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

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King City dead house 1887 (photo by author)

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. 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)

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.

  1. St. Joachim Dead House, St Joachim. (contemporary structure)
  2. Mountain Mennonite Cemetery Dead House, Campden. (date unknown)

Newfoundland & Labrador Dead Houses

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Alberta Dead Houses

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