Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Death & Decay in Cultural Heritage Structures

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This post was written by myself, Robyn Lacy, and my friend and colleague (and often collaborator) Elizabeth Cushing, of Cushing Design Group.

We have worked in cultural heritage together since 2017, and have spent a lot of time discussing the preservation and curated decay in heritage structures. I’ve written about curated decay before on my blog, but today we wanted to discuss decay within structures, and highlight the design and historical significance of this Georgian style home in Upper Canard, Nova Scotia. All photographs in this post were taken by Elizabeth Cushing, unless otherwise noted.

This magnificent Georgian country estate, complete with summer kitchen to the left of the main house, was constructed in 1790 and was the childhood home of Sir. Frederick Borden (no relation to Charles Borden, who developed the Borden System, which is used to define the location of all archaeological sites in Canada). Sir Frederick William Borden (1847-1917) was a physician, businessman, militia officer and politician who practiced medicine in Canning, while also investing in ships, utilities and real estate. He was an investor in the Cornwallis Railway Company Limited, the Canning Water and Electric Light, Heating and Power Company Limited and the Western Chronicle, and owned two 125 to 150 ton vessels. 

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Death & Monumentation through Built Heritage

In my last post, I mentioned the ‘London Marble and Granite Company Limited’, which was originally founded by J.R. Peel, a renowned artist and gravestone carver. Today I’d like to talk a little more about about Peel, his shop, and the idea of death within the built landscape and our cultural heritage.

If you haven’t heard of John Robert Peel before, let us review. An artist, Peel was born in England in 1830, and married Amelia Margaret Hall in 1849. The couple relocated to London, Ontario in 1852. Peel became an art teacher, highly involved in the growing city’s art scene, and eventually carved gravestones! John and Amelia had several children, including Paul Peel and Mildred Peel, both noted Canadian artists.

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Doors Open London: London’s historic burial grounds

This past weekend was Doors Open London, which is a weekend where historic sites and buildings open their doors to the public, free of charge to allow everyone to see places that they might not otherwise have a chance to experience. It’s an awesome time to be a tourist in your own town, and quite a lot of cities participate in the ‘Doors Open’ concept, all throughout the year! See if your city does…and if not, maybe encourage them to??

I had the pleasure of volunteering on Saturday at two sites: Brick Street Cemetery and Woodland Cemetery, both of which you’ll have heard oodles about already if you’ve been following my blog. There were some pretty cool things going on, and it was an awesome opportunity to participate in some public outreach and public archaeology!

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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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Brick Street Cemetery Stories: Quaker Stones & Attempted Murder

Hi all, can you believe it’s already nearly the middle of August? I can’t! It feels like just yesterday that I was starting my work at Woodland Cemetery. Tragically, that contract has ended, and I am working for another local historic cemetery for the next month or so, combing through their archival materials to create a book manuscript about the background of the site, their significant people and stories, and transcriptions of the gravestones themselves. Keep your eyes peeled, folks. It promises to be an interesting project!

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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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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 5 & 6

There has been a lot of work going on over the last two weeks! So much that last weekend was super busy and I didn’t have time to write a blog post. I went to a bridal shower, worked on an article for ages (& finnnNALly submitted it), visited a cottage with my friends, and did a bunch of other things. Bye weekends, I hardly knew you!

You’ll all be pleased to know we only had like 2 rain days over the last two weeks, so there is a little more to talk about! We fixed so many stones, uncovered some extra dramatic stories, did a couple tours, worked with a practicum student, went of a tree-tour of the cemetery, and fought with the drill! That last part doesn’t sound as dramatic to you as it was, but stay with me…

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Tools of the trade!

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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 3

Goodness it’s been a busy week, and I’ve learned so much! We took on some cool repairs, cleaned some neat stones, and answered some questions from the public along the way too! It was a pretty good time overall, and I can’t believe we are nearly halfway through the program (thank you to Canada Summer Jobs program to opening your funding up to young people who aren’t going back to school this fall, me and everyone else really appreciate it!!).

There are a few new posts from the last week over at the Woodland Cemetery history blog, about children’s gravestones and our first ‘solo expedition‘ setting a broken gravestone! But it’s time for a review of the entire week, lets get into it!

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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 2

Hello all, welcome back to another ‘updates from the field’ style post, where I’d like to discuss what we got up to at the cemetery this week! It was an extremely busy week, and we got quite a lot accomplished, and learned a load of new skills throughout it all that I am very excited to use throughout this program and hopefully throughout my career as a historical archaeologist.

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Little woodchuck friend coming to see why we were digging so many holes in their field! 

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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 1

Hello friends, today I’d like to tell you about the first week at my new spring/summer job. I was overjoyed to have recently been hired for a short-term contract at Woodland Cemetery as a Monument Conservator! The job is funded through Canada Summer Jobs program (which isn’t just for students, folks!), so thank you to that wonderful funding that is allowing me to spend eight weeks training to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while…restore and conserve historic burial markers. I feel like I’m living in a burial archaeology dream world right now!

If you want to follow along with the cemetery’s heritage blog, check it out HERE!

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