Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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An Inconvenient Corpse: Winter Dead in colonial Canada / Death Salon Boston 2018

Last week I had the utter pleasure of attending and presenting my research at Death Salon Boston, put on by the Order of the Good Death and hosted at Mount Auburn Cemetery. For anyone new to this blog / death and burial studies in general, Mount Auburn Cemetery is significant as the first landscaped rural garden cemetery in North America, opening in 1831 and is still an active cemetery today.

My talk, “An Inconvenient Corpse: Winter Dead in colonial Canada” discussed how  individuals at early colonial settlements dealt with their dead during the winter. It’s just not something we think about that much! I’d like to summarize my talk in this post for everyone who didn’t get to attend the conference (it sold out so quickly), and just some all around thoughts about my experience at Death Salon Boston!
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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: The Toronto Necropolis

Today on Curious Canadian Cemeteries we are going to take a look at the site that I got a chance to visit last weekend, the Toronto Necropolis!

Last weekend we went to Toronto for the long weekend to visit family, and I was surprised was a visit to the Necropolis. So without further adieu, lets take a look at an amazing, and high profile site! Get ready everyone, this site is amazing!
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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: The Rockwood Cemetery, Rockwood, Ontario

Hello burial team, it’s finally time for another addition of Curious Canadian Cemeteries! This week we are looking at the Rockwood Cemetery, in the settlement of Rockwood, Township of Guelph/Eramosa, Wellington County, Ontario. This is my first ‘close-to-me’ cemetery that I’ll be covering!

I’ve talked about Rockwood before on this blog, when I posted about John Harris, my great x4 grandfather, who helped found the current settlement of Rockwood, and Thomas Harris, my great x3 grandfather who constructed Harris Woolen Mill with his brother and brother-in-law. The Mill is still present today by the Eramosa River as a ruin that can be visited and explored! Those very same relatives were buried in the the Rockwood Cemetery. 

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The sign & chapel at the Rockwood Cemetery (photo by author, 2018)

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Union Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta

We’re heading back west for this week’s Curious Canadian Cemeteries installment (ok I know its been a few weeks, but there is work to do and papers to write!), lets take a look at the famous (and rather large) Union Cemetery in Calgary, Alberta.

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Funeral procession at Union Cemetery, Calgary, 1911. (Glenbow Archives, NA-2315-6)

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Winter Corpses: What to do with Dead Bodies in colonial Canada

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Dead house in Nain, Labrador (Jarvis 1995. From the Memorial University of Newfoundland-Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory

Welcome back, dear readers, to another installment of a blog about burial practices and archaeology! Today I’d like to talk about something that is close to by heart (as the result of arguing about it during my thesis): What did people do with their dead bodies during the winter, in colonial Canada?! Well, there are a few options to discuss but the short answer is…

Keep them.
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Burial Ground Conservation Tips

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Complex monument in North Wales
(photo by author, 2012)

Hello readers, many of you are being directed here via the Heritage NL gravestone conservation tips and/or by Dale Jarvis! I originally wrote this post in 2017, and have since moved back to Newfoundland and have started my PhD in Archaeology (fall 2020). I have been working in heritage for nearly a decade, and specialise in burial ground archaeology and gravestone conservation. Last summer (2019) I had the pleasure of working full time as a gravestone conservator at Woodland Cemetery in the City of London, Ontario, and have since worked with Brick Street Cemetery in London, and on some other conservation projects as a heritage consultant in the Maritimes. I have given talks on gravestone preservation best practices to a number of organisations over the last year or two, and would have happy to answer any questions you many have about a site in your area. Please contact me through my website, or at blackcatpreservation (at) gmail.com. As an archaeologist with experience and graduate degrees in Newfoundland and Labrador, I am able to be a permit holder for archaeological projects such as burial ground projects.

The purpose of this post if to inform volunteers and communities groups who are invested in the care of their local historic burial sites of the current best practices in gravestone and burial site conservation. We all know that burial sites are a vital historic resource for learning about our communities, as well as the resting places of our families and friends, and they deserve to be cared for and conserved as best we can. As an archaeologist and burial ground specialist, I hope to help you do that, and it is my goal to make the conservation techniques for ‘Do No Harm’ care as widely available as possible.

Note: I am speaking only of the conservation and archaeology of settler burial grounds, as a settler in Canada. Work with Indigenous communities in their burial spaces is another topic entirely and should never be undertaken without the express wishes and blessing of an Indigenous community.

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New Perlican: Blank Gravestones & Mapping

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Myself, mapping away on our plan of St. Mark’s! Photo by Ian Petty

Yesterday I headed back to New Perlican with Ian Petty (2nd year MA student in Archaeology at MUN) to meet up with Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson from Memorial University of Newfoundland in order to continue with the surveying of the St. Mark’s historic burial ground. The weather was not ideal and I was hard-pressed to remember if we’d used a plastic drafting film or normal paper to draw the map on in the first place, so with rain in the forecast our fingers were crossed!

I wanted to go get as much of the burial ground mapped as possible before the rain set in…and before I had to start my new job! There will be more details on that major life change later though, this post is still about the burial ground in New Perlican.
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Community Mortuary Archaeology & Folklore – New Perlican, Newfoundland

This Saturday I was invited to speak at and participate in a community heritage & folklore event in the town of New Perlican, Newfoundland. New Perlican is located on the eastern coast of the Avalon Peninsula, and has dated back to the 17th-century through records such as the 1675 Berry Census and archaeological evidence of a ‘plantation’ in the area. It is suspected that several of John Guy’s settlers from the 1610 Cupid’s Plantation may have settled in New Perlican in the early 17th century, but there has yet to be any physical evidence of that move identified.

The event I was involved with was a collaboration between the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Heritage New Perlican, and involved something really that I’m pretty passionate about…burial grounds! Students and community volunteers would join us for the day to learn about the history burial places in this historic town, hear about the town’s history from members of the Heritage group, meet the cemetery cleaning ‘Goats of New Perlican’, and help the community clean up one of their most historic burial spaces. I was there as an additional help supervising the students, to answer questions on burials and gravestones (and have some awesome conversations about headstone preservation with local folks!), and to give a talk about my research as a historic mortuary archaeologist. Also, to map a bunch of gravestones!
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‘These are grave terms’ – terminology in historic mortuary archaeology (for colonial North America)

First of all, I’d like to start by acknowledging that my last post was two weeks ago and my reason for not posting more frequently is: a) the job hunt, and b) I have been madly finishing a paper and my thesis..which was submitted yesterday officially! Yay!

I thought it would be nice, and relevant to do a post today discussing terminology for burial spaces and monuments. The terms I’d like to go over have some history to them of course, but like anything, they can take on different meaning depending on who is using them and where they are in the world. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m looking exclusively at colonial North America because that is my current study area, and dealing with basically only British/Irish, Christian (Catholic/Anglican/Quaker/Puritan,etc) burial spaces at this point. (I’m looking forward to seeing how these change as I go back in time a bit for PhD research in a few years)

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Hartford, CT burial ground, facing the later-added church. Photo by author, 2015

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Inscribed Letters & Protective Marks – The Case of the W

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Pitkin headstone, 1694 (vandalized), Hartford, CT. Note the VV style W. Photo by author, 2016.

Inscribed text is something that I’ve been passionate about studying ever since my first field school as a little baby undergraduate student. Recording gravestones in a rainy July in Ireland, I pieced together fragments of words that no one had read out loud for decades and recorded them onto my forms, creating a record once more for a nearly-erased gravestone. In doing so, I became fascinated by the way that letter forms evolved and were adapted through history, from inscribed letters in stone, to calligraphy, to typeface for printing presses which has become our digital text today!

Several years ago I conducted a project funded by the P.U.R.E Grants through the University of Calgary to explore the way in which letters erode from the face of gravestones, during which I spent a lot of time sitting in the rain with my waterproof notebooks, drawing letters using a hash-line system I developed to represent different stages of erosion. It’s a whole thing. The paper which resulted from this project is currently in peer-review, and I wanted discuss in part, one of the aspects of the project in conjunction with my recent interest in ritual protection marks. In this case, the letter W, and their use in inscriptions and as protective markings.

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