Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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On the Eighth Day: An Explanation for Octagonal Dead Houses

Hello again, fellow death & burial enthusiasts! My goal with these posts is to share my love of a type of structure that isn’t widely written about (clearly my goal is to change that), and inform you all about a burial practice that was reserved for the colder parts of the world…Canada, parts of the USA, the UK, etc. My research on the practice has been restricted to North America and the British Isles thus far, though it is also clear through readings that winter body storage had to happen in many other places as well (ie. Iceland). I can’t wait to dive in further!

Today I wanted to talk about why some of these structures are octagonal in Ontario, as opposed to a standard rectangular or subterranean structures. There might be a method to this madness!

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The 15th-century octagonal font at Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, UK. (Image by Michael Garlick 2018)

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Significant Women of Brick Street Cemetery: Phoebe McNames, Silvany Tunks, & Hannah Caldwell

It’s a common theme throughout history, that women’s stories are swept under the rug, intentionally or not, to make way for the stories of history’s great men. Of course, with cis women, trans, queer, and otherwise non-gender-conforming individuals being present throughout history, the tales of ‘men’ are only a small fraction of the whole story.

Gravestones from the 19th century have a common formula when it comes to remembering women, and that is by labelling them as wife of… and often not providing any additional information about them. Often nothing much is recorded throughout history about them either, making it even more difficult to find anything else out other than who they married. Today I’d like to talk about three young women who are buried at Brick Street Cemetery, and were early settlers in the area in the mid-19th century: Phoebe McNames, Silvany Tunks, & Hannah Caldwell.

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

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.

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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 8ish

Dear reader, can you hardly believe that it’s been a full 2 months of gravestone conservation work and training? Because I definitely can’t! It both feels like I started this job yesterday, and that I’ve been doing it forever. It’s what the heart wants! I’m happily writing this post on a Wednesday, that also happens to coincide with #AskanArchaeologist day! So at the end of this post, if you have any archaeology-related questions about historical burial archaeology, gravestone conservation, what else I research, etc., please don’t hesitate to ask!

Lets jump right into the last week+ at Woodland, shall we?

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Good evening, from one of Woodland’s fawns!

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Gravestone Conservation: Week 7

My goodness, what a whirlwind these past 7 weeks have been! With only one week to go, I can’t believe I’m nearly finished with these weekly(ish) blog updates of my training and work as a gravestone conservator. Here we go people, I can fix gravestones and know more about stone than I did two months ago! Does anyone want me to talk about stones forever…because too late, I’m never going to stop!

It was an exciting and productive week at the cemetery, so lets dive in! It was only a four-day week because last Monday was Canada Day, so I’m pretty impressed with all the things we got done.

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Meagan & Thomas, archivist/historians, preparing for the July 6 tours.

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Catalogue of Octagonal Dead Houses of Ontario: 5th – 7th Structures Identified

If you’ve been around this website for more than a minute or two, you’ll have noticed that I’m really interested in what settlers did with their dead during the winter. I’ve written about dead houses several times on this blog, talked about them at Death Salon Boston 2018, am currently working on a paper on winter corpse disposal in colonial North America, and shout about them to anyone who listens!

A really interesting form of dead house is the octagonal structures that can be found in Ontario. As far as I know so far, these seven surviving examples (if anyone has one not listed in this post, please let me know!) are the only octagonal dead houses in the province, if not North America. The style was extremely localized to Toronto, and north of the City around Yonge Street.

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Richmond Hill Dead House (photo by author 2018)

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Fairview Cemetery, Oliver, British Columbia

This is a particularly special site I’d like to discuss with you today: The Fairview Cemetery, near Oliver, BC. Fairview was a gold mining town in the South Okanagan-Similkameen, born out of the gold rush in the area in the late 1880s. Legend has it that gold was first discovered by a one-armed man in the 1860s, but no Europeans arrived to exploit the areas for gold until the 1880s. It was located just west of the modern-day town of Oliver, and some older homes in Oliver are said to have been built out of wood salvaged from the would-be ghost town.

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View from the Fairview townsite over the South Okanagan

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