This week, I had originally planned on posting a cemetery recipe for Red Lantern Cheese dip, from the gravestone of Debra Ann Nelson. But, I had some issues finding the correct ingredients and the recipe didn’t turn out as expected. So I will continue my hunt for the elusive ingredients.
Instead, this week I will share a collection of Dove’s. If you have been following this blog for a little while, you may have noticed that I sometimes like to share collections of my favorite photos of some of the cemetery symbols I find on my cemetery walks. I have been photographing cemeteries for over 15 years, and in that time I have noticed some repetition of certain symbols and motifs. I find cemetery symbolism so interesting and love looking at what the different variations of a symbol mean.
Doves are not as common a symbol as lambs in Northern Ontario, but they represent similar ideas. Doves commonly are a symbol of peace, but when used in funerary art, they also represent innocence and the Holy Spirit. Doves may appear in many forms, such as sculpture or bas-relief. There are also different variations of doves, and each carries additional meaning.
Sometimes a dove may be depicted carrying something in its mouth. A dove with an olive branch in its mouth may represent peace. This symbolism also can be traced to Ancient Greece. A dove carrying a broken flower bud in its mouth often symbolizes a life cut short.
The position and angle of the dove may have some significance as well. A dove flying downward is thought to represent the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven.
Another variation of a dove you might find, is a dove that looks like it might be dead. A dead dove sadly represents a life cut short. This variation may also be found lying in front of, or on top of a tree stump; which is also a symbol of a life cut short.
Have you come across a different variation of this symbol? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister
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.
On my vacation, my Mother and I took a road trip to North Bay, Callander, and Corbeil Ontario to explore and experience the story of Canadian folk figures, the Dionne Quintuplets.
“On May 28, 1934, five identical girls were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne, a Franco-Ontario family in the tiny community of Corbeil, Ontario. Their births were a miracle of its time during the difficult Depression, the only quintuplets to survive more than a few days. Midwives Douilda (Donalda) Legros and Mary-Jeanne Lebel delivered the first 3 of the quintuplets, and Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe assisted with the final 2 births. The five girls – Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie – became a “good news” story in this challenging time, drawing worldwide attention to the area, and attracting 3 million people to “Quintland” to see and hear the girls at play. Hollywood told their story in 3 movies, while endorsements for commercial products became commonplace.” – Dionne Quints Heritage Board website
In North Bay, we visited the Quint House Museum. This was the actual family home where the quintuplets were born. It houses a lot of original artifacts; such as the bed where they were born, cribs, children’s beds, children’s clothing, and their baby carriages. It also contains a lot of original photos of when the children were born, while they were growing up at Quintland, and also a lot of the advertising that was created using their image. Everything from baby food to GM motors was advertised using the Dionne Quintuplets. Dr. Dafoe profited from the twin’s fame. At the Quint house museum, we were given a tour of the house and memorabilia by an actual relative of the quintuplets, their nephew. His mother was one of the siblings of the quintuplets, making Elzire Dionne his grandmother. He spoke about the quintuplets and what happened to them as a tragedy and preferred to not mention the doctor, as he sees him as a villain in their story.
The Dionne Quintuplets were separated from their family and exploited by the “good” Doctor. As well as extensive advertising using the girl’s image, Quintland was built. A large building complex where people from all over the world came to see the quintuplet girls. The courtyard of Quintland was encircled by two-way mirrors, where visitors could pay a fee to watch the girls as they played. After about 9 years, the girls left Quintland and returned to live with their parents. They had other siblings, as the Dionne’s had had 14 children in total. The quints were essentially strangers to their own family, after having been separated from them for so long. It must have been just as strange for their siblings, hearing about their famous sisters, but not knowing them at all. I can only imagine the strain that would put on the family.
After visiting the Quint House Museum, we traveled a little bit down the road to Callander to visit the Callander Bay Heritage Museum and Alex Dufresne Gallery. This museum is housed in what was once the office of Dr. Alan Roy Dafoe. A turnstile that was used to admit and count attendees to Quintland sits outside. The Quint House Museum also has one of these turnstiles. The house is very rustic and feels like a home office. It would be really interesting if they had a floor plan of what the office looked like when it was in use. This museum also contains a lot of memorabilia of the quintuplets. Some of the more interesting items include lead sculptures of the quintuplet’s faces that were mounted on a clock tower. The sculptures are quite terrifying. There are other exhibits at this museum as well, such as a 1920s barbershop, some military items, as well as logging and mining history.
Visiting the Quint House Museum first made walking around Dr. Dafoe’s office a little awkward. Knowing the pain and strife he had put the family through, made the experience a tad unpleasant. The Callander Bay Heritage Museum also holds an art gallery. We took a little detour from the quintuplet exploration and looked at the beautiful artwork they had on display. We also visited the gift shop and purchased a few things; in particular a recent book on the history of the quintuplets called The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets by Sara Miller.
After grabbing some lunch at a delicious little chip stand in Callander, we made our way to Corbeil to visit the Sacred Heart cemetery. As we traveled down a little dirt road and came to the entrance of what looked like the driveway to a farm, I started to realize something.
I had been to this cemetery before!
The cemetery is on farm land. Next to the chicken coops and tractors is a fenced-in cemetery with a bright orange diamond sign that says “cemetery entrance”. As we drove up, a man was outside working on his tractor. I rolled down my window and asked if it would be OK if we visited the cemetery. He smiled and nodded, saying that it was fine, so we proceeded to go in. It’s a medium-sized cemetery with a mix of older and newer stones. It looks like it is still an active cemetery as well. The Dionne’s have a small family plot. Oliva and Elzire, the Father and Mother of the quintuplets are buried there. Along with four of their children, one of which is one of the quintuplets Emilie. FindaGrave.com lists two of the quintuplets as being buried here, but I was only able to find the headstone of Emilie.
I have photographed this cemetery before. In 2019 some friends and I did a road trip to North Bay and the area, where we visited the local cemeteries. I’ve even taken pictures of Emilie’s stone. At the time, I recognized the name Dionne, which is why I took the photo. But I never made the connection between the two.
This time I had a postcard with me from the Callander Bay Heritage Museum that showed the quintuplets with Dr. Dafoe. I took photos of the postcard with Emilie’s stone, with no issue. I attempted to take a photo with the postcard on the tombstone for Oliva and Elzire Dionne. The wind was not cooperating and blew the postcard away. After several attempts of trying to get a shot with the postcard, I put it away. Maybe it was the wind, whipping up at an in-opportune moment, or maybe it was the spirit of Oliva and Elzire, refusing to take a photo with an image of the man who took their children away.
There are only two of the quintuplets still living, Annette and Cécile. Emilie and (supposedly) Yvonne are the only quintuplets buried in Corbeil, their home town. The rest of the quintuplets are buried in Montreal. I was curious as to where Dr. Dafoe was laid to rest—he is buried in Toronto.
This was a very educational trip. It was interesting to dive a little deeper into the true story of the Dionne quintuplets. Being able to speak to a blood relative and learn how the family was affected by what happened was truly heart-wrenching and eye opening. The Dionne Quintuplets still draw a crowd, but now for a different reason. In the 1930s it was seen as a miracle and amazing, and no one batted an eye at the fact that these children were taken away from their parents. Today, people are still interested in the Dionne Quintuplets, but the narrative is much different.
If you are interested in learning more about the story of the Dionne Quintuplets, you can visit these links below:
I find it fascinating and love trying to decipher the symbols and iconography I find. Symbolism can be found adorning tombstones and mausoleums. These symbols can range from simple designs to very elaborate ones. The meaning of symbols is a language in itself, and you can tell a lot about a person by what is on their tombstone. Religion, hobbies, clubs, and organizations can all be found represented, among other things, by symbols and icons within a cemetery.
Whenever I spot a symbol I have not seen before, I always turn to my handy reference books. If I can’t find what I am looking for there, the internet is the next best place to look. My go-to reference book is Stories in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography by Douglas Keister. I have had this book forever, and always go back to it when I see something new. It’s a very in-depth look at what can be found in a cemetery. It covers architecture, sculpture, symbols, as well as acronyms and initials. I highly recommend it!
I recently added another reference book to my library, Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A field guide for historic graveyards by Tui Snider. I have just started getting into this one and I can tell right away it will be a great resource. It has some really in-depth sections on hand symbolism as will as crosses and even statuary.
So what kind of symbols and iconography can you find in your local cemeteries? For the most part religious symbolism is very common. Below are some examples of some common and not-so-common symbols you can find in Canadian cemeteries:
I love finding hands on a tombstone. Hands are shown in many different forms; pointing downward, pointing up, shaking hands, etc. the list goes on! And all of these different positions have different meanings. One of my favorite examples of hands was found in Terrace Lawn Cemetery in North Bay. These stones have weathered beautifully. This hand is pointed downward, with a finger extended which can symbolize God reaching down to collect a soul. The extended finger can mean a sudden or unexpected death. This hand below, is also holding a chain. A broken link in the chain can represent a family or marriage broken by death.
Lambs are a very common sight in cemeteries. These are sometimes accompanied by a tree stump, implying a life cut short. The Lamb itself represents “the lamb of God” and innocence. Sadly, lambs are most often found at the grave of a young child or infant.
Skulls are very rare to come by in my local Canadian cemeteries. I have only found two in all of my local travels, but I am always on the look out for them. They are more commonly found in other places of the world, like the United States and Europe. Most obviously a skull represents death. A skull found at the base of a cross is thought to be symbolic of the skull of Adam.
I have many great examples of symbols and iconography in my photography. If you are interested in seeing more and learning about their meanings, I share them every Friday on Instagram and Facebook.
I would also love to hear about the symbols you have found on your cemetery travels. Do you have a favorite? I would love to read about them in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A field guide to historic cemeteries by Tui Snider
Storie in Stone: A field guide to cemetery symbolism and iconography by Douglas Keister