Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Belvedere Roman Catholic Cemetery, St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I’ve been living in Ontario for a few months now, but in just a couple of days it will finally be time to complete the second half of the move (i.e. moving the rest of the stuff, the car, and my partner). It’s crazy to think that we are going to be leaving the island so soon, but we will definitely be back for loads of visits.
I thought what better way to kick off part 2 of our move…and part 2 of the Curious Canadian Cemeteries Series, than with a site in St. John’s that I have visited on multiple occasions, and even wrote a paper on: The Belvedere Roman Catholic Cemetery.

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Yes, that is a tiny out-of-context stone sheep relaxing in the grass.

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: St. Saviour’s Anglican Cemetery, Penticton, British Columbia.

Hello there, death and burial aficionados! I come to you today with a new series that I’m starting on Spade & the Grave called ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’ (cemeteries because it works for the 3 C’s, not because I totally agree with the term for all sites). Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of publications that talk about burial sites around the world tend to gloss over Canadian sites, and I’d love to bring a few of the amazing burial grounds across the country into a bit of the spotlight! So if you have any interesting suggestions, I’d love to hear them! I’m going to try to make this either a weekly or bi-weekly feature on the blog, amidst other posts as I think of them.

Burial grounds, graveyards, cemeteries…whatever the terminology is for the site, every one holds a unique history and place within the landscape. While large, famous sites like Mount Auburn Cemetery or the Granary in Boston see visitors every day due to their publicity (and amazing monuments), there are hundreds of smaller burial grounds across North America and the world, that have just as rich of a back story, but might not be quite so obvious to the burial ground visitor on the go. Sites like these were meant to be visited, cared for, and enjoyed. They were created for the living just as much as the dead, and visiting historical burial grounds isn’t morbid. So without further adieu, lets virtually visit some unique burial grounds, from across Canada!

For my first post in the series, I wanted to feature a graveyard from one of my childhood homes (we moved a lot!), and the place that I lived in for the longest:
Penticton, British Columbia.

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Skaha Lake, looking south towards Okanagan Falls (Image from westjet.com)

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Burial by the Sea: Historical Burial Ground excavation in Newfoundland

From 2016 – 2017, I was involved in a project to excavate a settler burial ground in Foxtrap, Newfoundland. The excavation was run by Dr. Vaughan Grimes and Maria Lear of the Archaeology Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and is under an active archaeological permit through the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador throughout post-excavation analysis. A handful of graduate students, including myself, made up the rest of the field crew.

Based on local knowledge and the PAO investigation of the site in 2006, we were already aware that there was likely a burial ground at this location, based on the several erect and laying markers and fragments of gravestone with inscribed text. While no single record appears to exist for who was buried at this site, and it only had one gravestone with inscriptions on it, the identities of most of the individuals interred there will likely remain a mystery (and that one gravestone was broken and out of situ so we have no idea whose grave it belongs to). Plans are already afoot to re-inter the remains nearby once they have been cleaned and studied.

I am honoured to have been part of the team exhuming this site, as it was the first full historical settler burial ground to be excavated in the province, and so much about early populations could (and will) be learned from those who were buried there.
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The Frankenstein Chronicles: Exploring themes of Mortality in the C19th

As my own adventure into archaeology..or death and the media, I thought it would be fun to blog along with Netflix’s new show ‘The Frankenstein Chronicles’. 50% of this desire is based on the subject matter and a few of the lines regarding ‘beating death’ in the trailer, and the other 50% are because it stars Sean Bean and his heavy northern accent. Lets go! There will be spoilers!

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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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Sailor, War Prisoner, Settler: John Harris

This post is a bit of a departure from my normal themes, but there will be a gravestone or two, never fear! I spent a lot of last weekend working on a submission for the publication ACORN put out by the ‘Architecture Conservancy Ontario’, with my brother, who is nearly finished his undergraduate degree in architecture at the University of Waterloo (shout-out to my cool brother!). We wrote about the importance of conservation and reuse at the Harris & Co. Woolen Mill in the Rockwood Conservation Area in Rockwood, Ontario (Township of Guelph/Eramosa), and its been a lot of fun to work on a project together!

While doing research for the paper, we were reading a document that our aunt has had for a while: Transcriptions of John Harris’ Diary from 1811 – 1820. Reading historic documents is an excellent way to gain insight into not only a person’s life and day-to-day activities, but also to get a better understanding of who that person was in their life. John’s diary was mostly records of what he did, with some personal thought and strife added in there, but it is where a lot of these events occurred that I remain amazed that he managed to record any of it at all. Lets delve in, shall we?
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