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.

Oshawa Museum Blog – 2017 Top 5 Posts

Happy New Year! Throughout 2017, we shared over 50 new articles on the Oshawa Museum Blog, showcasing so many different stories from our city’s past. We’re planning our new and dynamic posts for 2018, but to start the year, let’s look back at our top 5 posts of 2017

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Union Cemetery Mausoleum

September was a busy month for programming at Union Cemetery. We have a fantastic partnership with the cemetery and we’re fortunate to use this space to remember citizens of the past. In advance of those engaging events, we shared the history of Union’s Mausoleum.

Did You Know: We are planning on delivering cemetery tours every Wednesday evening in July and August! Stay tuned to our Facebook Page for the dates and tour themes!

Oshawa in 1867

This was a milestone year for Canada – the 150th anniversary of the passing of the British North America Act, effectively creating the Dominion of Canada. To start the year, we shared our post Oshawa in 1867, looking at what our humble village looked like 150 years ago.

Memories of the Civic

In this post, our Visitor Experience Co-ordinator shared her memories of Oshawa’s Civic Auditorium, spending her childhood days growing up in the same neighbourhood. The Civic has a long history in our community, and this post stirred up memories for many readers.

Host Files: History of Dr. FJ Donovan Collegiate

Nostalgia seemed to be of great interest on the blog as another popular post was written by Visitor Host Karen about the history of FJ Donovan school.  Her post proved timely as the former high school was torn down in late 2017.

Where the Streets Get Their Names: Ontario Street

While this year was Canada’s sesquicentennial, it was also the 150th anniversary of Ontario’s province-hood.  To mark this anniversary, an early Street Name Story looked at Oshawa’s Ontario Street and the meaning behind the name.

These were our top 5 posts written in 2017; the top viewed post for the year was actually written a few years ago, again another street name story. Where the Streets Get Their Names: The Poppies on the Signs was our overall top viewed post for the year, receiving a lot of traction around Remembrance Day in November.

Thank you all for reading!

Union Cemetery’s Mausoleum

This article originally appeared in The Oshawa Daily Times, August 11, 1928. It has been supplemented with contemporary images, taken by curator Melissa Cole in 2016 (unless otherwise noted).

Like a beautiful chapel dedicated to sainted memories and undying affection, the Oshawa Mausoleum in the Union Cemetery invites the reverent glance of all who pass into or out of Oshawa on the westward approach of the Kingston Highway.

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(l): 1928, Oshawa Daily Times; (r) 2013, Oshawa Museum Oshawa Museum photograph

That noble structure is an essay in stone upon the beauty rather than the grimness of death. Sheltering within its stately corridors the remains of Oshawa citizens whose lives helped to shape its destinies, it stands a firm defiance against the ravages of time and mortal mutability.

The building of stately mausoleums in Ontario has been one of the significant phases of life following the late great war.  Many hearts torn by the tragedies of battlefields, where, at the best, loved ones have been left to keep eternal vigil on the field of their last supreme sacrifice, and where, at worst, stones which carry the poignant reminder that underneath lies one “Known to God” tell of those who gave even their identity in the battle for freedom, thoughtful men and women have turned with a sense of relief to the steadfast security and permanence of mausoleum interment for their loved ones.

The Canada Mausoleums, Ltd., with head offices in the Metropolitan Building, Adelaide and Victoria Street, Toronto, has rendered a splendid service to Canadians by fostering the erection of such beautiful structures as that which adorns the Union Cemetery. …

Floor Plan Oshawa Mausoleum

Oshawa’s mausoleum is built in an adaption of Egypto-Roman architecture.  Its chief beauty is that of line and mass, enhanced by the facade’s central arch which is as impressive as it is beautiful, and typifies the Christian belief that death itself is but a gateway to immortal happiness. The exterior is of cut Indiana limestone. Massive bronze doors open on the vestibule and central chapel at one end of which a window of beautiful stained glass, carrying its pictured message of comfort and hope, throws a jewelled arabesque of light upon the Wallace sandstone, bordered by black and green Missisquoi marble, which forms the floor of chapel and crypt inside.

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Two aisles, north and south with the building’s greater dimension, lined with the 310 permanent crypts, all but a small percentage of which are owned by local and district families.

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Oshawa Museum photograph

 

At either end of the crypt corridors are private chapels, separated from the corridors by bronze gates, which are owned by prominent Oshawa families.

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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 many solemn beauties are enhanced by the Mausoleum, near which is the group of graves which closely resemble the war cemeteries of Canadian heroes who died in France. These graves are all headed with the Imperial War Graves’ headstones, and a central monument commemorates the sacrifices of those who, though living to return home, yet succumbed to the actual wounds or disabilities incident to service overseas.

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Oshawa Museum photograph

 


Scenes FB

Discover the stories of Oshawa’s Union Cemetery like never before. Actors bring history to life in Scenes from the Cemetery, a dramatic tour through Oshawa’s history.

Last year’s popular event returns with a look at Canada’s 150th! On Saturday September 9 and Sunday September 10, take a tour through Oshawa’s Union Cemetery with the dramatic tour Scenes from the Cemetery. On this walking tour, actors will bring stories to life, portraying people from Oshawa’s past, celebrating these exceptional individuals and how their actions led to Canada’s genesis and growth.

The event runs on Saturday September 9 and Sunday September 10, 2017; Show start times: 2pm; 2:20pm; 2:40pm; 3pm

Tickets are $20 each; tickets can be purchased in person at Guy House or online https://scenesfromthecemetery.com/tickets/