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Ontario cemeteries

Ontario cemeteries are a tangible link to ordinary individuals as well as famous people in our past. Many are an irreplaceable part of the province's cultural heritage. Their cultural heritage landscape,  monuments and vegetation are part of our built environment, with their own unique history, development, and growth. Older cemeteries are a tangible link to ordinary individuals as well as famous people in our past. The inscriptions on their monuments instruct us about local, medical, and material history, cultural geography, historical archaeology, folklore, genealogy, and much more.

Designating a cemetery

Many municipalities have taken an increasing interest in designation as a way of recognizing and protecting cemeteries – either through individual designation under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act, or as part of Heritage Conservation Districts under Part V.

What to include in a designation

Well-worded descriptions of the cemetery in the statement of cultural heritage value, as well as descriptions of their built and landscape features and their heritage attributes form the most important section of the designation by-law approved by the municipality. They are essential in order to provide a clear understanding of the heritage significance of these features.

Where cemeteries are significant primarily for historical or associative reasons, include information such as historical association with:

  • A specific event, such as a battle or a disaster
  • Well-known people, such as a pioneer founding family
  • A well-known person in the burial place
  • A well-known rural community and associated cemetery

Where context and landscape design are significant, describe the attributes of the landscape in which the cemetery is located, such as:

  • Design and layout of the cemetery, including special landscape features such as trees, plantings, fences, entrances, roads, open spaces, walls, pathways, gates, and fountains
  • Relationship of the cemetery to its general community, historical settlement patterns and/or use of land
  • A particular designer or landscape firm involved
  • The integrity of the site
  • Whether the property is one of only a few remaining
  • Its role as a physical or spiritual landmark

Where craftsmanship and architectural design are significant, describe the attributes of the built features on the property, such as:

  • Funerary monuments, dead house, fences and gates, markers and mausoleums
  • The name of the builder, artist, designer, mason, carver, or architect
  • The building and/or marker type, including materials of building construction and markers; religious and artistic influences in pyramids, obelisks, metal work; type or architectural or decorative elements, carving or detailing, such as lambs and angels; special construction techniques or devices

Example of a designated cemetery

Old Town Cemetery

Sault Ste. Marie Old Town Cemetery (By-law 94-113 modified to reflect requirements of the Ontario Heritage Act, 2005)

Description of Property

Old Town Cemetery, 1186 Queen Street East
The Old Town or Queen Street Cemetery is a small 19th-century cemetery found on the north side of Queen Street, between Pine and Elizabeth Streets.

Statement of Cultural Heritage Value or Interest

The Old Town Cemetery is of cultural heritage value as the last remaining 19th century rural municipal cemetery in Sault Ste. Marie. In use between 1863 and 1914, the gravesites found in the cemetery provide important insight into the lives of Sault Ste. Marie's inhabitants and reflect the key historical themes in the development of the city during this period.
The Old Town Cemetery is also of value as a good example of 19th century rural municipal cemetery design in a Northern Ontario community. It is characterized by a naturalistic setting to attract and comfort the living, the creation of a secure space for the dead, the use of markers and monuments to perpetuate the memory of individuals of historic importance and a park-like layout for public use.

Description of Heritage Attributes

Key attributes of the cemetery that reflect its value as an important link to the history of Sault Ste. Marie include:

  • its original markers and monuments, with their surviving inscriptions;
  • the variety of styles, materials and symbolism represented in the markers and monuments; and
  • the range of size and sophistication of markers and monuments, from modest to elaborate.

Key attributes of the cemetery that reflect its value as an example of 19th century rural municipal cemetery design in northern Ontario include

  • its location, orientation and dimensions;
  • its monuments, sculptures and structures;
  • its park-like setting, including its mature trees; and
  • the original plan and placement of gravesites.

Designated Cemeteries and Municipal Heritage Permits

The operation and management of cemeteries in Ontario falls under the Cemeteries Act.  If a cemetery is also designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, most day-to-day activities, including new burials, generally speaking would not require heritage permits from a municipality. As with other kinds of designated properties, a permit would be required if an activity or alteration is to be made that would affect the heritage attributes outlined in the designation.

Helping to restore Ontario's cemeteries

Landscapes of Memories (cover)

Fortunately, many of Ontario’s older cemeteries remain substantially intact, but they deserve thoughtful, long-term conservation planning. Landscapes of Memories – A Guide for Conserving Historic Cemeteries: Repairing Tombstones, contains information and technical advice intended to encourage the conservation of Ontario’s heritage cemeteries in a way that recognizes their value as an irreplaceable heritage resource.

The guide was written by specialists in masonry conservation, will help cemetery trustees, monument builders, conservators and volunteers who struggle to maintain their historic tombstones.

Designed for easy use in the office or in the field, it provides technical information on topics such as how to correctly identify materials, how to get started on a cemetery restoration project, and the 10 most common tombstone repairs.