White Bronze Markers in Union Cemetery

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Most of the grave markers in Union Cemetery are made of marble or granite, however scattered throughout the cemetery grounds are distinct bluish grey monuments.  Although referred to as white bronze, the monuments were made of a refined zinc which was referred to as white bronze to distinguish it from dark or antique bronze.  Manufactured the Monumental Bronze Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut beginning in 1875, the stones were at their most popular in the 1880s and 1890s.


Maker’s mark from the White Bronze Company of St. Thomas, Ontario as seen on the “Beath” monument in Section A, Union Cemetery, Oshawa Ontario.

An 1885 issue of Scientific American detailed the manufacturing process of the white bronze monuments.  Initially designs were modeled in clay and reproduced in plaster of Paris from which a cast is taken. This procured a perfect metal pattern from which the monument was moulded and cast in ordinary way. The different parts of the monument were joined together by pouring molten metal of the same material as the castings. Finally the monument was given a sand blast which gave it its beautiful appearance and, according to the manufacturer, much better than copper bronze which becomes black once exposed to the elements.

Although the white bronze monuments were all manufactured in Bridgeport, Ct., the final assembly work was done at subsidiary plants in the United States and in Canada at the White Bronze Company of St. Thomas (Ontario).  Monuments could be ordered through sales agents or catalogues and came in sizes ranging from a few inches to almost 15 feet in height. Embellishments such as flowers, crosses, name plates, figures and symbols could be added to personalize the monument at no cost. A monument could be purchased relatively inexpensively with prices ranging from a few dollars upwards of $5,000.

The White Bronze Company advertised their monuments were almost indestructible due to their composition and were impervious to the ravages of frost, moss, and lichen and would not change colour. The raised lettering remained legible and the removal tablets made customization easy. Scientific American proclaimed the refined zinc was “so well adapted to monumental purposes that it will ultimately supersede all other materials.” Of course these claims elicited strong opposition from the marble and granite dealers and carvers who claimed the bronze monuments would not hold up to the ravages of climate and in fact looked like cheap imitations of stone. Some cemeteries even banned monuments not made of stone due to pressure from the stone industry.

True to their claims, the white bronze monuments are a researcher’s friend as they have legible lettering and have held up well to the elements.

By 1914 metal had become too valuable a commodity due to the war and the White Bronze Monument Company ceased production of monuments, although they still produced name plates and embellishments for many years after.

In Union Cemetery there are 13 white bronze monuments as well as 5 smaller flat laying footstones.

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Left: Mallory gravestone in Union Cemetery featuring “Young St.John” with lambs. According to the Monumental Bronze Company catalogue the statute of St. John sold for $75 and the base was $215 or approximately $6,700 in 2018. Right: Statute of “Young St. John” as seen in Monumental Bronze catalogue 1882.

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The grand Phillips gravestone today faces busy King St. West and is a commanding presence. The shaft of the stone stands over three metres tall and is graced by “Hope” which stands over a metre tall. The four removal tablets are adorned with “Faith” (seen above ‘Phillips,’ on left), “Suffer the Children” (top right), a “Golden Sheaf” of wheat and information on the deceased (bottom right) The entire gravestone most likely cost $410 (over $9,000 today).

Stayed tune for our exciting new Union Cemetery tour featuring the white bronze monuments coming next summer!

All photos by the Oshawa Museum.

The Monumental Bronze Company catalogue is available from the Smithsonian Libraries https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/whitebronzemonu00monu


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: scenesfromthecemetery.wordpress.com.

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 of no apparent relation to Oshawa’s other Luke family. She was born in Montreal and her family settled in Oshawa in 1914.


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.

Dr. Jane Plews Thornton 1832-1904

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Before female doctors Emily Stowe and  Jennie Trout practiced medicine, there was Oshawa’s own Dr. Jane Mary Plews. Born in Ontario about 1832, Dr. Plews practiced medicine before the establishment of the (Canadian) Women’s Medical College in 1883. She practiced eclectic medicine, a branch of medicine which made use of botanical remedies and was popular during the 19th century. The term eclectic was derived from the Greek word eklego, meaning “to choose from” because eclectic physicians used whatever was found to be most beneficial to their patients. Dr. Plews started studies at the Eclectic Medical Institute of Cincinnati, Ohio  during the winter term of 1855-56 and graduated in 1856.

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Little else is known about Dr. Plews’ medical career. In the 1861 Canadian census, Dr. Plews was shown as living in Oshawa and stated her occupation as a physician. I find this census information to be intriguing given that the census taker was most likely a male who obviously accepted that the woman answering the question of “what is your occupation?” was indeed a physician. Remember this is before women were accepted into the established medical colleges and six years before Emily Stowe began to practice medicine. In the January 1, 1862 edition of The Oshawa Vindicator,  an ad for Dr. Plews M.D was placed prominently on the front page alongside ads for (male) Drs. Foote, Warren, Tempest and Agnew.  Dr. Plews’ ad gave special notice that she specialized in diseases of women. Dr. Plews’ medical career was also noted in the Progressive Annual 1862, a spiritual register, almanac and calendar of events, which listed her as a practicing woman physician in nearby Bowmanville. She is also listed in the subsequent annuals of 1863 and 1864. The Progressive Annual proudly stated that it only lists regularly graduated and diplomatized physicians engaged in practice. Although the Annual noted that their list of practicing women physicians was “the most complete ever published” it was most likely not inclusive. It deserves mention that Dr. Plews was the only Canadian amongst all the names.  I am confident Dr. Plews was quite proud of her listing in the Annual because she was in good company for the Annual also contained the names of other forward-thinking individuals such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (Literature, Morals and General Education) and Susan B. Anthony (Freedom and Equality of the Sexes).

In 1867 she married Patrick Thornton, a machinist, and they had one child, Frederick born about 1877.  Husband Patrick died in 1880 from consumption and was buried in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery.  Jane and son Patrick are listed in the 1891 census however there is no occupation listed for her. By 1901, Jane was a lodger in the household of Fanny Pethick, also of Oshawa.  Jane passed away from a stroke in 1904 and was laid to rest alongside her husband in Union Cemetery.


It is unfortunate we do not know how long Dr. Plews’ medical career lasted. After the 1861 census, she no longer listed her occupation as physician and with the scarcity of Oshawa newspapers in existence for the 1860s, we have no indication of how long she ran her ad in the newspapers. For now, we will have to say that the rest of Dr. Plews’ story remains to be told.

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


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!

Dead Man’s Penny – Memorial Death Plaque

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director, and Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
This article was been edited from what originally appeared in the AGS Quarterly


The Government of Canada has designated the period 2014-2020 as the official commemoration period of the World Wars and of the brave men and women who served and sacrificed on behalf of their country. One of the most enduring examples of war commemoration  is the bronze “Dead Man’s Penny” seen on many gravestones in cemeteries across Canada. The plaques, resembling a large penny (hence their nickname), were given to families who had lost a loved one as a result of WWI.

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Garrow headstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

Canada entered WWI on August 4, 1914 when the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. During the course of the war over 619 000 Canadians enlisted and almost 60 000 lost their lives.

In 1916, as the Great War waged on, the British Government felt there was a need to create a memorial to be given to the families of the war dead which would acknowledge their sacrifice. A committee was created and given the task of deciding what form this memorial would take; a bronze plaque officially known as the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and a memorial scroll signed by the King was their decision.

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Memorial Scroll for Private Wilfred Lawrence Bancroft. Courtesy of the Whitby Archives

In 1917, a competition, open to any British born person, was held to find a design for the plaque. Instructions for the competition were published in The Times newspaper on August 13, 1917.  For example, any design had to include a symbolic figure, meaningful to British citizens.  Potential designs must also include the inscription “He died for freedom and honour” and provide space to include the name, initials and military unit of the deceased.

There were more than 800 entries submitted and Mr. Edward  Preston was the successful winner. His design, a 12 centimetre disk cast in bronze gunmetal, featured the figure of Britannia holding a laurel wreath beneath which was a rectangular tablet where the deceased individual’s name was cast into the plaque. No rank was included as it was intended to show equality in their sacrifice.  The required inscription “He died for freedom and honour” was inscribed along the outer edge of the disk. In front of Britannia stands a lion and, two dolphins representing Britain’s sea power.  A smaller lion is depicted biting into an eagle, the emblem of Imperial Germany.  With the conclusion of the war, over 1.3 million plaques were sent to grieving families throughout the British Empire. Plaques were sent to the next of kin for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and women sailors, airmen and women serving who died as a direct consequence of their service. Plaques were also sent to the next of kin of those who died between August 4, 1914 and April 30, 1919 as a result of sickness, suicide or accidents, or as a result of wounds sustained during their time of service.

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An example of the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque or Dead Man’s Penny. Photo courtesy of the Ontario Regiment Museum

The plaques soon became popularly known as “the Dead Man’s Penny”, or “Widow’s Penny” for their resemblance to the penny coin. There was no formalized etiquette for displaying the plaques.  According to Sam Richardson, assistant curator at the Ontario Regiment Museum, some families chose to do very little with the plaques, the memorial scrolls and King’s messages that came with them. Often these plaques would be hidden away in drawers or chests so as not to be reminders of their loved ones.  Others, however, went to great lengths to display it, with many families adding them to war memorials as they were built, or framed and mounted on walls in the family home or in a local community establishment the soldier was a part of, such as a church parish.  As time passed and military museums began to be established and grow, many descendants would also choose to donate the plaques to them.

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William James Garrow Jr., from the Oshawa Museum Archival Collection

The family of Oshawa resident William Garrow Jr.  decided a permanent home for his memorial plaque was most fitting and they chose to have it mounted into a gravestone.  Garrow was born on May 15, 1894 to William and Mary Garrow., the youngest of four children and the only surviving son.

At the time he enlisted, Garrow had been working as an upholsterer and living with his parents and two sisters in the family home on Albert Street. He enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Montreal on August 30, 1915 at the age of 21. He saw action overseas  in both France and Belgium.  Garrow joined up with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a replacement on the front lines in December 1915.  He was fighting with the Princess Pats at that Battle of Mount Sorrell when he lost his life sometime between June 2–4, 1916. The family received official word of his death through a telegram. Although the final resting place of Pvt. William Garrow is unknown, he is memorialized as one of the missing on the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium.

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The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque received by William Garrow’s family remains today  embedded in his tombstone in Oshawa’s Union Cemetery. It remains as a testament, over a hundred years later,  to a young man’s supreme sacrifice  and the depth of pride his family felt in his service to King and country.