Last weekend, my fiancé Chris and I spent the night at a haunted Airbnb. Since we’ve been engaged, it’s become an annual tradition to have a haunted holiday in October. Last year, we spent the night in room 105, the most haunted room at the Inn at the Falls in Bracebridge, Ontario. This year, we spent the night at the Beck House in Penetanguishene, Ontario.
The Beck House, built in 1885, is one of the oldest standing buildings in Simcoe County.1 It was built by Charles Beck, a wealthy lumber magnate, for his wife Emelia and their nine children. Charles, who also went by the name Carl, was mayor of the town from 1892 to 1895. In 1903, he was the first person to buy an automobile in the area.2 Sadly, two of his nine children died in the house, at a very young age. Emelia, their mother, also passed away young.3
Today the house has been converted into apartments for permanent residents, but two apartments on the top floor are available to rent through Airbnb. Many visitors to the Beck House have reported flickering lights, hearing footsteps, and unexplained knocking. Some have even heard disembodied voices, and have felt invisible hands tucking them in at night.
The house itself is just beautiful and is quite imposing as you come up the driveway toward it. The red brick, slate roof, and Queen Anne revival design give off elegant but spooky vibes.2 The house was decorated for Halloween when we arrived, which added to the spooky atmosphere, with pumpkins on the stairs, and ravens perched on the veranda railing.
As you enter the house, you are greeted with large whiteboards that are covered in writing from visitors’ past. Here, people shared their experiences, thanked the hosts, or just marked that they were there. Some guests recommend what to keep watch for, like the doll in the green dress, or suggested other interesting places to visit in the area, like the Asylum Point Cemetery.
Walking up to our room, was like walking through time. The beautiful winding staircase, with its creaky steps and beautiful hardwood railing, almost seems to go up forever. Among a smattering of Halloween decor, were more historical pieces, like vintage dresses and a spindle wheel. Even more gorgeous antiques waited for us inside apartment 302.
The apartment is beautifully decorated with antique furniture and items. I especially loved the decor in the red room, with its gold cherub lamps, antique rocking horse, and a gorgeous dressing table complete with an antique mirror. There is also a little alcove in the living room area that is filled with vintage hats and hat boxes. All these little touches add so much to the space and the experience of staying there.
We checked into our room at about 6 p.m., and after briefly exploring the space and dropping off our things we headed out for supper. We made mental notes of the position of the doll in the green dress, just in case. We had a lovely supper at Flynn’s Public House, downtown. The downtown core looks lovely, but we didn’t have much time to explore it. After supper, we visited Discovery Harbour to experience Pumpkinferno, a display of meticulously hand-carved jack-o-lanterns. It was magical! Walking among hundreds of lit jack-o-lanterns while Halloween-themed music plays is the epitome of Halloween. There were also some haunted attractions there to visit like Grim Reaper’s Grove, Macabre Mansion, and the Ghost Ship. They even had a little cemetery set up. After enjoying some hot chocolate, we headed back to the Beck House and apartment 302.
The doll in the green dress had not moved, and nothing seemed to be out of place. We settled in the living room to decompress from the days’ travels and adventures. In the dining room, there is a notebook filled with previous guests’ experiences, I read a few while we had some snacks. We decided to spend some time alone in each of the rooms, to see if a spirit may want to reach out. I took the red room, while Chris took the green room. I read with the light on, now and then peeking at the rocking horse to see if it was moving. Chris sat in the dark in the green room, with only the light from his phone as he scrolled on social media. He didn’t experience anything either. After a while, he joined me in the red room. We decided we would spend the night in the green room, as we could hear another tenant’s TV below us. Then we retired to bed.
I don’t generally sleep well when we stay at haunted locations. I think it’s because I am afraid to miss out on seeing something supernatural happen. Eventually, I did fall asleep. Nothing peculiar happened, although. At one point during the night, Chris seemed to be having bad dreams. He was moving a lot in his sleep and even cried out. At exactly that moment I heard a creak in the floorboards. It sounded like it came from the doorway of the bedroom. We had gone to sleep with the door open. I didn’t see anything in the doorway. The rest of the night was uneventful.
In the morning, we packed our things and said goodbye to the Beck House, but we still needed to say goodbye to Carl and Emelia. After a nice big breakfast at Phil’s Casual Dining, we stopped in to visit the Presbyterian Cemetery.
At the back of this pretty little cemetery is the Beck Mausoleum. It’s a rather imposing structure, flanked on either side by lovely white planters. The door is firmly locked, with a charming cast iron gate protecting it. I’m not certain of who rests within the mausoleum, but I would think that Charles, Emelia, and some their children, if not all, are laid to rest here. I thanked Carl and Emelia for our lovely visit in their house and paid my respects. Directly in front of the mausoleum, there are many grave markers for later generations of Becks. This is the only mausoleum in this small cemetery, standing like a sentinel keeping watch.
We did visit a couple of other spots in Penetanguishene, but that will be a story for another day. I hope you enjoyed this Haunted Cemetery Road Trip story. Have you ever spent the night in a haunted hotel? Do you have any October traditions? I would love to read about them in the comments!
Happy October and as always, thank you for reading!
It’s October, so I wanted to continue my theme of spooky blog posts. Today, I wanted to talk a little bit about haunted cemeteries, and in particular my local haunted cemetery.
Just like Elm Street, every town has one, right?
We often see supposedly haunted cemeteries in TV and movies, and there are MANY stories from all over the world about them. Some of the most haunted cemeteries that come to mind are Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans and Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery in Chicago.
Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, Louisiana is very well known, not only for its above-ground crypts but also as the final resting place of a famous Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau. Her ghost has been seen wandering the rows of crypts at night. I’m sure you’ve also heard of the ritual that visitors often perform at her grave, in which they draw an X on her crypt, and turn around three times in hopes of having their wish granted. People also leave small offerings at her graveside.
Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery in Chicago is also an allegedly haunted location. “In the 1920s and ’30s, the cemetery’s pond was reportedly a dumping ground for bodies murdered by Chicago’s organized crime families. Now the area is reportedly haunted by numerous ghosts, including a lady in white holding an infant, a black dog, and strangely, a phantom farmhouse.”1 You may have seen the reportedly authentic photo from 1991, of a ghostly woman sitting on a gravestone. This amazing infrared photo, if it is indeed authentic, was taken by Judy Huff, a member of the Ghost Research Society.2 The photo was taken during an investigation at Bachelor’s Grove, and there was reportedly no one in the area when the photo was taken.
Looking a little closer to home, one of my local cemeteries is said to be haunted. I have visited the Lasalle Cemetery many times, during the day and in the evening. I have never had any experiences myself, but I do recall hearing many stories about it while I was growing up.
I remember being at a sleepover when I was in high school. There was a group of us, staying up late and watching movies. The conversation turned to scary stories and my friend’s older sister stepped in to tell us a story that had happened to her while visiting Lasalle Cemetery at midnight with some friends. Thinking back, this was a long time ago so the details are a little fuzzy. I do remember she had said she was there with a couple of her friends. They had driven into the cemetery through the entrance that takes you directly to a large cross with three statues.
They got out of the car to look around, all the while making jokes and laughing. She was uncomfortable and creeped out a little by the statues and the large cross that loomed before them. She said something about looking at the statues and getting an eerie feeling. Her friends continued to make jokes and her uneasiness grew. She suddenly felt the need to get away from there, and when she happened to look up at the cross and statues, the statues had all changed! While before they had pious faces, with their eye looking upward to Jesus on the cross, they now were looking directly at her with grimacing faces. She screamed and got back into the car, screaming at her friends that it was time to leave.
Needless to say, the story freaked us out! But did it happen? Or was this a tall tale told by an older sister trying to scare her younger sister and her friends?
In 2018 I came across an interesting article promoting a local Haunted Walk for October. The article talked about local haunted locations around town, Lasalle Cemetery was one of them. My interest peaked. The article doesn’t have a lot to say about the haunting in the cemetery, aside from reported “ghost duels”, which sound incredible.3 The article did suggest that there were more stories to be found on Reddit.
In the Sudbury Ghosts thread on Reddit, many people have chimed in with personal ghost stories, like hearing strange sounds coming from the cemetery, or seeing running figures that seem to disappear into thin air. Someone in that thread also mentioned the “Grave Guardian” and asked if it’s just an urban legend.4 That’s the second time I’ve heard that name.
Years ago, It came up during a conversation with a co-worker. He mentioned this Grave Guardian, but I don’t recall any of the specifics. It’s interesting to note that after some online research, I have yet to find any stories or experiences about this supposed spirit. Apparently, there is a “legendary” story revolving around the Grave Guardian, but I haven’t found it.
One of the best references I have found so far is from an article by Week in Weird, about a ghostly video that was taken at Lasalle Cemetery. That article, written in 2016 states that Lasalle Cemetery is known for being “incredibly paranormally-active” with a “legendary” story. Unfortunately, these stories must have been kept in private circles as there is not much to be found online, aside from reports of disembodied voices and a theory that the Grave Guardian is connected to the largest gravestone in the cemetery.5 Even the video that the article references has since been taken down. The video supposedly shows a fully-formed apparition manifesting behind the videographer. The consensus seems to be that this video was legitimate, and not a hoax. I reached out to the video creator but didn’t get a response.
In my research, I found another video about Lasalle Cemetery, that had also been taken down. This video was created by Golden Ghost, a local paranormal investigation team. I reached out to them to find out why the video had been taken down, and if they had any stories they could share. I heard back from Austyn, the Team Leader and CEO of Golden Ghost. He had some interesting stories to share with me. He has also heard the stories about the Grave Guardian but has yet to make contact. The closest his team has gotten is hearing mentions of the Guardian through the spirit box they use during investigations. He went on to tell me about some interesting experiences he has had with his team, and what he would call an evil entity. This entity seems to be attached to a certain section of the cemetery. That was why the video was taken down; to keep the location secret in hopes of protecting others from encountering this malicious spirit.
Could that area of the cemetery be the one with the largest gravestone? Could this evil entity and the Grave Guardian be the same spirit? This is just speculation of course, as the stories of the Guardian have been fairly neutral. If you can call them stories. There are no real stories to be found about this supposed Grave Guardian. This leads me to think that it’s just that, a tidbit of a story that people share when conversation turns to ghosts and the supernatural. People have heard of it, but no one has any personal stories to share, except for the name, which gets shared again and again. It is a good name for a ghost, after all.
Isn’t that how urban legends start? What do you think?
It’s my favorite time of year again, October! I love crisp sweater weather and crunchy leaves on the ground. Dead leaves are one of my absolute favorite smells. It’s also the best time for leaf peeping, and of course, visiting cemeteries.
This is also the time that you will see Cemetery Tours being advertised. The gorgeous fall colors are a lovely contrast to the beautiful grey tombstones. Cemetery Tours are a great opportunity to photograph a new cemetery, learn about local history and take a nice cemetery stroll. You may even hear a ghost story or two.
Cemetery Tours are usually put on by local Museums or Historical Groups. The tour guide will lead you through the cemetery, explaining the history of the place as well as highlighting the stories of historical figures buried within it. Sometimes they will also talk about famous and infamous graves. Some tours have guides that dress up and use a lantern to light the way, while other tours have actors dressed in period clothing that will tell the life stories from the deceased’s graveside. Some tours are self-guided. On this type of tour, you will be provided with a map with points of interest marked on it. You can do these tours at your own pace.
I love cemetery tours! You can learn a lot about the history of your local cemeteries, and notable graves and may even learn some obscure trivia along the way. It’s also lots of fun to meet people with similar interests on these tours.
So for today’s blog post, I wanted to share some Cemetery Tours that are happening this fall in Ontario.
It’s that time of the year where everyone loves hearing scary stories, but real history holds some of the scariest and unnerving stories. Join us as we take a trip through the real history of the House of Industry and Refuge and explore some of the more unsettling stories of inmates and staff that called this place home.
The Museum which is housed in the Old Poorhouse building still looks after the graves and these tours are an opportunity to tell the stories of those that lived, died, and still remain on the site.
Enjoy a lantern lit tour of the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge (or Poorhouse) Cemetery. Between 1877-1947 the building was the Wellington County Poorhouse and over 600 people died on site during those years. Those that had no family or friends to claim their body were buried here, and 271 burials took place over those years.
Please be aware there are no accessibility routes for this tour. This tour is designed for a 14+ audience.
Tours begin at 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm on the front steps of the Wellington County Museum.
The Stories in the Stones Tours tell fascinating stories through free guided walking tours at Hamilton Cemetery each Saturday between May to November.
Local historian and storyteller Robin McKee guides you through historic Hamilton Cemetery with various themed tours he has created. Themed tours will include early settlers such as Robert Land and George Hamilton, victims of the Desjardins Railway Disaster.
Tours start at 11 a.m. at the Cemetery Gatehouse (777 York Blvd.) across from Dundurn Castle and run for approximately 1.5 hours. Tours take place rain or shine and tours and dates are subject to change.
They also offer a History Unearthed historical walking tour.
Come and explore the dark side of Kenora’s past in the largest graveyard in Northern Ontario— the Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
The tour looks at Kenora’s history through the lens of true crime tales, and murder mysteries, the Ontario-Manitoba border war, sickness and disease, and one of the most famous (and grisliest) bank robberies in Canadian history. These true stories of real people combine to give a history of Kenora like you’ve never heard before.
We’ll explore these topics and more on this guided tour in Kenora’s silent city of the dead.
Takes place on Saturday, October 8 and Sunday, October 9.
1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. start times. $15 / person
Join us at the historic Mount Pleasant Cemetery for a tour diving into the history of the cemetery’s architecture and the unique ecosystem that make the grounds beautiful and serene. Learn details about the culture of death during the Victorian era, and the art and architecture carved into the monuments and gravestones at the Mount Pleasant site.
October 15, 16, 22, 23 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m.
These tours offer a unique opportunity to discover Niagara Falls through a visit to one of the most historic cemeteries in Canada. Led by a costumed guide, the human drama unfolds as guests wander the grounds and happen upon theatrical performances that provide a glimpse into the lives of some of the people from our City’s history.
Ticket price $12 per person or $10 per museum member. Tickets must be purchased in advance; rain or shine and they are non-refundable.
Post tour refreshments and open house are offered at Battle Ground Hotel Museum just across the street.
This tour features only dark history and strange stories of Canada’s Prettiest Town, Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Featuring the true villain of the 1813 burning, a disgruntled British politician. With a disappearance that almost ended Freemasonry, the lover’s public execution and standing up to slavery with violence. This tour includes a leisurely walk through Ontario’s oldest cemetery, stories of Niagara’s daredevils and a hidden historic fort.
Greenwood Cemetery, “The People’s Cemetery,” is home to many of Owen Sound’s luminaries, from political leaders, ship captains, and Victoria Cross winners to remarkable women, African Americans, athletes, pioneers, and religious, business, and medical leaders. It was established in 1858.
The four self-guided walking tours available are Tour 1, 2, and 3 in Greenwood Cemetery and The People’s Cemetery tour.
The Beechwood Cemetery Stroll is a guided historical tour through Beechwood, the National Cemetery of Canada.
Tours are given on the last Sunday of each month, rain or shine, and begin at 1 p.m. Tours start from the Beechwood National Memorial Centre, located just off the Beechwood Avenue entrance.
The Beechwood Cemetery Stroll is led by trained volunteers and focuses on local history and notable features and sections within this National Historic Site. The tour is free of charge, and is family friendly. The route for the Stroll is a gentle 1.5 hour walk and is wheelchair accessible.
Tour St. James on the Lines Cemetery by lantern encountering many spirits of Penetanguishene’s past. Discover the significant history of the church. Light refreshments to be served after your tour.
Tickets are $10 per person for this one-night-only event, happening October 14. There are two start times to choose from; 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. At the time of this writing, the 8 p.m. tour is sold out, but there are a few tickets left for the 7 p.m. tour.
Re-living history through guided tours of Toronto’s beautiful, historic cemeteries. Cemetery tours are announced regularly on their Facebook page.
This is just a small selection of the cemetery tours being offered this year in Ontario. Some events will be announced closer to their event date and may be a one-night-only affair. I would recommend searching often for cemeteries near you so you don’t miss out on a fun opportunity. The other option is to do your own self-guided tour, by doing the research beforehand on historical, infamous, and famous graves.
Have you been on a cemetery walking tour? What was your experience? I would love to read about it in the comments.
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.
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!
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!
Since bringing my cemetery photography online, I have searched around for others who are interested in cemeteries. I was curious to see if there were others like me. I was pleasantly surprised that there is a large community of cemetery bloggers around the world.
For me, my cemetery blog is something I have wanted to do for years. Amassing a large archive of cemetery photos only to hoard them for myself seemed odd, and what about all the interesting stories that go along with finding these beautiful places? I have wanted to share them for a long time. I had tried on multiple occasions to start a regular blog to share my thoughts but I couldn’t be consistent with posting, until about last year. I had made some changes in my professional life that gave me more time for myself and my passion projects. I’m still working on making time to create blog content, but posting my photos is second nature now, and I enjoy seeing people’s reactions to my work.
The cemetery community is vast and a great resource of information, as well as being full of really nice folks. Here is a short list of some of my favorite cemetery bloggers:
Adventures in Cemetery Hopping blog by Traci Rylands. Traci has a great blog filled with great photos and lots of information on the cemeteries she visits. My favorite thing about Traci’s blog is her running tally that lists all of the cemeteries she has visited—it’s a lot! Something to aspire to, for sure.
A Grave Interest by Joy Neighbours. A self-proclaimed tombstone tourist, Joy’s blog is full of cemeteries and history, with a little spooky thrown in. On her blog, you can find in-depth histories of cemeteries as well as hauntings. One of my favorite posts she wrote is about spirit photography.
Cemetery Travel – Your take-along guide to graves & graveyards around the world by Loren Rhoads. Loren is the author of 199 Cemeteries to see before you die and Wish you were here. On her blog, she keeps us up-to-date on projects she is working on and offers insightful cemetery book reviews. She also has a series called Cemetery of the week, in which she highlights cemeteries from around the world.
Goth Gardening – Using gardening as a metaphor for living by Sharon Pajka. Sharon is a professor of English at Gallaudet University and the author of Women Writers Buried in Virginia. On her blog, she keeps us up-to-date about her current projects and her many cemetery adventures.
Shadows fly away by Carole Tyrrell. A self-proclaimed graveyard girl, Carole shares cemetery symbols of the month. She explores in-depth the history of their meanings, accompanied by gorgeous photos.
Spade & the Grave – Death and burial through an archaeological lens by Robyn S. Lacy. Robyn is an archaeologist, death scholar, archaeological illustrator, burial ground conservator, and heritage consultant. One of my favorite things on her blog is the Curious Canadian Cemeteries series. In it, she showcases unique historic graveyards and cemeteries across Canada.
The Cemetery Traveler by Ed Snyder. Ed is a photographer, specializing in cemetery statuary. On his blog, you can find beautiful cemetery photography, updates on what he has been up to, and entertaining stories about his cemetery adventures.
Witchcrafted Life by Autumn Zenith. Where witchcraft meets papercraft. Along side her beautiful handcrafted cards, Autumn also posts a cemetery journeys series. Her posts are incredibly well-researched, accented with beautiful photos.
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.
I love exploring cemeteries and looking at the different symbols used on tombstones. If you spend a lot of time in cemeteries, especially in Northern Ontario, you will start to notice the repetition of certain symbols and motifs. One of the most common symbols I find, is the lamb.
Lambs represent innocence and sacrifice, as they were often used in sacrificial ceremonies in ancient times1. Most often you will find lambs on the gravestones of infants and children, as Jesus is often depicted as a Shepherd, and also known as the “lamb of God”. Some variations can be found with lamb symbolism. A robed figure with a standing lamb beside it most often represents John the Baptist, who had called Jesus the “lamb of God”1. A lamb with a cross is known to represent the Lamb of God or Agnus Dei2, symbolizing the suffering of Christ as he sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind. Several other symbols may be found with a lamb to symbolize the lamb of God – such as a banner, halo, shepherds crook, and alpha and/or omega symbols2. A single seated lamb symbolizes an innocent soul. A seated lamb can sometimes be found sitting in front of a tree stump, this often symbolizes a life cut short.
Finding lambs is often sad, but they are a beautiful symbol. I have photographed many over the years and wanted to share some of them with you today.
Snider, Tui. Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards. 1st ed., Castle Azle Press, 2017.
Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. 1st ed., Gibbs Smith, 2004.