Blog updates & more…

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 hello@chantallarochelle.ca

Thanks for reading! 

A Collection of Doves

This week, I had originally planned on posting a cemetery recipe for Red Lantern Cheese dip, from the gravestone of Debra Ann Nelson. But, I had some issues finding the correct ingredients and the recipe didn’t turn out as expected. So I will continue my hunt for the elusive ingredients. 

Instead, this week I will share a collection of Dove’s. If you have been following this blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I sometimes like to share collections of my favorite photos of some of the cemetery symbols I find on my cemetery walks. I have been photographing cemeteries for over 15 years, and in that time I have noticed some repetition of certain symbols and motifs. I find cemetery symbolism so interesting and love looking at what the different variations of a symbol mean.

Doves are not as common a symbol as lambs in Northern Ontario, but they represent similar ideas. Doves commonly are a symbol of peace, but when used in funerary art, they also represent innocence and the Holy Spirit. Doves may appear in many forms, such as sculpture or bas-relief. There are also different variations of doves, and each carries additional meaning.

Sometimes a dove may be depicted carrying something in its mouth. A dove with an olive branch in its mouth may represent peace. This symbolism also can be traced to Ancient Greece. A dove carrying a broken flower bud in its mouth often symbolizes a life cut short. 

The position and angle of the dove may have some significance as well. A dove flying downward is thought to represent the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven.

Another variation of a dove you might find, is a dove that looks like it might be dead. A dead dove sadly represents a life cut short. This variation may also be found lying in front of, or on top of a tree stump; which is also a symbol of a life cut short.

Have you come across a different variation of this symbol? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
  2. Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister

Cemetery Road Trip – Visiting Asylum Point Cemetery

Today on the blog, I wanted to share a cemetery road trip from Autumn 2022. I have been thinking about this place a lot lately and wanted to share my experience. Visiting the Asylum Point Cemetery was high on my to-do list when my fiancé and I visited Penetanguishene for our haunted holiday. I talked Chris’s ear off on the drive up about what I could remember of its history. My interest in the place was even more peaked when we got to our Airbnb. On one of the white boards in the main entranceway, someone had written in red marker; “Visit the Asylum Cemetery!”

Asylum Point Cemetery is located on the grounds of what is known today as the Regional Division of the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.1 Over the years it has seen many different forms. It began as a Reformatory for Boys in 1859 and operated for 44 years.2 In 1904 it saw new life as the Asylum for the Insane.3 1933 saw the addition of Oak Ridge, also referred to at the time as the Criminally Insane building.4 All the buildings are fairly close together, creating a small campus. As we toured the campus in search of the cemetery, I noticed a few white houses lining the road to the cemetery. One was directly across from it. I’m not sure what these buildings had once been used for, but now they looked abandoned and boarded up.

Many of the original buildings are no longer standing, as the center has modernized its facilities. But, there are still some remnants from the Asylum’s past that can be found; like the cemetery, and the original Oak Ridge gates. The gates now open to an empty road, that leads I’m not sure where. I didn’t have much time to explore the grounds on our visit, aside from the cemetery, but I did get a chance to stop and admire the entrance gates, which are said to have been built by the patients themselves.

The original Oak Ridge gates, Penetanguishene ON ©2022

According to the inscription on the gate of Asylum Point Cemetery, the cemetery was in operation from 1904 to 1970 and is the final resting place of over 300 long-term patients. Commemorative stones were erected at the cemetery detailing its history in 2004, the 100th anniversary of the Psychiatric Hospital and its cemetery. 

It was a grey and dreary day when I visited the cemetery, but I didn’t let that deter me. When I walked through the gates, after stopping to read the inscription, I was a little surprised by what I found. The cemetery seemed to be just a sprawling green lawn, with no markers aside from the stone at the entrance that bares the cemetery name. There is a large weeping willow tree on the right side of the cemetery, so I walked underneath it to stay out of the drizzling rain. I scanned the grass for anything that might resemble a grave marker. I had read that the grave markers in this cemetery, in the early years, had been created by the patients using wood and brass stamps to mark the names and dates.5 I was about to start making my way back to the car when I noticed a small slab of cement covered in leaves and debris. It wasn’t an empty green space after all. After I spotted one, I was able to spot them more clearly and found more and more small rectangular grave markers dotting the lawn. The rain had darkened the cement making them blend in with the autumn leaves. Many markers were becoming overgrown with moss, while others were slowly being swallowed up by the earth. 

Asylum Point Cemetery, Penetanguishene ON ©2022

This was my first time visiting an Asylum cemetery, and I was very touched by the handmade markers. I tried to put myself in the place of the patients that would have been making these gravestones. I was very mindful as I made my way back to the car. 

I have only briefly touched on the history of Oak Ridge here, but if you are interested in some further reading, there is a great resource curated by Jennifer L. Bazar. It’s called the Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit. It features in-depth looks at the history and timeline of Oak Ridge, and includes photos. I would highly recommend checking it out if you are interested in this side of Canadian history.

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Origins | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
  2. Reformatory for Boys | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
  3. Asylum for the Insane | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
  4. Establishing Oak Ridge | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit
  5. Asylum Point Cemetery | Remembering Oak Ridge Digital Archive and Exhibit

Year in Review – 2022

2022 has been a very good year for Cemetery Photography by Chantal Larochelle!

I wanted to take this opportunity to look back at some of the highlights and achievements from this past year.

My biggest goal for 2022 was consistency. It has been an issue that I have struggled with for years. I finally found myself working and maintaining a consistent posting schedule on the blog. The top 5 most viewed posts on the blog this year were: Haunted Cemetery Road Trip – The Beck HouseA Gift Guide for TaphophilesMy Local Haunted CemeteryFinding the abandoned Happy Valley cemetery, and 25 Cemeteries in the City of Greater Sudbury. It’s an amazing feeling to share these stories with you, and grow this passion project of mine.

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. 

Cemetery Photography by Chantal Larochelle, Top Nine images on Instagram for 2022

This year has also been one of recognition! I am so thankful to all those who have shared my posts and photos. Not only was I featured in the March 2022 Ancestor Hunting newsletter, under Links we like. I was also asked by the Sudbury Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society to write something for their newsletter. My post Cemetery Symbolism in Sudbury District Cemeteries was published in the December issue of Ancestor Hunting. My Gift Guide for Taphophiles also garnered some attention and was shared in the Association for Gravestone Studies November e-newsletter. 

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.

Happy New Year Everyone! 

Christmas Grave Goods

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. 

Happy Holidays, and Thanks for reading!

Stone Stories – The Dyer Memorial

Winter is slowly starting to tighten its grip on us here in Northern Ontario. My road trips are done for the year, now that it’s getting colder and the snow is getting deeper. I like to take this time to sort through my photos, update my photography portfolios and upload images to Find a Grave. I also like to reminisce on all the cemeteries I have visited during the year. Today, I wanted to share my experience visiting the Dyer Memorial Nature Reserve.

Every October I take some time off to enjoy the crispy weather and changing colors in Ontario. Hiking and visiting cemeteries in the fall are my absolute favorite. This past October, my mother, and hiking buddy visited Huntsville to do some leaf peeping and hiking with some cemetery visits along the way. One of the must-do’s on this trip was visiting the Dyer Memorial. I had read online that this memorial site and nature reserve was a monument of love, in memory of a loving Wife. When we arrived at the site, I was surprised to find out that the Dyer Memorial is also the final resting place of Betsy and Clifton Dyer.

This beautiful monument was erected in 1956 by Clifton G. Dyer, a Detroit lawyer, for his wife Betsy Browne Dyer.1 It sits about 10 minutes outside of Huntsville, in the small hamlet of Williamsport. They were frequent visitors to the area, having first honeymooned in the Muskokas in 1916. They loved the outdoors and would often tent or stay in a cabin above the Big East River, close to the spot where the memorial now sits. In the 1940s they had a permanent cottage built and visited every summer.2 Betsy passed away in 1956, and Clifton, in his mourning, had the memorial built so Betsy could be laid to rest in the place she loved so much.1 Her ashes were placed in a copper urn at the top of the memorial.2 Clifton passed away 3 years later, and his ashes were also placed within the monument.1  

The road to the monument site is not paved and snakes its way up to a small car park area. There is some signage but it might be missed if you’re not paying close attention. The trail from the car park to the monument doesn’t seem like much, but once you turn the corner on the flagstone path and see the monument come into view, it’s quite impressive.

The obelisk stretches high into the sky, with a plaque near the top that reads “Dyer”. The monument is surrounded by footpaths leading every which way around the monument. Some small wooden bridges extend over a small pond with trails that curve around small clumps of trees. The lone monument stands like a sentinel in the center of it all. 

At the base of the monument there is a plaque that reads:  

“ERECTED IN FOND MEMORY OF / BETSY BROWNE DYER / 1884-1956 / BY HER HUSBAND / CLIFTON G. DYER / 1885-1959 / AS A PERMANENT TRIBUTE TO HER FOR THE NEVER-FAILING / AID, ENCOURAGEMENT AND INSPIRATION WHICH SHE / CONTRIBUTED TO THEIR MARRIED CAREER AND AS A / FINAL RESTING PLACE FOR THEIR ASHES. / An Affectionate, Loyal and Understanding Wife is Life’s Greatest Gift”

We were the only ones on the grounds when we visited, so we took our time to explore the area. There was no trail map to show how far the trails went, so we kept our bearings and didn’t stray too far from the monument. We crossed a small bridge and wandered around the small pond, reflecting the bright fall colors. We also explored a small clump of trees on the other side of the monument, again deciding to stay close to the stone obelisk and not walk too far down the trails. 

I circled the obelisk a few times, in awe of its stature and what it represents. It was first built as a loving tribute but now stands as a memorial to both Husband and Wife.

It’s lovely to see this site so well taken care of, not just the memorial, but also the surrounding trails. I love the idea that this nature reserve preserves the area so others can experience the beauty of it, just as the Dyers did in their lifetimes. 

Thanks for reading!

References: 

  1. Muskoka’s Hidden Gems – Dyer Memorial, Huntsville | CLRM
  2. Dyer Memorial | Huntsville Adventures

Cemetery symbolism in Sudbury District Cemeteries

This post was first published in the Ontario Genealogical Society, Sudbury District Branch newsletter, Ancestor Hunting (Volume 44 Issue 4).

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. 

Thanks for reading!

A Collection of Tree Stones

While wandering a cemetery, have you ever come across a monument that is shaped and textured to look like a tree? Today, I want to take a closer look at these types of grave markers, called tree stones. Although they are a bit harder to come by in Northern Ontario, you can find them, and they are usually very easy to spot since they are so unique!

Tree stones are often used as memorials for members of the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization. This fraternal order was started in 1890, and membership included those who worked in particularly dangerous professions. The organization offered health insurance and death benefits to its members, which included a tree stone tombstone.1

Woodmen of the World tree stones, often bare the Woodmen crest, as well the tools of the trades like an axe and sledgehammer, representing the works of man. You may also find other symbols on tree stones like ivy or doves, representing friendship and peace, respectively.

The severed branches or tree stump of a tree stone, Woodmen of the World or otherwise, often represents a life cut short. We often see this combined with other symbolism, like a lamb or dove laying in front of a stump. Lambs and doves are often found on the graves of small children, symbolizing innocence and purity.

Sometimes the number of logs on a tree stone can be symbolic of the number of children the deceased had. A tree stone can also be seen as a representation of the tree of life, symbolizing knowledge. 

Have you ever come across a tree stone? Or maybe a Woodmen of the world memorial? I would love to hear about your finds, in the comments. 

Thanks for reading! 


References:

  1. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider

Celebrating the last weekend of October

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.

Thanks for reading!