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 email@example.com
Summertime is meant for road trips! In July, I went on a two-week vacation full of adventures. One of the trips I was looking forward to most on my vacation was visiting Algonquin Provincial Park. Algonquin is Canada’s first Provincial Park, having been founded in 1893.1 It’s a large and beautiful piece of wilderness, that also holds a mystery.
My 80-year-old mother joined me on this camping trip. It had been about 40 years since she last went camping, so I made sure we did all the fun camping things; sleeping in a tent, cooking on a fire, and making s’mores. There were a couple of other things on our to-do lists: visit Canoe Lake, search for Mowat Cemetery, and find the grave of Tom Thomson.
The story of Tom Thomson is an interesting one. Today, he is often referred to as the Canadian Van Gogh.2 And rightly so, his use of color and thick strokes vividly bring the northern landscapes to life. Thomson spent a lot of time painting and fishing in beautiful Algonquin Park. His love of the area must have been contagious as he soon had other painters joining him on his painting excursions. They even had a name for themselves, the “Algonquin Park School of painters”.3 You might recognize them more now as the Group of Seven. Unfortunately, Tom wouldn’t live long enough to see that recognition as he died mysteriously, two years prior. I would consider him a founding member, of the now famous group of painters.
There have been many things written about what happened to Tom Thomson on that fateful day in July. But to this day, no one knows for sure what happened. With so many varying accounts over the years, speculating what may have happened, the details of the events don’t seem to add up. We do know that Tom’s canoe was found on July 8th, but he was not. His body was found in Canoe lake, 8 days later on July 16th.4 He was found with bad bruising on his face and head, with a fishing line wrapped around his left or right ankle, depending on which account you read. In most accounts, the fishing line is seen as an indication of foul play. I don’t agree. I have been doing a lot of reading about this mystery and one thing that always stands out to me is the fishing line.
Tom’s body was found floating in the lake. Many people speculate that something heavy was tied to the fishing line to weigh the body down, that he was purposely drowned. BUT all the accounts mention that the body was tethered to the shore, and not removed immediately from the water. I think it would make sense that they would have used a fishing line to tether the body to the shore, which would account for the fishing line. One blog post I found corroborates this thought, but for some reason has not been looked at more closely. The blog post comes from a professional journalist, Robert Reid. In his blog post, Epistles from the Grave, Robert talks about letters that were written in the 1970s by Jack Wilkinson. He would have been six years old at the time of Tom’s death. These letters were written to correct some inaccuracies in the accounts that were circulating, most notably the fishing line. In the letters, Wilkinson confirmed that the fishing line was merely used to tether the body to the shore, so it would not float away until the coroner could be alerted and come collect the body.5 This would mean the fishing line had nothing to do with Tom’s death. Still, the questions persist—was it murder? Or was his death an accident? These details we may never know.
Tom was hastily buried at Mowat cemetery, sometimes referred to as Canoe Lake cemetery. This is not what his family wanted. They wanted him brought home. So his remains were exhumed the next day and transported to Leith, Ontario, near Owen Sound. There his remains were buried once again, and a proper headstone was erected.1 Here lies another facet of the mystery—many people claim his body was never moved.
Is that why people also claim to see a ghost in the early morning fog on Canoe lake? Over the years, many people have reported seeing a man slowly paddling a distinctive grey canoe through the still waters of the early morning.6What’s interesting about these sightings is that in life Tom Thomson had painted his canoe a unique dove-grey color, that he had mixed himself from his paints. This dove-grey canoe stood out among the identically colored canoes of the local lodges.1 Unfortunately, I was not able to find anyone in the park who had experienced any sightings firsthand.
Our search for his grave began on the morning of July 17th, which just so happened to be the 105th anniversary of Tom’s burial at Mowat Cemetery. We drove into Algonquin Park that morning, and after stopping in to check on our campsite at Tea lake, we decided to try and find the cemetery. I had been planning this trip since the early spring of this year and had been researching how to find the hidden cemetery. In early June, Back Road’s Bill, a local adventure/nature writer, published an article about the two graves of Tom Thomson, so I reached out to him about directions for reaching the cemetery. He was very helpful. With the coordinates locked into my Google Maps, I felt pretty confident that we could reach the cemetery.
That confidence wavered a little though when we visited the Canoe Lake Access Point Permit Office. We stopped in, after taking in the view of the infamous Canoe Lake, to buy some firewood and talk to the staff. The clerk was a young man, who had just started working at the permit office. He didn’t have any personal stories to share about the haunting of canoe lake but did have some interesting ideas about where Thomson may actually rest. He shared an interesting theory that the gravedigger that was hired to move the body had sent a coffin filled with dirt and rocks to the family, to approximate the weight of a body. He also told me that the cemetery can only be accessed by canoe and that the back roads I had pointed out are actually the train line, not a road. I was a little dismayed, but I had faith in Back Roads Bill and his map, so we continued on.
And good thing we did! The rail line the Permit office staff talked about was now a camp road. We followed it as far as we could, safely by car. At one turn-off the road became quite rough so we decided to park the car on the side of the road and continue on foot. This would turn out to be our hike for the day. It was a very nice walk in the lush woods of Algonquin Park. After walking for a time, we came upon some cottages on the lakefront. One cottage had a large family gathering outside, so we stopped and asked them for directions to make sure we were on the right path. They assured us we were and gave us some landmarks to go by, as there is no sign marking the cemetery. We continued on our way, trying to align ourselves with Canoe lake, and picture what it would look like to travel the route by canoe. We couldn’t easily see the lake. Unfortunately, the landmarks the cottagers gave were not the most helpful and we got a little turned around.
For an area that seems incredibly remote, there are a fair number of family cottages out there. We happened upon another cottage where it looked like they were packing up to go home. We asked again for directions. The gentleman we had asked was kind enough to walk with us to the entrance of the cemetery trail. We had gone a bit too far, having stayed to the left when we should have taken a right at the fork in the trail. His german shorthaired pointer puppy joined us, zooming back and forth past us as we walked. He told us how that day was the anniversary of Tom’s burial and how his family sometimes walked up to the cemetery to pay their respects. He didn’t have any ghost stories to share though. He brought us to the start of the cemetery trail, a small almost hidden trail that veers again to the right off of the bigger trail. We thanked him and continued on our way. This part of the trail was more rugged, with felled trees and a faint trail that was sometimes hard to distinguish in the wild forest. My mother said she was starting to have doubts at this point in our adventure, but those doubts faded when we came to a hill.
Sitting at the top of the hill we could see an old weathered fence and the supposedly 500 year old birch tree. It’s the largest birch tree I have ever seen! We happily climbed to the top and walked into Mowat cemetery. This small pioneer cemetery is a small remnant of the town of Mowat. This mill town was the largest in Algonquin Park and had about 500 residents in its heyday. The town included a hospital and school, as well as recreational lodges. Tom Thomson often frequented Mowat Lodge. The town began to dwindle, after the lumber recession.7 Today, all that remains of Mowat is the cemetery and a few cement foundations.
The cemetery is very small, with only a handful of grave markers. There is one field stone, and two engraved headstones within the picket fence. There is also a white wooden Latin cross, that marks the grave of Tom Thomson. It is thought that the cross was placed by the CBC in the 1960s for a documentary. There also seems to be a depression in the ground at his grave. There were a few grave goods left for Tom; a small electric tea light, some paint brushes and a fishing lure. There was no one at the cemetery when we visited, but I think Tom still receives his fair share of visitors.
Within the cemetery fence, there is a small grave marker for Alexander B Hayhurst, a child who died of diphtheria in 1915.
There is also a large flat gravestone for Ja’s Watson who is thought to be the first person buried at Mowat Cemetery. His stone is hardly legible now, but records say that the epitaph reads:
“In Memory of Ja’s Watson / The First White Person Buried / at / Canoe Lake / Died May 25 1897 being one of / about 500 employed at this Camp by / the Gilmour Lumbering Co. Aged 21 yrs / Remember Comrades (when passing by) / As you are now so once was I / As I am now so you shall be / Prepare thyself to follow me.”8
We spent a lot of time in the cemetery, trying to decipher the stones and admiring the enormous birch tree, and paying our respects to Tom Thomson. We tried to imagine what the cemetery would have looked like in 1917 when he was laid to rest. After a time we decided to head back down the hill and retrace our steps back to the car. It was a bit of a long journey, but it was incredibly rewarding. Back at our campsite we had a nice campfire supper of burgers and corn on the cob and talked about our visit to Mowat cemetery. We speculated on what might have happened to Tom and whether or not he was still laid to rest on that hill. My mother was very adamant that he was still there. After supper, we made some s’mores for dessert and enjoyed the campfire as it lit up the darkness of the night.
The next morning we decided to explore the park a little more before heading home. We stopped in at the Algonquin Art Centre to look around. This world-class art gallery showcases some of Canada’s foremost wilderness and wildlife artists.9 Outside, on the Centre grounds, we took a look at a set of plaques celebrating Tom Thomson. They told the story of Thomson as a painter, his attraction to Algonquin Park, his body of work, and his legacy as an artist. We also viewed an outdoor exhibit of painted canoes, called Tom Thomson’s Canoe Murals. We spent some time inside the gallery as well, taking some time to admire the gorgeous art gallery and browsing the gift shop. This is where I purchased my copy of Northern Light by Roy MacGregor.
Northern light: The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson and the woman who loved him by Roy MacGregor is a very good read. It presents some really interesting theories as to what may have happened to Thomson, and also suggests that his body never left Mowat Cemetery. In the 1950s, a small group of men took it upon themselves to prove whether Tom was still buried in the cemetery on Canoe lake. They took some shovels, went up to the cemetery, and started digging. I think to even their surprise, they did find human remains. They took a few bone samples, including the skull, and sent them for analysis. The results were not what they expected and seemed to raise more questions.1 More recently, a facial reconstruction was attempted using photographs of the unearthed skull. The face that emerged was pretty uncanny, but does that mean the mystery is solved?10
I don’t think the mystery will ever truly be solved. I believe the truth of what happened to Tom Thomson went to the grave a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean people will stop trying to solve it. Stories will continue to be told about his tragic life, cut short. As much as Algonquin Park was a part of Tom’s life, his artwork is now a part of it as well. You can find his artwork at the Art Centre. You can see the inspiration for his art in the beauty of the wilderness. You can learn more about his life in the Visitor Centre, alongside the history of the land and the evolution of the communities within the park. Tom Thomson, whether it be his artwork, his story, or his ghost will continue to be a big part of Algonquin Park.
I really enjoyed my time exploring the park and searching for the grave of Tom Thomson. It was a rewarding trip, that let me explore nature while also learning more about art and Canadian history. It was one of the more challenging cemeteries to find, but it was a beautiful place to visit and photograph. My mother enjoyed this trip immensely. She was a bit leery at first, but the history drew her in. She talks about our trip often. Coincidentally, I started writing this blog post on what would have been Tom’s 145th birthday, August 5th, 2022. My mother shares his birthday.
Have you ever been to Algonquin Park? Have you seen the ghost of Tom Thomson? I would love to read your stories in the comments. If you are interested in reading more about the mysterious death of Tom Thomson, check out the links below.
Thanks for reading!
MacGregor, R. (2010). Northern light: The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson and the woman who loved him. Vintage Canada.
Over the weekend, my friends and I went on a cemetery road trip.
We had it planned and mapped out for a while now and were excited to spend the day together while exploring cemeteries. We started bright and early and fully caffeinated.
I just finished going through all the photos I took on our adventures, all 957 of them. The first thing I always do after a cemetery adventure is, upload my photos to my computer and file them accordingly and get the number of cemeteries visited.
If you have been following me for a little bit now, you may remember that our record for cemeteries visited in one day is 13. Well, Saturday was a full day of adventures, and we have a new record!
A personal best. I have the best friends and travel companions a taphophile could ask for! I love that they love exploring cemeteries as much as I do, and enjoy a good challenge too.
It will take me a while to sort through my photos and get them posted. But they should be popping up on my social media channels and website soon. I will most likely write a more in-depth post about our day of adventures in the future as well. There were some fun surprises!
Summers in Northern Ontario are very short, so you need to make the most of them. Before long we’ll be knee-deep in frozen snow. But let’s not think about that right now!
I just got back from a lovely two-week vacation. My fiancé and I were finally able to visit some family and friends we haven’t seen in 3 years, due to COVID-19. It felt almost like a normal vacation. We traveled a wee bit, and of course, I visited some cemeteries!
My vacation was split into three different trips. I went camping at Algonquin Provincial Park with my 80-year-old mother. She hadn’t been camping in about 40 years. We only stayed for one night, but we had all the camping experiences; cooking on a fire, making s’mores, sleeping in a tent, and spending some time at the lake. We also took the opportunity to try finding the grave of Tom Thomson, a famous Canadian painter, who died mysteriously on Canoe Lake. You’ll be able to read more about that adventure in an upcoming blog post.
My fiancé and I, also took some time to visit Southern Ontario and visit family and friends, that we haven’t seen since before the pandemic. We toured the city a little bit, had some great food, and spent some quality time together. We even got a chance to visit some cemeteries. My fiancé is not very interested in visiting cemeteries, but he is very supportive of my love for cemeteries. I think he may have enjoyed hunting for them as we drove back home. We stopped at a few interesting ones that were along our route.
I also took some time to visit St. Joseph Island, the historic fort, and the bird sanctuary. My mother came along with me for that little trip as well. We toured the island and explored. We did some hiking and visited the beautiful Adcock’s Woodland Gardens. We also visited a lot of cemeteries, including a pet cemetery. That was a first for me. You’ll be able to read all about that adventure in an upcoming blog post as well.
I made sure to plan some buffer days to just relax and recoup between heavy days of driving, where I could spend some time with my fur babies and get ready for the next adventure. I also scheduled some days just to do nothing—but those days filled up fast with spontaneous things. Overall, it was a great vacation! I managed to visit 16 cemeteries, reconnect with friends and family, and recharge my batteries.
It was a wonderful break from work and my normal routine, but now it’s time to get back to it! I am feeling refreshed and am looking forward to writing about my vacation adventures and editing the hundreds of photos I took. I am also really excited about an upcoming special project and am currently playing around with some new ideas for the blog. I was starting to feel like my creative juices were stalling a little bit, but having a break has helped me reset and look at things with fresh eyes.
I hope you can take some time for yourself this summer if you haven’t already. Even if it’s only a long weekend. It’s so important to take the time to refresh and revitalize. To take your mind off work and just enjoy your family, friends, and nature or whatever else that makes you happy!
I haven’t posted a road trip story in a little bit, so today I wanted to share my adventure of finding a cemetery via railroad tracks!
It was back in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Social bubbles were very much in place and almost everything was shut down. There was not a lot to do that summer. BUT visiting cemeteries is always a viable option! My fiancé and I, and our close friends whom we had been bubbling with (that’s an odd to say), decided to go on a little adventure to try and find two cemeteries in Spragge, Ontario.
The little town of Spragge found its beginnings in 1882 but was originally named Cook’s Mills. It was a self-sufficient town of about 350 residents all built around the sawmill. In 1895 the whole operation was sold, and the village was renamed Spragge, after the township. When the depression hit, the mill closed in 1932. That same year, there was a devastating fire that burned almost the entire village to the ground. This caused a lot of folks to leave town, although a few remained and tried to rebuild. The mill never did re-open, and now there only sit about a dozen homes within the small village limits of Spragge.1 Two cemeteries remain, the Spragge Catholic cemetery and the Spragge Protestant cemetery.
This adventure would take us a little over an hour and a half on the road to get to Spragge. Our little group made a day trip out of it. We stopped at a diner and safely had lunch outside on the patio. We asked some of the locals about the cemetery. The stories we heard were pretty interesting. We were told that the owners of the property where the cemetery sits, do not like visitors and consider them trespassers. They talked about how this causes some tension between the townsfolk who want to visit their relatives, but are barred from doing so. The community was trying to get free access to the cemeteries. We were also told that the property owner was known to brandish a shotgun! We were a little put-off by the stories, but we were determined to take a look for ourselves.
After our slightly uncomfortable lunch, we continued on our way with directions by Google Maps. We turned off the main road onto a side road and what looked like a parking area. My fiancé was completely put-off by the stories we were told, he was also not as enthusiastic about visiting the cemeteries as we were, so he waited in the car and played look-out.
The rest of us began tentatively walking down the dirt road. When it opened up and we could see it was a driveway leading directly to a house, we decided to turn around and try a different approach. We had crossed a set of train tracks, that ran parallel with the main highway. After consulting Google Maps, it looked like we might be able to access the cemetery at a clearing just off the train tracks. We decided to try that. We chose a hot day to walk along the train tracks, but it ended up only being a short walk. On our left, a little clearing opened up which lead into the cemetery.
We had found the Spragge Protestant cemetery! We took some time to wander the grounds and look at the beautiful stones. It was a smaller cemetery and looked to be well-maintained. Not at all what we had pictured in our minds. We had been under the impression that the cemetery was abandoned and in disrepair. Some of the stones were too worn to be read, but some others were still in great condition. Some of the common cemetery symbols we found were clasped hands, obelisks, and little lambs.
After we explored a little bit, we tried to find the Spragge Catholic cemetery. According to my friend’s research, it should have been very close to where we were. We branched out a little, exploring the oddly well-kept lawn that snaked in between clumps of trees. We were nervous about getting too close to the house or going in full view of it. After a little more wandering, with no luck, we decided to turn back and reunite with my fiancé, who was patiently waiting in the car.
We were very happy to have at least found one of the cemeteries, and we vowed to do a little more digging and return in the future to find the elusive cemetery. It was still a fun adventure, after all exploring is half the fun.
But that’s not the end of the story!
This past winter I was busy uploading photos to Find a Grave and uploaded some of my photos from Spragge. A woman reached out to me, looking for coordinates for the Spragge Catholic cemetery, as she has family there. I passed on all I knew, and let her know we were not able to find it. She had also heard about the access issues, but since she was a relative was hoping the property owner would be understanding. She later contacted me and gave me an update. She was able to locate both cemeteries and visit her family. It turns out the town of Spragge did not want the expense of maintaining the cemeteries, and a private owner requested to take it over and purchased the property. When he is not in town, he has entrusted maintenance and upkeep to another property owner in the immediate area—who also happens to have loved ones buried in the cemeteries.
I also had another person reach out about these cemeteries. They have turned out to be pretty popular locations. This time, the person who reached out was searching for the location of the Spragge Protestant cemetery. He had visited the Spragge Catholic cemetery but did not find the other. We exchanged information. I shared everything I knew about the one I had visited. In return, he shared the exact coordinates of the Spragge Catholic cemetery and the contact information of the property owners. If we had searched closer to the water’s edge when we were there, we would have found it. So close!
I’m still a little confused about the stories that the folks at the diner told us, about the owners brandishing shotguns. From what I heard from both people who reached out, the owners seem very kind and willing to allow visitors into the cemetery. Although one had also heard about the access issues. Were there issues at one time? A misunderstanding maybe? Or maybe it was just some locals trying to scare away visitors? That mystery still remains…
Armed with all this new information, I will have to make another trip out to Spragge to visit the elusive Catholic cemetery. I love how this little adventure turned out because it showcases how interesting cemeteries can be. Cemetery mysteries are very much a part of the fun, and the fact that the cemetery community is so willing to share information and come together to solve these little mysteries is heartwarming.
Have you ever visited the cemeteries in Spragge? Do you have a cemetery mystery you would like to share? I would love to read about it in the comments.
The beautiful summer weather has finally arrived in my area and I am very excited to be able to go on some cemetery adventures once again. I have many road trips planned out for the upcoming weekends and my summer vacation. I’ve mapped out lots of fun sightseeing spots and new cemeteries to visit, that are surprisingly close to home. It should make for some fun road trip stories. So while I continue to plan for those, I thought it might be fun to share a road trip adventure from last year.
Last October, in 2021, I took advantage of some time off and took a little road trip to Manitoulin Island. Manitoulin Island, or the island as some locals call it, is a large island in Lake Huron. It’s also home to Canada’s first European settlement, the town of Manitowaning, and the historic Anishinaabe settlement.1 It’s a beautiful place to explore the outdoors and of course, cemeteries.
My mother came with me on this trip and got to experience what a real cemetery road trip is like. We visited 9 cemeteries that day. Not all of them were located on the island though. We left fairly early in the morning, and after stopping for our Tim Horton’s coffee, we were on our way. We stopped at 5 cemeteries on our way to and from the island, while visiting 4 cemeteries directly on the Island.
We weren’t very lucky with the weather on our trip as it was quite rainy for the majority of the day, but it did make for some nice photos. Of the 9 cemeteries that we’re on my itinerary, we only ended up stopping at 7 of them, due to some bouts of heavy rain. But, it worked out as we happened to find 2 more cemeteries that were not on my list when the sun did decide to show itself. One of those cemeteries was in Cold Springs and turned out to be a very nice find. It’s technically a graveyard because sitting in the middle of it is a century-old log Presbyterian Church, that is dated A.D. 1887. The building was locked, but we could look inside the little one-room church through some windows.
We stopped for lunch at Main St. Express in Kagawong. They have a great little drive-thru set-up. We brought our lunches to the waterfront, just across from the Old Mill Heritage Centre. We took advantage of some nice covered picnic tables. It was quiet on the waterfront, as the tourist season was at its end. 1 or 2 couples were walking around, enjoying the sights. If we had gone during peak summer hours, the waterfront would have been bustling. I think we went a good time, even though it was rainy. There was another advantage to having our lunch on the waterfront—it was also next to Kagawong Cedars Cemetery. After our lunch, we took some time to visit that cemetery and take some photos.
Kagawong is also home to the Kagawong River Trail. It’s a beautiful trail, running beside the river’s edge the whole time. There are some lovely sculptures scattered throughout the trail as well. These sculptures and heritage plaques were installed as part of the Billings Canada 150 project.2 The crown jewel of this trail is Bridal Veil falls! In nicer weather, you can walk behind the falls, and even take a dip.
Because tourist season was done, we did miss out on a few things, like visiting the Old Mill Heritage Centre and the Manitoulin Chocolate Works. I was disappointed when we found the doors locked to the chocolate shop. I will make sure to stop in there the next time we are on the island. There were some things we did get a chance to visit though, like the East Bluff Lookout, that was somewhat close to Gordon Cemetery in Gore Bay. The East Bluff Lookout offers some amazing views, and we also happened to see some wildlife; a red squirrel and some white-tail deer.
Even though I did have to cut my time short at a couple of the cemeteries due to heavy rain, I would say it was a great trip. We enjoyed the beautiful fall scenery, ate some delicious food, and visited some lovely cemeteries. I enjoy exploring the island and look forward to making another trip out there this summer to explore more of it.
Have you visited Manitoulin Island? I would love to hear about your visit in the comments.
Spring is right around the corner here in Canada, although you wouldn’t think so with the amount of snow that’s on the ground. The days are getting a little longer and the snow is melting, very slowly. The sun and subtle warmth are giving me hope that cemetery visits will be starting very soon!
I’ve been so excited about the prospects of visiting cemeteries again, that I have spent a lot of time researching and seeking out new cemeteries to visit. I have some fun plans for this spring and summer, involving visiting some nearby towns and cemeteries. I also found some other interesting things to visit.
I enjoy the planning as much as the road trip itself and have found some really interesting things to visit along the way. Due to the pandemic, my trips have been fairly close to home, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots to see. I wanted to share some insights on how I plan a cemetery road trip, and hope it may inspire you to do some local visiting where you are. You never know what you might find!
Where do you start when planning? I use Google My Maps to create my travel plans. You can add a color-coded legend to make things easy to read, and you can add notes to each location marker, like highlighting notable graves in a cemetery, or the best thing to order at a specific restaurant. You can also share these maps with your travel buddies.
Where to visit? I often pick a starting point based on something in particular that I want to see. For example this summer, I want to visit the Devil’s Rock trail head, in the Timiskaming District. It’s very close to Cobalt, Ontario, so for that map, I will focus on destinations leading up to and surrounding Cobalt.
Now comes the fun part! What is there to see and do?
I like to start by looking up every cemetery along the way to my chosen destination and in its surrounding area. I tend to focus on cemeteries that I have not visited before, unless I have an urge to visit a particular cemetery again. I also like to look up any memorials and cenotaphs that might be close. Find a Grave and Google Maps are great resources for this. You should also check any tourism websites that exist for the town you will be visiting, they often have cemetery information. Don’t forget to look up any famous, or infamous graves that may be in the area. I like to look for unique tombstones and Atlas Obscura is a great resource for this, as it lists many unique tombstones and cemeteries.
You can also use Atlas Obscura to find other interesting things to visit, like interesting natural landmarks, unique museums, outdoor art, themed restaurants, and all sorts of things that would be cool to visit. Granted there are way more listings for the U.S.A. than for Canada. But there are still some cool things to be found and visited. For example, on my list for this summer’s road trips are the Bean puzzle tombstone in Wellesley, ON, and the UFO monument in Moonbeam, ON.
I don’t know about you, but I love food, so I always look for fun local restaurants to try out too. My favorites to visit in the summer are local chip stands. There is also one chain restaurant I always look for – Casey’s Bar & Grill. We no longer have one in my town, and it was a favorite place to go for my friends and I. You can’t beat a tornado potato after a long day of visiting cemeteries.
Lastly, I always look for haunted locations and ghost walks. This may seem a little odd, but if you have ever been on a ghost walk, you may understand. Hauntings are always connected with history. A ghost walk is essentially a history tour, taking you throughout a city and highlighting the darker and seedier past of a place. The stories can tell you a lot about a town’s history, and the people who built it. Cobalt, Ontario for example, is a mining town, and there are many haunted locations connected to that mining history. That’s the type of history I find fascinating. You can’t find ghost walks in every town, so I often like to make my own by compiling all the haunted locations and their stories.
All this planning and research can sometimes make the road trips pretty ambitious, and you won’t always be able to see and do everything that you have mapped out. I love having a variety of different things mapped out because that’s as far as my planning goes. Once I am on the road, I go with the flow and see where my map takes me. I don’t always get to visit all the cemeteries, or walk every trail, or visit every museum, but that’s ok! I save those locations that were missed for another trip and create a new map.
Researching and discovering all these interesting places has been a great pastime while waiting for the snow to melt and COVID restrictions to ease. This way I’ll be ready to road trip once the last bit of snow has melted! It also looks like restrictions are lifting and may be completely gone by spring, but that is the beauty of visiting cemeteries, they aren’t very crowded.
I hope you have found some inspiration in this post to start planning your own road trips for this summer and exploring your own backyard. Feel free to share your plans in the comments! I would also love to hear about any cool places you would recommend visiting.
In August of 2020, a friend and I set out to find an abandoned cemetery. She had been to it before, having stumbled upon it while out and about on four-wheelers. She was excited to share it with me. She and I have been on many cemetery adventures, but this one was a bit different for us. Normally we would jump in the car and head for a destination while stopping at all the cemeteries we found along the way. This one was a bit closer to home and would need to be reached on foot. So with the camera in hand, we started walking. Have you ever seen the movie Stand by me? It sort of had that feeling, except we weren’t going to see a dead body, we were off to see a cemetery.
Happy Valley is considered a ghost town. According to Ontario Abandoned Places, it never really was considered a town at all.
“…more of a settlement which belonged to Falconbridge. Happy Valley consisted of residents who wanted to be separate and independent from the residents of Falconbridge…The residents were mainly farmers and mill-workers who worked at the sawmills by the lake. The children would have to endure a three-mile walk every morning to the nearest school (established in 1907) located in Garson…Other than the mills and homes, there were no stores or a post office to be found. Residents had to travel to Falconbridge Township for amenities…By 1970, the town was abandoned…almost. The last resident, “Gizzy”, left the town in the late ’80s.” – Ontario Abandoned Places
Our trip began by taking us into a more industrial part of the town. There were dunes everywhere and an old abandoned railway track. Small trees and bushes were growing from in between the railway ties. Those tracks had not seen much use in a while. We walked the train tracks for a little bit, but then found a dirt trail that took us more into the surrounding wilderness. We passed old culverts and a few small lakes. It was a beautiful day for a walk!
The way to this cemetery wasn’t a straight shot, or well marked. We had a general direction and were using landmarks to help find our way. We referenced old photos from the first time my friend had been there. We seemed to have made our way into some backcountry, where there were sandy trails and lots of sandy hills, that would be great for four-wheeling. After climbing up into a rocky area we reached a plateau where it levelled off and there was a two-lane sandy road. It was nice to not have to watch our footing anymore for fear of catching a toe on a rock.
My friend felt we were getting close. We walked on, enjoying each other’s company and chatting about life. Now and then we would stop to assess how far we had gone. We were alone in the woods, having not seen anyone else out on the trails. After a while, we started to question if we had gone too far. We checked a side trail, but no, it was going off in the wrong direction. We took a small break to rest and re-evaluate. Luckily, we still were getting cell service in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. She was able to look at satellite photos on Google and find what looked to be our cemetery. We had gone too far! We had to backtrack a little way and take a dirt road that forked to the right. Our goal should be right around that corner.
We found it! It’s a small cemetery, having been recently surrounded by a chain-link fence. We theorized that the fence was put up to protect the cemetery from people unintentionally running through it on quads and snowmobiles. There are about a handful of headstones, some up-right and a few flat to the earth. There seem to be more pioneers buried there than there are headstones.
Having found the cemetery and being able to visit it was well worth the hike. It was super satisfying! Almost more rewarding than if we would have driven straight there. After spending some time among the tombstones, we made our way back the way we came. Through the woods, along the dirt paths, and along the train tracks, ending by having to climb back up a massive dune that we had first scaled down at the beginning of our journey. It was a great adventure! I am grateful that I have good friends who want to share these kinds of experiences with me!
More recently, I was doing some pre-emptive cemetery road trip research, getting ready for this spring. I was going through all the cemeteries listed in my hometown, there are 25 in total. I have been to all but 3 of them, or so I thought. Based on my archived photos I had not visited Ruff Pioneer Cemetery, Chelmsford Protestant Cemetery, and St. Joseph Cemetery. As I did a bit more research into where these cemeteries are located, I got stuck on Ruff Pioneer Cemetery. It’s listed as being off of Goodwill Road, in Garson. As I searched Google Maps, it just was not making sense. I was able to zero in on its location using satellite photos. Low and behold—Ruff Pioneer Cemetery is our Abandoned Happy Valley cemetery!
Looking back at my photos, though, it all makes sense!
Goodwill road was most likely named after those pioneers buried in this cemetery.
Looking back at this cemetery adventure has me pining for summer and the opportunity to visit new cemeteries. I have a few road trips already planned and mapped out, but I may take a look for more abandoned cemeteries that are harder to find. Do you have a story about an abandoned cemetery? Share it in the comments!
In October 2021, I took some time off to enjoy the autumn weather and some Halloween activities. I also took it as an opportunity to go on some cemetery road trips. I had the idea to visit Elliot Lake during the summer, but my nephew suggested we wait till the fall, to take advantage of the fall colors. My mother and I both thought that was a great idea. I will admit, we may have gone a bit later than we should have, as we missed peak leaf-peeping colors, but it was still a beautiful drive.
I have wanted to visit Elliot Lake and its cemetery for a while now. It seemed a perfect fit for a cemetery road trip. It’s only about 3 hours away, and I have family that is buried there. I remember visiting when I was very young for my uncle’s funeral, but that was many years ago. We made sure to visit him and his wife in the cemetery, while we were there. Since my mother accompanied me on this trip, we tried to pack as much as we could into this one day trip, visiting some cemeteries and getting in some hiking.
We stopped at couple of cemeteries along the way, spending 10 to 20 minutes at each one. Roadside cemeteries I explored myself, while my mother waited in the car eating breakfast and enjoying her coffee. She was more interested in visiting Woodlands Cemetery.
There were two must-see locations on this trip for me, Woodlands Cemetery and the site of the former Algo Centre Mall. You may have heard of it. On June 23rd in 2012, a section of the roof collapsed, injuring 22 people and killing two, Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo.
For more information on what happened at the Algo Centre Mall, there is a short documentary on Youtube by Fascinating Horror that tells the whole story: The Algo Centre Mall Collapse.
I familiarized myself with the location using Google Maps before we visited. You can still see online, what the mall used to look like before the collapse. From the street, the parking lot looked the same but the mall has been completely demolished. All that is left is a parking lot and empty space filled with sandy mounds. The area seems small to have held a multi-level shopping center. My mother stayed in the car, while I stepped out to survey the area. Behind where the mall had stood, stands some sandy cliffs that look like they meld into the sandy mounds of the demolished building. As I looked around, taking in the sandy scenery, I thought about how this spot used to be a space full of life. I also thought about Lucie and Doloris, and how terrifying it must have been for them. Even though it was a bright sunny day, I felt a chill run through me.
Before visiting the mall collapse site, we had stopped at Woodlands Cemetery. Woodlands is a very large non-denominational cemetery. The first thing I noticed as I walked among the tombstones, is that there are no upright stones. All the grave markers are flat to the ground. There are also a few small columbariums for cremated remains, or cremains. One section was particularly beautiful. Surrounded by tall trees and a layer of fallen leaves lies a large crescent-shaped columbarium. It’s away from the rest of the graves, in an almost wooded area, giving it peaceful seclusion.
I found my uncle almost immediately, buried beside his girlfriend. I remember going to his funeral when I was very young but had no recollection of the cemetery. My mother did remember, and talked about how there were not as many internments at the time. It made finding my aunt, my uncle’s first wife, a bit of a challenge. We didn’t end up finding her at all. We hope to go back this summer and try again. There were two more graves I was looking for while we were there; Lucie Aylwin and Doloris Perizzolo. I found Doloris, in the upper portion of the cemetery, which looked to be a new addition. She is buried next to her husband Giuseppe, who passed in 2011. Their marker is large, with ceramic photos. In her photo, she is holding a small dog and has a bright smile. I read their names out loud. It’s something I always do when visiting a cemetery. My little way of remembering them. Unfortunately, I was not able to locate Lucie Aylwin’s grave to pay my respects.
Next, we stopped at the Miners Memorial at Horne Lake. It’s a great place to stop and stretch your legs. It has multiple life-size statues and monuments, honoring the mining history of the town. We read each one and admired the artistry of the statues. The last monument we looked at, consisted of 3 large marble pillars that listed all the names of miners who had lost their lives on the job. As we stood taking in the lake view and the monuments, my eyes landed on a name. It jumped out at me. Giuseppe Perizzolo – Doloris’s husband. He had been a miner. It felt like a very serendipitous moment. I recognized his name from having just visited the cemetery. It was nice to see that he was memorialized.
After that discovery, we took a walk on the Horne Lake trail, which circles the lake. It looked to be a long trail, so we only walked half of it. We made a mental note to visit the Miner Memorial again and walk the whole trail when we return. We had one more stop on our list—visiting the fire tower. It was not at all what I had expected. I expected a tower with many stairs to reach the top. Thankfully, that was not the case. Only a few stairs lead to the top for a magnificent view of the land. We noticed more trails while we were there. Elliot Lake has an extensive trail system that gives access to all the beautiful views it has to offer.
On our way home, we stopped at a couple more cemeteries. We ended up visiting five cemeteries that day. It did make for a long day, but it was a day full of adventure. During a pandemic, visiting places close to us has been a great way to get out of the house, and have a change of scenery. Even a few hours can make a big difference. I enjoyed my visit to Elliot lake and look forward to going back this summer.
There is a bit of a thrill in discovering a new cemetery.
While doing some photo editing of some photos I took on my vacation, I discovered a cemetery in Sturgeon Falls that I did not know existed. I noticed in my photo files that I had the name of the Sturgeon Falls cemetery entered incorrectly. While looking into the appropriate cemetery name, I discovered there is another hidden cemetery in Sturgeon Falls—Union Cemetery.
This is super exciting to me because I had thought that I had photographed all of the cemeteries close to me. And this gives me an excuse to go on yet another mini road trip!
By using Google Maps and street view, I was able to locate the entrance and get a glimpse of what the cemetery actually looks like. The cemetery grounds look quite large! The entrance also looks like it’s a little bit tucked away, so it will be very interesting to find this location in person and photograph it.
Images from Google Maps
Discovering a new cemetery can be just as exciting as actually visiting it. I can’t wait till the next time I am in Sturgeon Falls!