You Asked, We Answered: The Bracey Headstones

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. While on our Autumn Union Cemetery Tour, we were asked about the headstones for C.A. Bracey in the First World War Section.

The headstones in the World War sections of Union Cemetery all have a certain uniformity to them; when there is a stone or plot that deviates from those around it, it typically raises questions. This is what happened when we were asked about the headstone for C. A. Bracey. At the top of the plot, there is the headstone which is typical for soldiers, but in the middle of the plot, there is a separate marker.

Tour participant, Tom, was also curious about these markers and how similar the names were, so he undertook research about Bracey. We shared his write-up a few weeks ago. Thanks once again Tom for sharing what you found!

First, let’s answer one part of the question, why do some plots have more than one marker? At one point Union Cemetery allowed for two interments and four cremations in one plot (this has since changed to one interment and four cremations, as per the Cemetery’s website). When there are two markers seen on these veteran’s plots, more often than not, they are commemorating two individuals interred in the plot. A look at the names and dates helps to determine or assume the relationship. For example, just west of Bracey’s plot is a plot for the Brown family. There is a headstone for FW Brown (c. 1870 – 1932) and another marker for Leonard George Brown (1915-1997). By looking at the dates, it might be a safe assumption that there is a father and son buried in this plot.

Rows of headstones laying flat in the grass
First World War Soldier section of Union Cemetery; The headstones for Charles Bracey are near the bottom of the image; note, in the row above is another example of two markers for one plot

Looking at the Bracey plot raised some questions as the names on the two markers were very similar, served with the same regiment, but there was a five year discrepancy with the birth year. Having to make a quick assumption, I wondered if it was two brothers buried together, two brothers who served together and happened to die in the same year.

To learn more, and to confirm/disprove my suspicions, I started to research. I had some information to start my search, thanks to the headstones:

Large headstone:

  • Charles A Bracey
  • WWI Regimental Number: 814065
  • Served with the 139th Battalion of the CEF
  • Born 1867 (as per age of death), died December 22, 1933

Smaller Footstone:

  • C.A. Bracey
  • Served with the 5th Middlesex Regiment
  • Also served with the 139th Battalion of the CEF
  • Born 1872, died 1933

The regimental number provided what I needed to find his service file, made available through Library and Archives Canada. This is the information Tom used when he set out to research Bracey. You can also use this database to search by Surname and/or Given Name. There were 14 entries for Bracey; Charles was one result, and Cecil Bracey was another. A look at Cecil’s file seemed to indicate he wasn’t related to Charles. Nothing seemed to line up, so I very highly doubted the ‘C. A. Bracey’ was Cecil. I set him aside and looked at Charles’s service file.

Charles Bracey was born in Portsmouth, England, and when he enlisted in 1915, he was living in Cobourg, working as a Labourer, and his next of kin was ‘Mrs. Francis,’ his wife. When asked if he had ever served in any military force, his reply was ’11 years in Middlesex Reg’t.’

Interesting – remember, the footstone also indicated service with Middlesex. Also, his birth date, on the Attestation Paper, was September 21, 1871.

There are two attestation papers for Charles in his military file (one in September 1915 and one in November 1915) and therefore two Regimental numbers. He initially enlisted in September but was found medically unfit on November 5 and discharged. His second attestation papers were signed and dated three days later. A second casualty form appears in the file, dated August 25, 1916, and Charles was, once again, found medically unfit and discharged. On his medical papers, stating he was discharged due to a heart condition, it reads, “Man acknowledges 48 but looks older.”

After looking through the file, we’ve learned that Charles enlisted twice, was discharged twice due to being medically unfit, and there seems to be a discrepancy with his age, as per the medical papers. So, I went to ancestry.ca to see what else I could find.

Charles Augustus Bracey was born around 1868 (as per the 1871 and 1881 England Census). On November 16, 1891, Charles enlisted for the army – his British military service files were available for review on Ancestry.ca. He would serve 18 years with the Middlesex Regiment, where it appears he served for 12 years in India (recorded as ‘East Indies’ on the military records). He was discharged in 1909.

He was married to a woman named Frances, and together, they had eight children. By 1911, they immigrated to Canada and were living in Cobourg, later Oshawa. It was while in Cobourg that Charles tried twice to enlist for the First World War. By 1921, the family had moved to Oshawa and were residing in one of the Olive Avenue Rowhouses – these townhouses are still standing today.

Charles died in Oshawa in 1933 – by this time, the family was living on Nassau Street. His death certificate states he was born in 1867, and this is the date reflected on the large headstone. The smaller headstone, likely placed at some point by the family, has a different birth year and makes a point to commemorate his involvement with the Middlesex Regiment, a military career that lasted 18 years. Unlike other plots where two grave markers might commemorate two different people, with the plot for Bracey, there are two markers commemorating one person, Charles Augustus Bracey.

Finally, the last mystery we were left with was Charles’s birth year. If we’re looking at Censuses, the 1871 and 1881 England Census indicates a birth year of c. 1868/1869, while the 1921 Canadian Census reflects a birth year of 1869/1870. Military records give birth years of 1872 (as per enlistment with Middlesex Regiment in 1891) and 1871 (as per enlistment with the CEF, where it was later noted he looked older than his reported age). Finally, upon his death, the year of his birth is recorded as 1867, which is what appears on the military headstone. After sharing the Tom’s blog post a few weeks ago, one of Charles’s grandchildren left a comment, stating his birth year was 1868! It appears the Censuses taken closest to his birth were the most accurate for this information.

A look at the History of St. Gregory’s

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Oshawa has one Catholic cemetery, St. Gregory’s, which is today located along Simcoe Street North, just north of Beatrice Street. It was originally located beside St. Gregory’s Church, around Simcoe St. N. and Adelaide (then Louisa), but was moved to its present location around 1893 to facilitate expansion of the Church.

The original St. Gregory’s Church, to the left, the cemetery can be seen; from the Oshawa Museum Archival collection

Samuel Pedlar and Dr. Kaiser both trace the origins of this parish to the 1840s when the first church was constructed, but prior to this, Catholics in the area had their religious services in McGrigor’s School House or with travelling priests in parishioners’ homes. Funds for constructing the first church were supported by community members, such as Patrick Wall, Daniel Leonard, Denis Duella, Michael Curtin, Sir Arthur Santry, Richard Supple, John O’Regan Sr., and Captain Dunn. Throughout the years, the parish grew, and improvements took place, such as church enlargements, building of a separate school, presbytery, and stable and driving house, and aesthetic improvements.

Nearly 50 years after the construction of the first church building, the parish saw the need to expand once again and began fundraising. The cornerstone was laid in 1894, and the new building was dedicated in June 1895. It was noted that two men, James Daley and Patrick Wall, were at the dedication of both churches, half a century apart. 

From the Oshawa Museum archival collection

The windows of the church were made by McCausland & Sons, the plans for the structure were made by Post & Homes, and much of the interior oak woodwork, like the altar, pews, pulpit, and organ, were made by Oshawa’s RS Williams. It was made in the French Romanesque style and can accommodate 500-600 worshippers.

St. Gregory The Great, 2021

To facilitate the building expansion, the cemetery was removed to its present location, first acquired by Father JJ McCann in 1876, comprising of approximately four acres. New trees were planted at this cemetery in 1878, a gift from W. Glen, MP. In 1893, Father MJ Jeffcott contacted family of those laid to rest at the original cemetery and co-ordinated the removal of bodies and headstones to the ‘new’ cemetery. The last of the bodies and headstones from the original cemetery were moved in 1927.

St. Gregory’s Cemetery, 2021

St. Gregory’s would remain the only Catholic Church in Oshawa until Holy Cross was constructed in the 1930s. The growing communities in Ontario County also necessitated the opening of a new cemetery, and Resurrection Cemetery was opened in north Whitby in 1964. St. Gregory’s Cemetery and Resurrection are both administered by the Toronto Catholic Cemetery Association, and records for St. Gregory’s are located at Resurrection.


References

Samuel Pedlar, Samuel Pedlar Manuscript (unpublished manuscript, 1904), made available online through the Oshawa Public Library, accessed from: https://news.ourontario.ca/oshawa/3578787/data

D.S. Hoig, Reminiscences and Recollections : an interesting pen picture of early days, characters and events in Oshawa, made available online through the University of Toronto, accessed from https://archive.org/details/localhistory_2IW

“St. Gregory’s,” Whitby Chronicle, 28 Jun 1895, p. 8

Souvenir Booklet of Church of St. Gregory The Great, Oshawa Ontario, June 1988

“Holy Cross celebrates 40 years in Oshawa Sunday,” Oshawa This Week, 23 Jun 1979, p. 31

Union Cemetery Receiving Vault

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

A receiving vault (sometimes called a dead house) was a structure designed to temporarily store the dead during the winter months when it was too difficult to dig graves by hand.  When William Wells was exhumed in February 1895 from his grave in Union Cemetery, it took local gravediggers William and Joseph Luke three hours of hard work to carry out the task. William’s body was needed in a police investigation, and several of the Toronto daily newspapers were on site to report on the exhumation and noted the difficult conditions,

Heavy drifts had covered the spot in 3 feet of snow and access was only secured by shoveling a pathway to the place and no interments had been made in this part for a month.  The ground was frozen 2 feet deep and two gravediggers set to work with shovels and picks to clear away the stone and earth from the coffin.

The Globe, February 15, 1895
The exhumation of William Wells, Union Cemetery, February 1895. The Globe, February 15, 1895

Receiving vaults would be used to house the dead during the worst months of winter until burials could happen again. The receiving vaults would sometimes also be used to house bodies waiting for transportation or to have a mausoleum built. In times of epidemics, the vaults were used to store bodies until the graves could be dug.

To date, I haven’t found evidence of the early receiving vaults at Union Cemetery, however Melissa Cole and I were given access in 2019 to the receiving vault below the Union Cemetery mausoleum.  An Oshawa Daily Times article on the new mausoleum, dating from 1928,  briefly makes mention of the vault, “An important feature of the Oshawa mausoleum is that the basement contains forty-two crypts forming the Union Cemetery’s receiving vault for winter use…”

Union Cemetery’s receiving vault is located in the basement of the main mausoleum. Access to the vault is through a door at the back of the mausoleum. Inside the mausoleum is a lift (now boarded up) which lowered and raised coffins as needed.

Images: left column, top to bottom: Casket lift inside mausoleum; View of lift from inside the vault. It is boarded up and no longer used; Some of the 42 crypts in the vault. Right: Coffin trolley underneath the lift in the receiving vault.

One of the first things we noticed was the small size of the 42 crypts, unsuitable for the much larger casket dimensions of today.  

Today, the vault, like most others, is no longer in use. Once equipment such as steam shovels and backhoes came into use, graves could be dug in the winter, and receiving vaults were no longer needed.

You Asked, We Answered: Where are the Henrys Buried?

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. Here is one such question asked during a tour.

Where are the Henrys buried?

A large number of the Henry Family are buried in the cemetery which has become known as the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery.  This cemetery may be one of the oldest in our community with an interesting history.

IMG_1348

The earliest known burial, based on headstones, is that of Nancy Henry, the mother of Thomas, who died in 1816.  As described in Thomas’s memoirs:

Autumn came and wreathed its many colored drapery around the mighty forests’ head, but the bright tints faded, the red leaves fell, and when the heavy frosts came down on the bare brown earth, a great affliction fell on the little household in their lonely, forest home. The wife and mother died.  Almost without precursor or warning she went, and left anguish and desolation behind her. Far from sympathizing friends, far from religious comforters, with none but her own little family around her, she bowed her head, and closed her eyes in death… [S]he was buried with Christian rites, on a little hill beside the lake… (The Annotated Memoirs of Rev. Thomas Henry, page 27).

Grave M13

It is likely this cemetery had been used for burials before the death of Nancy, but there are no burial records existing from that time.

Thomas is laid to rest at this cemetery, as are both his wives, his father John, five of his children, and three grandchildren.

PicMonkey Image
Headstone for Thomas Henry & family; left photo dates to 1947 and shows original topper for headstone.  It is no longer there (right photo)

Originally, this cemetery was located to the east of the harbour, on an area known as Gifford’s Hill, however, the cemetery was moved to Bonnie Brae Point in 1975 to accommodate harbour expansion.  There were 195 individuals removed to the point, and an additional ten burials have taken place since then.

Pioneer Memorial Gardens

The history of the Pioneer Memorial Gardens Cemetery spans more than a century.  In the early 19th century, John B. Warren received the land where the cemetery currently sits as part of a crown grant.  In 1847, he donated the 115’ frontage and 122’ deep property on “Protestant Hill” to the Wesleyan Methodist Church for a church and cemetery.  The Pioneer Cemetery on Oshawa’s Bond Street became the churchyard of the Methodist Church.  It should be noted that prior to this date, records indicate that the land had been previously used as a burial ground.  In fact, the earliest burial recorded is that of Sabine Dearborn, wife of Samuel Dearborn, in 1830.

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This cemetery contained burials of many well-to-do and dedicated church members.  The family plots were separated from the others by various means; wrought iron fences, decorative posts with ornamental tops connected by chains, bars or stone borders.  An array of wild pink roses and purple lilacs were also plentiful.

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The Methodists had the oldest congregation in the Township.  Between 1867 and 1868, a new Methodist Church was built on Simcoe Street and was ready for service in 1868.  The old church building was sold and then removed, and the basement excavation was filled in.  To ensure that no animals pasturing on the public road could enter, a high wooden picket fence with a protective gate was built across the front of the property.

In the early 1900s the high wooden picket fence was removed as well at the protective gate.  A modern wire fence then enclosed the property.  A couple by the name of Mr. And Mrs. Richard Taylor bought the south-east portion of the front of the property that had been for sale.  Their house was erected and their children and grandchildren were members of the Simcoe Street Church.  It appears that the unsold portion of the property was still used for burials, the last being that of Barbara Hurd in 1906.

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In 1945, due to the deplorable state of the cemetery, the Board of the Simcoe Street United Church decided the property should be cleaned up, and that a plan be adopted that would assure its preservation for years to come.  A committee was headed by George Ansley who decided that the neglected cemetery would be transformed into a Memorial Garden.  Many of the families removed the remains of relatives to Union Cemetery leaving the old graveyard practically empty.  However, many of the tombstones were left behind marking the graves of pioneers.  These were lifted, cleaned and eventually arranged on cement pillars in a cairn in the centre of the property.

Harriett (Cock) Guy
Headstone for Harriet Guy (nee Cock), wife of Thomas Guy Jr. and daughter of ‘Granny’ whose lifesized painting is on display in the Verna Conant Gallery

Today the area is fenced and owned and maintained by the City.  A complete listing of the names that appear in the cairn can be found in the archival collection of the Oshawa Museum, and at the Durham Chapter of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

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