Cemetery symbolism in Sudbury District Cemeteries

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

For me, symbolism is one of the many things that make visiting cemeteries so interesting. I have been photographing them for over 15 years, but I still continue to find unique symbols that have me reaching for my reference books. I have lived in Sudbury almost all of my life, so I have spent a fair amount of time traveling in Northern Ontario to visit cemeteries. I have yet to visit ALL the cemeteries in the Sudbury district, but as of May of this year, I can now say that I have visited all 25 in the Greater City of Sudbury. I have noticed a repetition of certain symbols and motifs and wanted to share some of my findings.

The majority of the cemeteries found here are of a religious denomination. You can often find a variety of human statues in these cemeteries, representing Saints and Angels or symbolizing grief and mourning. Another common religious symbol is the cross. There are so many varieties of crosses, each with various meanings. You could write a whole book on just cross symbolism alone! Some of the more common crosses you can find are the Agony cross, with its pointed ends that represent the agony of the crucifixion, or the Glory or Rayed cross, its rays representing the glory of God. 

I have also noticed quite a few handmade stones. I find handmade stones to be beautiful, full of love, and have a unique charm. They come in all shapes and forms. Some are hand-poured cement, with stones and tokens embedded in them. They are usually adorned with hand lettering, either hand painted or hand carved, or might have handmade plaques affixed to them.

Another common symbol you will find in the area is the lamb. This is another religious symbol, representing the “lamb of God”, as well as innocence and sacrifice. Lambs are most commonly found on the graves of small children and infants. Lambs are often depicted laying down, sometimes in front of a tree stump. The tree stump symbolizes a life cut short. 

Another common symbol found on children’s graves in the Sudbury district is the dove. Similar to the lamb, a dove represents peace, innocence, and purity. One of the variations on the dove symbol you might find is a dove that looks dead. This symbolizes a life cut short.  

In my experience, books are not quite as common as some other symbols in our area, but they are still one of my favorite cemetery symbols. I’m an avid reader, so seeing a book on a gravestone always makes me smile. I have seen many variations of books in the area. Books can be decorative or symbolic. Some gravestones use a book as a device to display the name of the deceased, along with dates. An open book can sometimes represent emotions, open to the world, or symbolize a life that has been cut short, before getting to the last page. Another variation you might find, is a closed book, usually at the top of a truncated obelisk. A closed book symbolizes a long life, lived to the last chapter. Some books represent the Holy Bible and might be labeled as such. 

This is just a small sampling of the more common cemetery symbols you will find in our local cemeteries. I look forward to seeing what other common symbols might be found in our district cemeteries, as I continue to explore them. 

Thanks for reading!

Celebrating the last weekend of October

October is coming to an end. This post-pandemic Halloween season has felt a bit more normal because of all the fun spooky activities happening. It’s been a whirlwind of a month for me, between pumpkin patch activities, a haunted holiday, watching way too many horror films, and visiting cemeteries. I even put up my own little front lawn cemetery for the trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. 

This year, I was able to visit some cemeteries a little farther away from me, in Cobalt, Haileybury, Huntsville, and Penetanguishene. I am looking forward to sharing more about those visits in upcoming posts. You can read about my visit to the Beck House and the Presbyterian Cemetery here.

I also had a chance to participate in this year’s Cemetery Scavenger hunt, put on by TalkDeath. I wrote a bit about TalkDeath and their annual event last week. You can read it here, in case you missed it. This cemetery scavenger hunt takes place globally, so you can participate from anywhere. All you have to do is visit a local cemetery. In some areas, you can participate with TalkDeath members in person. This year there were members at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, and General Protestant Cemetery in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

My mother and I joined in from Park Lawn Cemetery in Sudbury, Ontario. It was so much fun! Although we were the only ones in the cemetery searching for clues, it was still a nice way to spend some time on a Sunday afternoon. Park Lawn Cemetery is not the oldest cemetery in the city, as it was established in 1924. But it is a large one, which I thought would be an advantage to searching for clues. I may have been half right. We started strong, finding a few clues pretty quickly, but we started getting stumped. We fanned out and as I searched I fell into my normal cemetery photography mode, which is a little bit slower-paced. I did eventually manage to find 12 of the 20 clues, but it was way too late to place in the top 5. I think the fastest time may have been 12 minutes!

I was no where close to that time, but that’s ok! It was a great opportunity to get outside, enjoy one of the last beautiful weekends of October, visit a cemetery and spend some time with my mother. We spent about an hour in the cemetery. After I submitted my photos, we wandered around a little bit, enjoying the weather and looking at the beautiful stones. We also found some interesting epitaphs that I think will require some research, later on, to learn their story.

I think this years Scavenger Hunt was a success! I can’t wait to participate again next year! It was a really fun way to close the cemetery season for me. 

If you are not aware, November usually brings with it some pretty cold weather here in Northern Ontario, and that means lots of snow. I’m not fond of winter, so I tend to stay indoors during the colder months. That means my cemetery visits are pretty much done for this year.

That doesn’t mean that you will stop seeing content from me! 

In the colder months, I focus on editing the monstrous number of photos taken over the summer. I’ll be doing portfolio updates in the coming months, adding to what’s currently on the website. I’ll also be doing more work uploading memorials to Find a Grave, helping clean up their cemetery map information for Ontario, and transcribing photos. I’ll also be sharing more cemetery road trip stories from over the summer, and cemetery book reviews. I’ll also be taking some time to bake and share some more tombstone recipes. I don’t think I have made one since the spring!

That being said, I hope that you have had a wonderful October, were able to enjoy some fun activities throughout the month, and got to visit a cemetery or two! I would love to hear about your October adventures in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

25 Cemeteries in the City of Greater Sudbury

A couple of weekends ago I was able to cross something off my cemetery bucket list—visiting all 25 cemeteries in the care of the City of Greater Sudbury. For today’s blog post, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at some of these cemeteries. 

The City of Greater Sudbury is centrally located in Northeastern Ontario. It sits on the Canadian Shield in the Great Lakes Basin and is composed of a combination of urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness environments. Greater Sudbury is 3,627 square kilometers in area, making it the largest municipality in Ontario, geographically.1 Making up this municipality are many small communities that over time, have been amalgamated into the City of Greater Sudbury. Almost all of these little communities have their own cemeteries, that now fall under the care of the city.2

Each of these cemeteries has their own charm and has been very interesting to visit. Some are newer cemeteries with very modern stones, that are still very active, like Valley East and Park Lawn cemeteries. Some of them have tombstones marking persons who are still living. Those always make me think—do the owners visit their gravestones? Other cemeteries are pioneer cemeteries, like Ruff Pioneer Cemetery. Those types of cemeteries hold a lot of history. I wrote about my visit to the Ruff Pioneer Cemetery, you can read it here

Two of the oldest of these cemeteries, I believe, are the Eyre and Anglican cemeteries. They are directly beside each other, and there is no distinct line to separate the two. The earliest grave is from 1890.3 Both of these cemeteries can tell you a lot about our city. You can find the namesakes for the Gatchell and Lockerby areas of town, as well as the grave of Frederick J. Eyre, who discovered one of the first mines for the Canadian Copper Company.3 Sudbury, at its roots is a mining and railroad town.

Some of these cemeteries were a challenge to find and can be hard to access. Ruff Pioneer Cemetery would be more easily accessible with a four-wheeler. Make sure you have plenty of water with you for that adventure in the woods. The Coniston Cemetery is a little bit more accessible now, as a cemetery trail has been created, linking it to the Jean Tellier hiking trail. The first time I visited that one, we searched for a while before deciding to ask for directions from some locals at a convenience store. They were more than happy to help and even drew me a map. They also shared some stories from their childhood, of how they would play in the cemetery and nearby woods. Coniston Cemetery is particularly interesting because there are no more headstones. There may have originally been wooden markers or fieldstones there that have since deteriorated or have been moved. It was an active cemetery from 1914 to 1926, when the parish that was taking care of the cemetery announced they could no longer do so.4 In 1997 a memorial plaque was installed honoring the deceased known to have been buried there. Another hard-to-find cemetery is the Wahnapitae Public Cemetery. This one is located on a hillside with seemingly hidden access. I tried to find it again recently, but with no luck. 

There are a few cemeteries on this list that I have visited many times, either due to their size or proximity to me. Lasalle Cemetery for instance is one of the largest cemeteries in the area. So large in fact that every time I have visited I have focused on a different section to photograph. Another large one, that just so happens to be down the street from me, is Civic Cemetery. This is an active cemetery, and I think has changed the most over time. It has a large columbarium, as well as some lovely winding paths. It’s a lovely rural cemetery. I have many friends of the family that are buried here.

I have enjoyed seeking out all these cemeteries. I feel like I can now say that I have truly explored my city. All these cemeteries hold small threads, connections, that all lead to the creation and growth of my hometown. I have learned a lot about the history of Sudbury, like the stories of some of its founders, the history behind street names, and much more. I would love to spend more time in some of them, to fully explore the grounds, look for specific graves and to see what else I can learn. 

Thanks for joining me, as I look back on this bucket list milestone. Do you have a bucket list? What’s on your list? I would love to read about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading! 


The full list of cemeteries:

  1. Anglican Cemetery
  2. Beaver Lake Cemetery
  3. Blezard Valley Cemetery
  4. Capreol Cemetery
  5. Chelmsford Protestant Cemetery
  6. Civic Memorial
  7. Coniston Cemetery
  8. Eyre Cemetery
  9. Good Shepherd Cemetery
  10. Grassy Lake Road Cemetery
  11. Lasalle Cemetery
  12. Long Lake Cemetery
  13. Maplecrest Cemetery
  14. McFarlane Cemetery
  15. Ruff Pioneer Cemetery
  16. St. Jacques Cemetery
  17. St. John’s Cemetery
  18. St. Joseph Cemetery
  19. St. Stanislaus Cemetery
  20. Valley East Cemetery
  21. Wahnapitae Catholic Cemetery
  22. Wahnapitae Public Cemetery
  23. Waters Cemetery
  24. Whitefish Catholic Cemetery
  25. Whitefish Public Cemetery

References:

  1. Greater Sudbury
  2. Greater Sudbury – Cemeteries
  3. Tales of lives lived | Sudbury.com
  4. Historical mystery: Just how many people were buried at the old Coniston cemetery? | Sudbury.com