You Asked, We Answered – Union Cemetery

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Throughout the summer, the Oshawa Museum has been offering guided tours of Union Cemetery, Oshawa’s largest cemetery.  We are grateful to our partners at Union Cemetery and the City of Oshawa for this collaboration.  The tours have been geographic (exploring a certain section) and thematic (looking at a topic or theme and telling stories related to it).


While extensive research goes into writing the tours, and while I feel I have a good grasp of our community’s history, inevitably, I’m asked questions that I cannot answer! It happens on every outreach tour I have delivered, and I’m thankful for it because with every question I have to seek answers for I, in turn, learn and find new discoveries.

Our Weekly Union Cemetery Tours aren’t the only cemetery programs we’ve planned for 2018.  Our popular Scenes from the Cemetery, dramatic tour, is returning on September 8 & 9.  For more information on this event, please visit our website:

Here is a sample of the questions I was asked and couldn’t answer off the top of my head.

Was Alexandra Luke related to another prominent Oshawa family named Luke?

Alexandra Luke was descended from Oshawa’s other Luke family as well as the Ritson family. She was born in Montreal and her family settled in Oshawa in 1914; her father was J. Herbert Ritson Luke, and her paternal grandparents were Jesse Pascoe Luke and Mary Ritson.  Her parents and paternal grandparents are buried in Union Cemetery.  Luke is resting inside the Mausoleum with his husband, Ewart McLaughlin (the son of George McLaughlin).  Alexandra Luke is notable because she was a Canadian abstract painter and member of Painters 11.


Do we/why don’t we talk about the Wolfenden family on tour? Their monument is located in South Presbyterian.

The Wolfenden family were early grave carvers in Whitby. Because they are based in Whitby, we do not collect these stories, however, our Executive Director has undertaken extensive research into early gravestone motifs and markers. Perhaps, because of her interest, she may explore them and other local businesses in a future blog post!


When was Thornton Road named?

This question is a little difficult to answer because it was part of East Whitby Township, and our records for the township aren’t nearly as extensive as for the City of Oshawa. We can best date street names by looking at City Directories, but the township isn’t always captured in these. The first directory we saw with Thornton Road listed in 1951.


While on the topic of Rev. Thornton, where was his house located?

It was located near the eastern boundaries of where Union Cemetery is today.


When did crematoriums start in the area?

The first crematorium in Canada was in Montreal at the Mount Royal Cemetery; Mount Pleasant was the first in Ontario who started in 1933.


What do oak leaves on headstones represent?

Strength, endurance, a long life.




Why were the Nursing Sisters called ‘Sisters’?

Nursing Sisters were called as such because some of the earliest nurses belonged to religious orders.



We were asked if Richard and Mary (Robinson) Mothersill were of any relation to the Mothersills who had a photo business in Oshawa in the 1970s, and it turns out they were.  Mary was the daughter of John & Ruth Robinson, namesakes of Robinson House.

Symbols on the Stones in Union Cemetery

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

This Sunday, the Oshawa Community Museum is excited to offer our Annual Union Cemetery Tour.  Oshawa largest cemetery is also the final resting place to a great number of its early settlers and community leaders.  The stones are varied, as are the stories that accompany them.  On Sunday, we will discover the secrets behind the symbols on the stones, and learn about the societies, organizations, and affiliations denoted by the symbols. What can be learned by reading a stone, and what secrets are still to be discovered?

There are many symbols and iconography that are easily identifiable, and there were others that required research as to their history.

The following are some of the symbols you might see on a gravestone in Union Cemetery.

Be sure to join OCM Staff at 2pm for our annual tour, on Sunday September 7, 2014.

George Chapman's gravestone, featuring the Masonic square and compass
George Chapman’s gravestone, featuring the Masonic square and compass
Menagh-Kennedy stone, featuring a cross, indicative that the person was a Christian
Menagh-Kennedy stone, featuring a cross, indicative that the person was a Christian
Monument for the Corinthian Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  On the top sphere are the three linked chains, interwoven with the initials IOOF.
Monument for the Corinthian Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. On the top sphere are the three linked chains, interwoven with the initials IOOF.
Detail of William Strickland's headstone, featuring the Woodmen of the World crest.
Detail of William Strickland’s headstone, featuring the Woodmen of the World crest.

Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

From Historical Oshawa, Vol I-III, by the Oshawa Community Museum

The Oshawa Union Cemetery was established in 1875 by the Oshawa Union Cemetery Company.  Prior to 1875, there was a burial ground located in this same vicinity, but as the community grew, the cemetery’s size became inadequate. It was to remedy this condition that the Oshawa Union Cemetery Company was instituted.

Oshawa's Union Cemetery
Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

The land lying to the west of Hwy. 2 entrance is the original Presbyterian Cemetery, which in 1848 was given by Robert and Euphemia Spears to the Presbyterian congregation of Whitby.  It was used by the communities of both towns as a burying ground until 1875 when it came under the ownership of the holding company.

The Oshawa Union Cemetery Company decided that the needs of the community would be best served by leaving the cemetery in the same location and purchasing the property around it.  Due to the location of the new property, it was felt that the new cemetery should still be made available to both Oshawa and Whitby as a union burial ground.  The plan for the laying out of this “new” cemetery was prepared by landscape architect H.A. Englehardt.

It wasn’t until 1922 that the cemetery became the property of the town through the generosity of George W. McLaughlin, who purchased the shares held by the Ontario Loan & Savings Co., and William H. Thomas.  He then presented the property as a gift to Oshawa.  He also secured the title deeds to the adjacent Presbyterian Cemetery.  The land comprised about 30 acres.  In addition, Mr. McLaughlin gave $500.00 which was to be used to administer the bodies of deceased W.W.I soldiers to the Veterans’ Plots.

The Mausoleum
The Mausoleum

The large Mausoleum which can be seen from Hwy. 2 was constructed by Canada Mausoleums Ltd., and granted to the City of Oshawa on the 26th January, 1926.  The cemetery office located at the front gates was built in 1934 and was originally used as a funeral chapel.

Today, Union Cemetery appears as a serene stretch of land shaded by pine and cedar trees.  People can be found using the cemetery grounds for walks, bike rides, and as a resource for tracing ones family roots.  A booklet titled By-Laws, Rules and Regulations of the Union Cemetery Company, 1875 describes the cemetery as “. . . large and handsomely laid out grounds . . . which will not only be a quiet and worthy resting place for the dead, but by the care bestowed upon it, be a credit to the living . . . “.

Please join the Oshawa Community Museum as we tour through this historic cemetery.  Our Union Cemetery Tour is becoming an anticipated annual event.

2013 tour: Sunday  September 8, at 2PM; meet staff at the front gates

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