Recently, I was very excited to learn that my work had been selected for a group photography show. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have seen a few posts about it. Gallery 6500 had put out a request for submissions from local photographers, looking for contemporary black and white photographs.
They asked photographers to submit works that commented on social, political, economic, and environmental issues within our community. COVID-19 was a focal point of many submissions, including mine. There was a very nice Sudbury.com article written about the show, that highlights the theme as well as some of the other amazing photographers in the exhibit.
The 5 photographers exhibiting are: Caio Higa, Debbie Anzinger Mckay, Debb Trahan-Pero, Rita Vanderhooft, and myself.
I was thrilled when I got an email saying my cemetery photographs had been chosen. This is my first time exhibiting in a gallery, and I was a little uncertain as to how my photography would be received. I have been in one other group photography show, that was more of a market or craft show style. It’s been a great experience working with the Gallery and organizers to bring this show to life.
Last Sunday, April 30th, was the opening of the exhibit. It was a great event! There was a great turnout of friends and family of each featured photographer. It was so nice to see so many people come through to enjoy the photographs. Personally, seeing so many of my friends and family come out to support me made my heart full. I sometimes feel like my work goes unnoticed and I am creating content just for myself, so seeing so many people come out to support me and overhearing conversations surrounding my work was such a thrill!
Our Story in Black and White: Photography Exhibit, at Gallery 6500
I am very excited and honored to be exhibiting alongside such great photographers. There are a variety of subjects presented, each in the photographer’s own unique style. I am sure there is something there for everyone to connect with. There is some very powerful work on display.
If you were not able to attend the opening, there is still time to visit this great exhibit. Gallery 6500, at 66 Brady Street, in the Steel Workers Hall is open for viewing on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Our Story in Black and White is running until June 30th, and is dedicated to the memory of Don Kuyek. Don’t forget to sign the guest book and share your thoughts.
Did you know that May is Cemetery Appreciation Month?
I first learned about it in 2021, and I have been celebrating every year since. Cemeteries are often seen as taboo and they are not often the first place someone would think to visit, but I believe that cemeteries are for the living. They are filled with history, art, and architecture, and are wonderful places to go for a stroll, or bird watching, among other things. Yes, they are resting places for our loved ones and should be respected, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy their beauty as well. Cemeteries were the blueprints for today’s public parks, after all.
So how do you celebrate? In 2021, I created a mini bucket list of things to do during the month to foster an appreciation for cemeteries. It was a nice excuse to spend more time outside. I had a lot of fun completing everything on my list. Some activities on my list included visiting a cemetery I had not visited before, and re-visiting a favorite local cemetery.
This year I wanted to do something a little different. I’m a graphic designer by trade and wanted to create something that would bring my two loves together—design and cemeteries. I was also inspired by a cemetery scavenger hunt I took part in last October. I thought it would be really fun to do something similar with my group of friends.
So I thought why not design a Cemetery Bingo card?
It’s a great activity to do in a group or solo and lets you explore the world of cemetery symbols. I created my cards using my cemetery photographs as a reference. I illustrated 40 symbols that are commonly found on gravestones. I included the name beneath the symbol as well, to help identify common motifs you might find while walking in a cemetery.
To play, all you need to do is print out a copy, bring something to mark your cards, and go for a walk in your local cemetery. Match the symbols on the card to what you find on the gravestones. The first one to get a full line wins! You can make that two lines, or even a full card to make it a bit more challenging. I can see this being a fun tool to introduce your friends and family to cemeteries and help explore gravestone symbolism. It could also be a fun activity for kids.
Please remember to be respectful when visiting your local cemeteries. For a guide on cemetery etiquette, you can read a previous blog post I wrote about the rules I follow when visiting a cemetery here.
My friends and I will be going on a cemetery road trip very soon, and I think it will be a great opportunity to try out the bingo cards. We have a lot planned already, but I think we can fit in a round of Cemetery bingo. I’ll be sharing how our cemetery bingo plays out in my stories on Instagram on May 6th.
For best results, send this print-ready file to a local print shop, or you can print them at home on your home printer. Just be careful when you are trimming the pages. Then all you need are some markers, stickers, or bingo dabbers to mark off your finds and have fun! Make sure to tag me in your photos or stories on Instagram and Facebook.
I have been thinking a lot lately about my connection to cemeteries. I recently read Death’s Garden Revisited, edited by Loren Rhoads. It’s a collection of 40 personal essays by people from all walks of life, regarding their own connections with cemeteries. I saw a lot of myself in those essays, and it has encouraged me to look back on past events in my own life that have attributed to my love of cemeteries.
One of those moments that stand out, is a family story that has been passed down by my mother. I was too young at the time, so I have no memory of it, but my mother has told me the story many times.
When I was a child, I saw an angel in a cemetery.
Now you may be thinking, well yes, there are lots of angels in cemeteries! And yes, this is very true. Angel statues are a very common sight in Catholic cemeteries. Children are also known to have overactive imaginations, and I was no exception. I did have an imaginary friend growing up. But I am curious and wanted to learn more about the circumstances of this cemetery visit.
One of my earliest memories is of attending my uncle’s funeral in Elliot Lake. I was very young, maybe 5 or so, but I vividly remember the funeral parlor. I remember the smell of the parlor, as well as seeing many somber family members, sitting in dark leather armchairs. I don’t remember the cemetery though. Was this the same moment? Were we visiting the cemetery after the funeral service?
In 2021, my mother and I took a drive to Elliott Lake to do some hiking and cemetery wandering. We visited my uncle in the cemetery. I had no recollection of being there, but my mother had vivid memories of the place. She said it looked a lot different; there had not been as many graves in the section where my uncle was laid to rest. Over the years it had become a very popular section. It was so full that the cemetery opened another section at the back, which was now about half full. The cemetery has no standing gravestones, only flat grave markers. No angel statues here. My Mom confirmed this was not the cemetery where I saw an angel.
It turns out there is MUCH more to this story.
In the summer of 1987, My mother, father and I were visiting my uncle in Quebec for a family reunion. I would have been about 3 years old. It was planned to be a big reunion of my father’s side of the family. Unfortunately, only we showed up. My uncle was a bit dismayed but decided to not let that ruin our visit, so there was a change of plans. Since we were close to Quebec City we would visit some old stomping grounds and visit some cemeteries to visit family. There was one family member in particular that my dad and uncle wanted to find—their uncle Joseph Larochelle.
The story goes that my great-uncle, Joseph Larochelle who was blind, went out into a snowstorm with his dog. His Family members told him not to go out, because of the blustery winter weather—but he went anyway. He said he would be fine since he had his dog with him. Unfortunately, he lost his way in the storm and went missing. Tragically, both he and his dog perished in the storm. He had gotten stuck on a fence and was not able to break free. He was not found until the late spring.
My dad and uncle did manage to find the grave of Joseph. They took a picture with the gravestone that has some details of what happened to him. The gravestone states he was blind, died February 18, and was found June 4. I don’t know the year, as the photo is a little hard to read. It was while visiting this cemetery that I saw an angel.
The gravestone reads: “Joseph Larochelle / Blind / Died February 18 / And Found / June 4, 19_1 / Aged __ Yrs. / R.I.P”
I have reached out to my aunts and uncles to see if they have more information, or know which cemetery he is buried in. I have not been able to find anything much so far. My searches on Find a Grave and Ancestry have not turned up anything yet. I have an idea where to look—Quebec City, but I don’t have much more than that at the moment. I would love to learn more about my great-uncle, as well as the cemetery where he is laid to rest. Is it filled with stone angels?
When I started looking into this story, I didn’t expect to uncover a cemetery mystery. I love a good cemetery mystery, and it’s even more intriguing to have a family connection to one. I will keep researching and maybe will have an update on this story in the future. In the meantime, I will continue to go down cemetery rabbit holes looking for answers. Maybe I’ll also get closer to answering my question about my cemetery angel.
I realize I owe you all a blog post after missing last Sunday, but I don’t have anything that is quite ready to share with you yet. I have a few posts that I have been working on, but more research is needed. So instead, this will be an update, to share what I have been working on and what you can look forward to on the blog in the coming months.
Most recently, I have been working on a piece inspired by Death’s Garden Revisited, edited by Loren Rhoads. My piece is about my own personal connection to cemeteries. After speaking with my Mother about the subject, it created more questions than answers. As we chatted we uncovered our own little family cemetery mystery, which sent me down yet another research rabbit hole. I’m sure you all will find that story very interesting.
I have also been saving a cemetery story, especially for this month, as February is the anniversary of this local tragedy. I need a little more time to work through the research and sort through my photos from last summer’s road trip. That will be another post to look forward too.
Along with writing and creating content for the blog, I have also been taking an online course to sharpen my writing skills. The course is through Atlas Obscura and is called Historical Nonfiction: Research-based writing with Hadley Meares. This 4-week course promises to help you write historical essays using a research-based lens. I am on week 3 of the course and it has already solidified the good writing habits I already had while introducing new habits, methods, and resources to my writer’s toolbox. I look forward to sharing the article that comes from completing the course.
Amidst all this writing I have also been updating the portfolio section of my website. I have posted many additions to my existing web portfolios and have added some new ones entirely. Sorting through, editing, and posting my archive of cemetery photos has been a great way to look back at all the cemetery adventures I have had over the years.
I have also been working on researching some new areas and cemeteries to visit. I have some great cemetery road trips already planned for this summer and can’t wait to get back on the road and photographing. I plan on visiting Owen Sound, for part two of Chasing Tom Thomson, while also stopping in at some fun interesting spots along the way. I also have another trip planned for early spring which will include my first visit to a loyalist cemetery, and seeing table stones in person. I’m pretty excited about that trip.
I have also been busy getting some submissions ready for a local photography contest, and a gallery showing. I am not quite sure how my cemetery work will be received, but I think they could be great opportunities to get my work out there, regardless of the outcome.
Hopefully, some of these upcoming posts sound interesting and will have you coming back to read more. As always, if you have any book or cemetery recommendations, or cemetery stories of your own to share, please leave me a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
2022 was a year full of adventure! I visited 78 cemeteries this year and was able to break my record for the number of cemeteries visited in one day—15. A personal best! I visited my first pet cemetery and went on many fun and fascinating cemetery road trips. There are a few that stand out, like hiking through Algonquin Provincial Park and finding the first grave of Tom Thomson. That was a bucket list trip for me, and one of my biggest adventures so far. A lot of planning and research went into that trip, and the journey was incredibly worth it. Spending the night at the haunted Beck House was another highlight for me. Haunted holidays with my fiancé are always my favorite, but this year will be hard to top. This beautiful victorian style mansion is beautiful on its own, but its history makes it even more interesting. We had an amazing visit and made sure to pay our respects to the Becks, at their family mausoleum. I look forward to sharing more cemetery road trip adventures from 2022 but I am excited to see what 2023 will bring.
I am amazed at the following I have been able to foster on my social media channels. Over 2 000 followers on Instagram! Wow, what a milestone! Thank you to everyone who has liked, followed, commented, and shared my social and website posts. It means the world to me. I am so proud to be part of the online cemetery community, and love connecting with like-minded taphophiles. Because of this, I have branched out from Facebook and Instagram to Flickr and Pinterest as well.
I feel that I am continuing to grow in my writing and am slowly finding my voice. I love sharing my cemetery adventures and am so happy that I have found an audience. I hope to continue my growth as a writer into the new year, by honing my skills and sharing even more stone stories and insights.
Thank you to everyone who has followed along with me on this journey! Sharing my passion for cemeteries with you all has been an amazing experience. I look forward to continuing to share my photography and adventures with you and seeing what 2023 will bring.
The holidays are almost upon us! We’ve been blanketed by a lot of snow recently, here in Northern Ontario, so it definitely looks and feels like a winter wonderland. My neighborhood has been transformed into a little Christmas village with many of my neighbors decorating their front lawns with holiday blow-up characters, red and green candy canes, and twinkling lights galore. I am not one for Christmas decorations, I haven’t put up a Christmas tree in years, but I do enjoy the twinkling lights.
I don’t have a long post for you today, as I’m thick in the middle of that holiday hustle and bustle that always seems to hit immediately before the holidays. So for my last blog post before Christmas, I thought I would share some of the Christmas-themed grave goods I have found while wandering my local cemeteries.
If you have been following me on social media at all, you most likely have seen me talk about grave goods. I often share some of the more unique things I have found on my cemetery travels.
Grave goods is a term used to describe items that have been left at a graveside by mourners.
I always find it heartwarming when I see Christmas spirit spread to a cemetery. Although seeing candy canes and Christmas trees in July is always a surprise.
For me, symbolism is one of the many things that make visiting cemeteries so interesting. I have been photographing them for over 15 years, but I still continue to find unique symbols that have me reaching for my reference books. I have lived in Sudbury almost all of my life, so I have spent a fair amount of time traveling in Northern Ontario to visit cemeteries. I have yet to visit ALL the cemeteries in the Sudbury district, but as of May of this year, I can now say that I have visited all 25 in the Greater City of Sudbury. I have noticed a repetition of certain symbols and motifs and wanted to share some of my findings.
The majority of the cemeteries found here are of a religious denomination. You can often find a variety of human statues in these cemeteries, representing Saints and Angels or symbolizing grief and mourning. Another common religious symbol is the cross. There are so many varieties of crosses, each with various meanings. You could write a whole book on just cross symbolism alone! Some of the more common crosses you can find are the Agony cross, with its pointed ends that represent the agony of the crucifixion, or the Glory or Rayed cross, its rays representing the glory of God.
I have also noticed quite a few handmade stones. I find handmade stones to be beautiful, full of love, and have a unique charm. They come in all shapes and forms. Some are hand-poured cement, with stones and tokens embedded in them. They are usually adorned with hand lettering, either hand painted or hand carved, or might have handmade plaques affixed to them.
Another common symbol you will find in the area is the lamb. This is another religious symbol, representing the “lamb of God”, as well as innocence and sacrifice. Lambs are most commonly found on the graves of small children and infants. Lambs are often depicted laying down, sometimes in front of a tree stump. The tree stump symbolizes a life cut short.
Another common symbol found on children’s graves in the Sudbury district is the dove. Similar to the lamb, a dove represents peace, innocence, and purity. One of the variations on the dove symbol you might find is a dove that looks dead. This symbolizes a life cut short.
In my experience, books are not quite as common as some other symbols in our area, but they are still one of my favorite cemetery symbols. I’m an avid reader, so seeing a book on a gravestone always makes me smile. I have seen many variations of books in the area. Books can be decorative or symbolic. Some gravestones use a book as a device to display the name of the deceased, along with dates. An open book can sometimes represent emotions, open to the world, or symbolize a life that has been cut short, before getting to the last page. Another variation you might find, is a closed book, usually at the top of a truncated obelisk. A closed book symbolizes a long life, lived to the last chapter. Some books represent the Holy Bible and might be labeled as such.
This is just a small sampling of the more common cemetery symbols you will find in our local cemeteries. I look forward to seeing what other common symbols might be found in our district cemeteries, as I continue to explore them.
It’s almost Christmas time, and the hustle and bustle of Christmas dinners and get-togethers are right around the corner. I love finding unique and meaningful gifts for my loved ones. It’s a great feeling to see someone close to you, open up a unique gift that you know they are going to love! These types of gifts also don’t need to cost a fortune, and supporting a small business is always a bonus. I have been eyeing a few fun and interesting cemetery-related items online myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have any taphophiles in my family to buy for, but I thought maybe some of you might.
So this year, I thought I would try my hand at writing a little gift guide for those looking for some inspiration for your cemetery loving friends and family, or maybe your own Christmas wish list.
Below is my round-up of some unique, beautiful and practical cemetery-related items that I think any taphophile would love!
Cemetery Photography by Chantal Larochelle is not affiliated with these brands and artists. I do not receive any proceeds from sales. Just sharing products I love!
If your taphophile friends and family like to read, you can’t go wrong with a cemetery book. I’ve heard excellent things about Peter Ross’ new book, and hope to pick myself up a copy if I don’t get one for Christmas. “A book for anyone who has ever wandered through a field of crooked headstones and wondered about the lives and deaths of those who lie beneath.” – Indigo.ca
A unique full-color illustrated zine by Reading Reliquary. This 20-page booklet features recipes found on tombstones from “Alaska to Israel”. There are a bunch of other spooky-cute items available in their Etsy shop, such as stickers, bookmarks, and another zine about the language of floral symbolism on tombstones. Unfortunately, some items don’t ship to Canada.
Cursed by Design offers a set of 6, 3D printed garden stakes. You can customize them with any of the 40 available herb names, or you can personalize them with your own names. They would be perfect for a taphophiles herb garden!
This new book of essays, edited by Loren Rhoads, illuminates the reason why people visit cemeteries. This collection features 40 personal essays, written by cemetery tourists, genealogists, geocachers, anthropologists, and more. A great addition to any taphophiles library.
This gorgeous 1.5” soft enamel Deaths Head pin, by Verona Black, would look striking on a jacket, camera bag, or anywhere really. It also has some interesting symbolism behind it. A Deaths Head or Skull effigy is a form of Momento Mori, a reminder of your mortality.
Their online store is filled with beautiful castings of old New England gravestones. Their pieces range from small magnets to large castings. They all feature unique gravestone symbolism. The Gravestone Girls, who are fellow taphophiles, have over 30 years of experience working in old cemeteries. So you can be certain that these beautiful gravestone castings have been made with every precaution taken to not harm the gravestones.
This unisex t-shirt features some beautiful gravestone symbolism, illustrated by Meagan Meli. The symbols are also accompanied by their meanings. Perfect for those who would rather be visiting a cemetery. I know I would personally try to find all the symbols on it if I ever wore this while visiting a historic cemetery.
I feel like t-shirts are always a safe bet, especially if they have some cool graphics. This t-shirt by Shaded Grove Art on Red Bubble features a bold, but simple design that lists different types of gravestones. It’s a little bit classic, and a little bit nerdy, a great combination.
These beautiful miniature tombstones from WHCrystal are made from spectrolite minerals that flash beautifully in the sunlight. These would be a very unique addition to someone’s rock and mineral collection, or as a stand-alone piece. I just love the look of these little gravestones.
A one-year membership to AGS is a gift that keeps on giving! Members receive some great benefits throughout the year, like The AGS Quarterly, filled with cemetery and gravestone-related articles. They also receive the monthly e-newsletter that features special announcements, news articles, and event information. Membership also includes the next published issue of Markers, their annual journal full of definitive cemetery and gravestone articles. You also get member pricing for the AGS Annual Conference, that’s also known as Cemetery Camp.
Landis Blair is an amazing illustrator and is offering pre-orders of this beautiful Pocket Cemetery booklet. “A convenient reminder of your pending mortality.” This 24-page booklet contains 21 black & white illustrations of a variety of cemeteries and is estimated to ship by the end of November. They also offer prints and stickers in their Etsy shop.
October is coming to an end. This post-pandemic Halloween season has felt a bit more normal because of all the fun spooky activities happening. It’s been a whirlwind of a month for me, between pumpkin patch activities, a haunted holiday, watching way too many horror films, and visiting cemeteries. I even put up my own little front lawn cemetery for the trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.
This year, I was able to visit some cemeteries a little farther away from me, in Cobalt, Haileybury, Huntsville, and Penetanguishene. I am looking forward to sharing more about those visits in upcoming posts. You can read about my visit to the Beck House and the Presbyterian Cemetery here.
I also had a chance to participate in this year’s Cemetery Scavenger hunt, put on by TalkDeath. I wrote a bit about TalkDeath and their annual event last week. You can read it here, in case you missed it. This cemetery scavenger hunt takes place globally, so you can participate from anywhere. All you have to do is visit a local cemetery. In some areas, you can participate with TalkDeath members in person. This year there were members at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, and General Protestant Cemetery in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
My mother and I joined in from Park Lawn Cemetery in Sudbury, Ontario. It was so much fun! Although we were the only ones in the cemetery searching for clues, it was still a nice way to spend some time on a Sunday afternoon. Park Lawn Cemetery is not the oldest cemetery in the city, as it was established in 1924. But it is a large one, which I thought would be an advantage to searching for clues. I may have been half right. We started strong, finding a few clues pretty quickly, but we started getting stumped. We fanned out and as I searched I fell into my normal cemetery photography mode, which is a little bit slower-paced. I did eventually manage to find 12 of the 20 clues, but it was way too late to place in the top 5. I think the fastest time may have been 12 minutes!
I was no where close to that time, but that’s ok! It was a great opportunity to get outside, enjoy one of the last beautiful weekends of October, visit a cemetery and spend some time with my mother. We spent about an hour in the cemetery. After I submitted my photos, we wandered around a little bit, enjoying the weather and looking at the beautiful stones. We also found some interesting epitaphs that I think will require some research, later on, to learn their story.
I think this years Scavenger Hunt was a success! I can’t wait to participate again next year! It was a really fun way to close the cemetery season for me.
If you are not aware, November usually brings with it some pretty cold weather here in Northern Ontario, and that means lots of snow. I’m not fond of winter, so I tend to stay indoors during the colder months. That means my cemetery visits are pretty much done for this year.
That doesn’t mean that you will stop seeing content from me!
In the colder months, I focus on editing the monstrous number of photos taken over the summer. I’ll be doing portfolio updates in the coming months, adding to what’s currently on the website. I’ll also be doing more work uploading memorials to Find a Grave, helping clean up their cemetery map information for Ontario, and transcribing photos. I’ll also be sharing more cemetery road trip stories from over the summer, and cemetery book reviews. I’ll also be taking some time to bake and share some more tombstone recipes. I don’t think I have made one since the spring!
That being said, I hope that you have had a wonderful October, were able to enjoy some fun activities throughout the month, and got to visit a cemetery or two! I would love to hear about your October adventures in the comments.