Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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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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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Brick Street Cemetery, London, ON

It’s that time again friends, where we sit down to highlight yet another one of Canada’s Curious Canadian Cemeteries. Today, lets take a little look at the Brick Street Cemetery in London, Ontario, its history, ongoing protection, and its stone carvers.

I have only visited this site once myself, during London’s Door’s Open event several weeks ago. Doors Open is an event where historic sites and buildings around a city will open their doors free of charge to the public, and it’s a great way to go see museums and heritage sites in your community that you might not otherwise have a chance (or the funds) to visit! We visited several historic sites around town over the course of the weekend, but spent the most time at the Brick Street Cemetery.
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Built Heritage, Mortality, & Decay

As I may or may not have explained on this blog already, I work in built heritage. That means that I deal with the archaeology of standing buildings. In North America it is often referred to as cultural heritage, and is a facet of historical archaeology that I am quite passionate about (and who doesn’t like getting to go into old houses all the time!).

Lately, I’ve been doing a bit of reading into the conscious curation of decaying built heritage. It’s a very interesting topic, and while it’s hard to get away from the mentality that all old buildings are worth saving / preserving / restoring, curation of decay doesn’t mean justification for letting something fall into disrepair that perhaps does need some restoration but rather the ability to see and to interpret the change of a space, its meaning, and its place in history as it becomes overgrown, crumbles, or falls.

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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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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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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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