The holidays are almost upon us! We’ve been blanketed by a lot of snow recently, here in Northern Ontario, so it definitely looks and feels like a winter wonderland. My neighborhood has been transformed into a little Christmas village with many of my neighbors decorating their front lawns with holiday blow-up characters, red and green candy canes, and twinkling lights galore. I am not one for Christmas decorations, I haven’t put up a Christmas tree in years, but I do enjoy the twinkling lights.
I don’t have a long post for you today, as I’m thick in the middle of that holiday hustle and bustle that always seems to hit immediately before the holidays. So for my last blog post before Christmas, I thought I would share some of the Christmas-themed grave goods I have found while wandering my local cemeteries.
If you have been following me on social media at all, you most likely have seen me talk about grave goods. I often share some of the more unique things I have found on my cemetery travels.
Grave goods is a term used to describe items that have been left at a graveside by mourners.
I always find it heartwarming when I see Christmas spirit spread to a cemetery. Although seeing candy canes and Christmas trees in July is always a surprise.
I wrote this post around this same time, in 2020, but it never made it to the blog. At that time, the pandemic would have been in full force, just at the beginning of our quarantine. This would also have been one of the first cemetery trips of that year, after a long winter. I think I was just beginning to seriously focus on my website and blog, and I’ll be honest – it was off to a slow start with sporadic posting. That’s probably why this was never posted. I figured since this was written around the same time, only a couple of years ago, it is worth posting now.
Last weekend, I ventured outside to explore a couple of my local cemeteries. It has been a long winter of being cooped up inside, dreaming about summer cemetery road trips. We had our first sunny weekend, so I took advantage. I figured it is also a safe place to practice physical distancing during these weird times.
The first stop I made was at the Civic Memorial Cemetery, also known as Sudbury Municipal Cemetery. This cemetery is right down the street from me, and the one I have spent the most time in. As a kid, I would spend a lot of time walking around this cemetery looking for ghosts. It’s a newer cemetery, with modern stones and newly built mausoleums. The entrance to this cemetery was recently renovated when they widened Second Avenue. They installed a shiny new archway, similar to the archway at Lasalle Cemetery. They also cleaned up the winding path that leads into the cemetery. I have close family and friends in this cemetery, so I paid them a visit. I also stopped to take some photos of one of the more interesting monuments in this cemetery. The resting place of, I think, the founder of Ellero Monuments, a local headstone maker. The monument is a very detailed sculpture of a man sitting on a rock-cut with tools in his hands, working on breaking the stone. It’s very large and encased in a plexiglass box. To really see the detail, you need to almost press your face against the plexiglass. Over the years the box has become clouded, giving it a spooky silhouette.
The second cemetery I visited was the Lasalle Cemetery. One of the larger cemeteries in my city. I try to visit different parts of the grounds every time I visit since it is so large. This time, I focused on the stones closest to the street. There are many smaller statues among the stones there. Unfortunately, this cemetery has the most toppled stones, either because of vandalism or ground shift. There is a mix of modern and old stones here, and many feature cameos; ceramic photographs of the deceased.
My last stop of the day was Eyre Cemetery, the oldest and my favorite of my local cemeteries. It’s a smaller one, filled with only older stones. At this point, the weather had changed on me and was drizzling a little bit, but I did not let that stop me. I wandered the entire left side of the grounds, in search of a few Find a Grave requests. I came up empty-handed though. Some of the stones are so worn that they are not legible. I hope that I did not pass them by because of this. I will need to go back and make some inquiries with cemetery staff, to make sure they are not forgotten. The rain started to pour down more heavily so I decided to pack it in at that point.
Overall it was a lovely outing. I got some exercise and fresh air, as well as some new photos. Surprisingly, I did see a lot of people out and about. The groundskeepers were busy maintaining the grounds at each cemetery I visited, and there were visitors at each cemetery as well. I guess in these quarantine times, cemeteries, which are usually quiet and mournful, are being used more as a green space. I saw an elderly couple strolling arm in arm and people walking their dogs. It was different for me, as I tend to be the only living person when I visit.
Looking back, it seems as though many people were discovering cemeteries. I hope those who may have thought it taboo to visit cemeteries, found that they are beautiful green spaces and outdoor art galleries. I think a lot of people were forced to look into their own backyards during quarantine, to find outlets while things like travel were not possible. I know I was very grateful that one of my favorite pass times was still available to me. I was even able to share my love of cemeteries with my mother! Even though COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted in my area, I think I will be staying close to home again this summer.
Did you spend a lot of time in cemeteries during the height of the pandemic? Did you discover any new cemeteries? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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!