Old Canadian Cemeteries: Places of Memory by Jane Irwin, photographed by John de Visser
In her Acknowledgments section, Ms. Irwin notes two reasons why cemeteries are fascinating.
“Cemeteries are set apart from the mundane pressures of our everyday lives, they have an inherent power to provide a brief respite from temporary concerns and a chance to see our own life in a longer perspective.”
Her second observation warns that, “Searching out favorite themes…may develop into a kind of addiction,” comes too late for this writer, as finding new carvings has turned into a serious hobby, not unlike bird watching.
Luckily, Old Canadian Cemeteries indulges both of these cravings.
Beginning with the chapter, Changing Burial Traditions, one travels from the 7,500 years-old burial cairn in L’Anse Amour in Southern Labrador to the ghost town graveyards in Ancestral Ties to the six Lawson grandchildren at the Old Burying Ground, Halifax to multicultural Ross Bay Cemetery in Exploring Canada’s Historic Cemeteries. Eventually, the reader brushes up on Canadian history in National Memory.
Irwin also writes on stone inscriptions, the highlight being the Puzzle Stone in Ontario’s Methodist Rushes Cemetery, created in 1865 by Samuel Bean for wives Henrietta and Susanna. It’s meant to be read in a circulating, outward pattern.
Ultimately, the best chapter is Old Canadian Cemeteries, A Visual Tour. Here, the photos speak for themselves through various shades of light and weather. They are best reflected in a shot of the Holy Sepulchre cemetery in Ontario, where rows of white, cowled figures silently stand guard over their assigned memorial stones.