Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

The Dead House Database

One of my ongoing research projects explored the practices of settlers who had to carry out burials during the winter months, when the ground was too frozen to dig into. One of the most interesting practices was to create purpose-built structures to house the bodies of the dead until the ground was thawed enough to dig the graves. These structures go by many names: dead houses, receiving tombs, mort houses, etc. and were often built right in or beside the burial grounds that they served.

This page is a database of Canadian dead houses, and will be updated regularly, as more information and locations are uncovered. Stay tuned!

Octagonal Dead Houses – Ontario

A unique architectural feature in Ontario, octagonal (8-sided) dead houses were build across southwestern Ontario throughout the mid-late 19th century. Most of these structures have since been turned into tool storage sheds, and we are finding the locations of more and more every day. While previous research I’ve found stated that only 4-5 survive today, the list just keeps on growing!

  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. (date unknown)
  6. Laurel Hill Cemetery Dead House, Bolton. 1894
  7. Kettleby Cemetery Dead House, Kettleby. 1899
  8. Greenwood Cemetery Dead House, Waterford. (date unknown)
  9. Briar Hill Cemetery Dead House, Georgina. 1914
  10. Port Dover Cemetery Company Dead House, Port Dover (date unknown)
Screenshot 2020-07-22 at 9.49.42 AM
Pink pins denote the 9 of the known octagonal dead houses in Ontario (Google Earth, created by author)

Other Ontario Dead Houses

Octagonal structures aren’t the only ones that saw use as winter body storage in the 19th and into the 20th centuries in the province! Dead houses can come in many shapes and sizes, including reflecting popular architecture such as centre gable Gothic Revival (Ontario Cottage).

  1. St. Joachim Dead House, St Joachim. (contemporary structure)
  2. Mountain Mennonite Cemetery Dead House, Campden
  3. Merrickville Union Cemetery Dead House, Merrickville (still in use)
  4. Blue Church Dead House, at the Blue Church near Maitland
  5. Oakland Cemetery Dead House, Brockville (1940s)
  6. Yonge Mills Road Dead House, Yonge Mills
  7. Trevelyan Dead House, near Junetown, at 55 Catholic Church Rd (ruins)
  8. St Brendan’s Catholic Cemetery Dead House, Rockport
  9. Lansdowne Dead House, SW of Lansdowne
  10. Willowbank Dead House, Willowbank, SW of Gananoque (still in use)
Union Cemetery Chapel/Mortuary

Newfoundland & Labrador Dead Houses

  1. Cornerbrook Dead House, Cornerbrook (contemporary structure)
  2. Hopedale Moravian Dead House, Hopedale, Labrador
  3. Nain Moravian Dead House, Nain, Labrador

Alberta Dead Houses

  1. Union Cemetery Chapel, Calgary (1908/09)