button, and also Thalbert. Does anyone know what kind of background names like these come from? I had never come across any of these names before!

Although we did not identify any gravestones that dated to the earliest use of the site (this is not unusual at all), we found many examples from the 1850s! Since I’m currently used to SW Ontario, the plethora of earlier dates was exciting to see. Below is a pair of unique gravestones that I was particularly interested in. One is a diminutive broken column, but curiously a square column, which is quite unique to my experience, and the other is a lovely and well preserved marble gravestone from the 1870s. I was very interested in this stone because of the inscription at the top of the lunette, which reads ‘MARY’S GRAVE / FAREWELL’.

Along with the unique names and labelling of gravestones, there were a couple very interesting examples of conservation at this site that are worth discussing…some great, and some cringe-worthy. I’d like to start by noting that concrete, until recently, was the conservation material of choice for gravestones, which we now know is detrimental to their preservation in the future. If you’re reading this and planning on undertaking gravestone conservation, please do not use concrete in your work!

First, let’s talk about the bad. Below is a very…interesting example. I’ve seen gravestone slathered in concrete, and set straight into concrete bases, but never have I see an ant-hill like structure of concrete built up around the back of a stone to keep it from leaning backwards! The state of this marble is terrible, as you can tell from the weathering, and the inscription is highly weathered, but it otherwise appears to be stable, which makes me wonder how this foundation was decided upon. Unfortunately, removing concrete from the face of a soft stone is extremely difficult to impossible. An interesting example, none the less!

Next, a very interesting example of conservation, using aluminum or stainless steel rails holding the pieces together. Although the bottom…triangle…of the gravestone is set into concrete along with the rails, the rails themselves are not attached to the marble at all. The broken pieces were then set into the rails, so the entire gravestone is held upright and in place, but could be easily removed, as they are not attached together. However, it does look like adhesive was used in the past, based on the photo of the back of the stone. The top portion could be easily lifted, which I thought was very interesting. In gravestone conservation we strive to ‘Do No Harm’, and this is a mostly reversible restoration.

There you have it, some of the interesting features of the Castleton Cemetery. This site is still in use, as mentioned above, so I primarily stuck to visiting and photographing the historic section of the site. However, there were some stones within that section that were part of larger family plots which were still in use as well.

A photo of a cow under an oval dome on a gravestone. I’ve never seen one like that before!

There were two zinc, or ‘white bronze’ markers that I don’t have room to include in this post, but were in very excellent condition, and a large granite marker which had the most usual image oval on it:

It was a wonderful visit, and I am hoping to do be able to pick back up on these ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’ posts in the near future, after relocating out east again soon! If you have a site you’d like me to include in the series, or are interesting in writing a guest post, please contact me.

Thanks for reading!

Author: Robyn Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s