I am in the midst of working on a blog post about my adventures searching for the grave of Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park. I’m hoping to have it up in the next week or two. In the meantime, I thought I would take a look at some Egyptian revival architecture that can sometimes be found in cemeteries, more specifically—obelisks.
Obelisks are Egyptian in origin, but became a popular Christian funerary symbol. They are now a common sight in most cemeteries. I have found quite a few in my cemetery travels and wanted to share some of them with you today.
In Understanding Cemetery Symbols, Tui Snider notes that obelisks became popular symbols after Napoleon invaded Egypt in the late 1700s. An obelisk is thought to represent a ray of light, but it can also symbolize focused spiritual goals, with the wide base narrowing to a point, symbolizing the deceased reuniting with God at death, and the two becoming one.
Different variations of obelisks can be found throughout a cemetery. For example, Truncated obelisks do not come to a sharp point at the top, but are flat or topped with another symbol like a cross, urn or an orb.
Obelisks can sometimes be found at the center of a family plot, representing the family’s connection to God. They are particularly well suited for this, as there is generally a lot of room on all four sides of the stone to inscribe the names of family members.
You might also find vaulted obelisks. These stones have points on all four sides at the top instead of coming to one point.
Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister
During my two-week vacation, something unexpected happened. While touring around the winding roads of St. Joseph’s Island, I found a Pet Cemetery.
I had researched the area before my trip and had marked off every cemetery on the island, with the hopes of visiting them all. I had not read anything about a pet cemetery, so I was very surprised when I noticed a large stone with the words “WM. Wright Memorial Pet Cemetery” engraved on it. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and made a three-point turn. My mother, who was traveling with me, was just as surprised as I was when she saw the cemetery sign.
The William Wright Memorial Pet Cemetery sits on land that was once the site of a Presbyterian Church. The Church suffered a fire, and from my understanding, the cemetery behind this church was moved to a cemetery further down the road. The land was inherited by William’s great-grandson, David Wright, who started the Pet Cemetery and named it after his Great Grandfather, in 1985. Today, the cemetery is cared for by the St. Joseph Lions Club.1
This beautiful cemetery is surrounded by large maple trees. It has a little chapel and even its own little receiving vault, also known as a dead house. When the Lions Club took over the care of the cemetery, they converted a shed to accommodate two freezers for winter storage.1
This was my first time visiting a pet cemetery. There is a mix of flat grave markers, homemade crosses, and other types of homemade gravestones that looked to be laid out in sections. I was affected immediately by the love and care that was taken to memorialize these animals. They were not just animals, but furry family members and beloved pets.
Some of the markers only bared names, while others had etched portraits or had loving epitaphs inscribed on them. The epitaphs got to me the most —things like “My Buddy” and “Forever loved”. Seeing these kinds of things inscribed on a tombstone for a pet, some of which were only in this world for a short time, was incredibly heartbreaking. I don’t usually have this sort of response in cemeteries and was a little surprised at how hard it was for me to read each stone.
Although it was an emotional experience for me, I was thrilled to be able to visit a pet cemetery. I think that they are growing in popularity, but they are still a fairly rare thing. After a little research, I only found information for eleven of them in Ontario, including the one I visited. I did try to visit a pet cemetery a few years ago, in Sault Ste Marie. But, we were unable to find it, and I have since been able to find out very little more about it. I would love to be able to visit more in the future. They are incredibly beautiful places.
Have you been to a pet cemetery before? What was your experience like? I would love to read about your experiences in the comments!
I have been thinking about road trips a lot lately.
During a normal year, my friends and I would be discussing plans for our next one. I have been itching to research locations and plan travel routes. But alas, just like last year, it looks like it will not be happening this year.
Cemetery road trips are one of my favorite things to do in the summer months. We all would pile into one vehicle, chit-chat, and listen to music while cruising along to our cemetery spots. We usually pick a city or town and stop at all the cemeteries along the way. After visiting the cemeteries within that city’s limits we would also explore the outskirts, sometimes finding hidden cemeteries that we didn’t find in our research. These are great ways to spend time together, make memories and explore our backyard!
The last road trip we did was in 2019. We visited Sault Ste Marie. Normally this trip would only be about a 3-hour drive, but it took us a whopping 6 hours! We made so many stops along the way and took our time exploring. We visited some very old cemeteries, full of the history of the town, as well as some newer ones. Lots of discoveries were made, including one of the largest cemeteries I have ever visited before! We visited 11 cemeteries in total that day. We didn’t beat our record, but it was a very good attempt. Our record so far is 13!
We also took time to do some sightseeing, and visit some of the historic museums there; the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre and the Ermatinger Old Stone House. We heard some interesting ghost stories from the staff at the Old Stone house and it prompted some interesting discussion and exploration while we were there. We did not find any ghosts though. It’s a beautiful house with some really interesting history. Getting in some sightseeing was a bonus for that trip.
We have also gotten into the tradition of visiting any Starbucks that we can find, and always end the day at the local Casey’s for supper. A favorite restaurant that we no longer have in our own city. It’s a great cap to the day, followed by a much quicker drive home while we debrief on the fun and experiences of the day.
So for this year, instead of grand travel plans, I will stick close to home and visit my local cemeteries. Re-visit my favorites and take more time to explore those that I have not been to for a while. There is always something new to find and photograph!
Update: After writing this blog post I did just that! I had a mini road trip adventure this weekend. I’ll have a new post coming soon with some new photos.