Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Serviceberries, Winter Deaths, & Spring Funerals

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Service, or Saskatoon, berries (image from wikipedia)

Hello readers, I am excited to let you all know that I will be starting my PhD at Memorial University of Newfoundland (from Ontario for now because of covid) in Historical Archaeology this week! Now that I am no longer in the field as a CRM (cultural resource management) archaeologist, I am hoping to be able to update this site on my ongoing, and upcoming, research and project. Please join me on this morbid research adventure!

Today I wanted to talk about berries, and their association with death and burial. My friend Katie, a fellow PhD student in folklore, sent me a very interesting article this morning by CBC contributor and chef Andie Bulman on berry harvesting in Newfoundland and Labrador. In the article, Bulman (2020) discusses the history of the serviceberry, also known as the saskatoon berry (which is what I know them as). I was surprised that they have a potential connection to my research on winter funerals!

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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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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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