Beginner’s Guide to Oshawa’s Union Cemetery

(c) Oshawa Historic Society

(c) Oshawa Historic Society

A shady stretch of land for photographers, local history enthusiasts and, of course, a quiet space for families to remember those they have lost, Oshawa’s Union Cemetery was established in 1837 and is the largest cemetery in the city.

But how well do you know this historic site?  Here are five facts to get you started:

  1. The earliest burial on record is Alexander Armstrong, a farmer and first Justice of the Peace in the area, who died in 1837.
  2. Many people assume the first building beyond the main gates is the chapel, and they’d be half-right:  Built in 1934, it did originally function as a funeral chapel, but it’s now the Cemetery office.
  3. There are dedicated plots for WWI and WWII veterans, where gravestones for War Veterans are marked with a cross, while stones for Oshawa’s War Dead include a maple leaf. See if you can find the headstone of Ernest Bush, who in WWII fought with the Princess Pats, married an English woman while stationed overseas, but succumbed to military Tuberculosis upon his return home.  Or the grave marker for Nursing Sister Hayes, a brave and mysterious woman who enlisted and helped the wounded.  Then there’s young Private William Garrow, who enlisted for WWI and was killed in action less than 10 months later, age 22.
  4. There are several impressive mausoleums within the cemetery:  The McLaughlin family’s is black marble art deco, while the Pedlar family’s mausoleum is in the Corinthian style.  The Cemetery Mausoleum was built in 1926, where more than 150 people are interred.
  5. The earliest markers, from the 1830s, are made of soapstone.  Later markers are made from granite, bronze, and brass.

Many of the gravestones have symbols – but what do they mean?  Some, like angels or lambs, are obvious.  Others, more cryptic. Here are some common iconography that can be found in the Cemetery:

  • Masonic square and compass, like the one on George Chapman’s gravestone.
  • Hands, which represent the relationship between the living and the dead
  • Graves of children often feature lambs, which represent Christ and innocence
  • A willow tree symbolizes longevity, sorrow, or grief.
  • Woodmen of the World crest, found on William Strickland’s headstone.
  • Flowers, like the lily or the rose, mean purity.
  • Curtains represent the curtain coming down on the final act of life.
  • Angels symbolize the soul departing to heaven.
  • Three linked chains symbolize the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which can be found on the Monument for the Corinthian Lodge.

Union Cemetery is located at 760 King Street West in Oshawa.

Thank you to Lisa Teresh, Community Engagement at the Oshawa Museum, for providing expertise on Union Cemetery’s gravestones, stories, and history!  To learn more about Union Cemetery, visit the Oshawa Museum blog.  



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