Friday, 26 February 2016

The Winter Vault at St. Michael's Cemetery

"The winter dead wait...for the earth to relent and receive them." 

- The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels

February is finally winding down and we can start to look forward to the spring thaw.

In the 19th century, before ground breaking equipment existed, the frozen earth had greater implications for cemeteries. As they could not be buried during the winter months, corpses were often stored until spring in outbuildings known as "winter vaults" or "dead houses."

Photographs Special Collection, PH76/123CP

Photo of the Winter Vault at St. Michael's Cemetery, Toronto, by Tassielli Photography (1992).

The building is the finest example of an octagonal dead house, unique to Southern Ontario.  The Gothic architectural style is evident in the buttressing, spire and pointed archways.  Many have thought that the windows have been bricked up, but these "blind reveals" are part of the original design. 

The Winter Vault is the centerpiece of St. Michael's Cemetery in Toronto, placed at the intersection of two main axes. It was designed in 1855 by Joseph Sheard, a prolific architect who went on to become Mayor of Toronto in 1871. While he was Foreman of Public Works, Sheard was known for refusing to build the gallows to hang two leaders of the Upper Canada Rebellion, Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews.

Cemeteries series, CCSM01-11

Detail of St. Michael's Cemetery plot map (1932), showing the winter vault at the intersection of two main axes.  The winter vault can been seen from the eastern entrance, off Yonge Street, south of St. Clair Ave. 

For a fee of £18, Sheard drew the architectural plans and specifications for the dead house and cemetery fences, and supervised their construction. The total cost of materials and labour was £326.

The winter vault is a Gothic-style building, which was the architectural fashion of the time.  Its octagonal shape followed a mid-19th century fad for eight sided buildings that originated in the United States. Octagonal winter vaults, however, are unique to southern Ontario. There are five existing octagonal vaults in the region, including those in Aurora, King City and Richmond Hill. They are designated as buildings of historical and architectural value under the Ontario Heritage Act. The octagonal shape has the added practical value of offering more wall space for platforms on which to place the caskets.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Toronto in 1991, Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Services decided to restore the winter vault at St. Michael's Cemetery. Specialists at Restoration Summit replaced some of the massive Douglas fir timbers and other wooden elements that had succumbed to rot. Cedar shingles and copper plating were used to repair the roof and cupola for a historically correct finish. Six hundred bricks on the exterior wall and buttresses had been cracked by tree roots and required replacement. To match the patina of the exterior masonry, bricks were salvaged from the interior walls to use outside. The restoration work received an Award of Merit from the Toronto Historical Board in 1993.

ARCAT Staff Photo

Archdiocesan staff visit the restored Winter Vault at St. Michael's Cemetery during a guided tour in 2010.*
ARCAT Staff photo

We were allowed access to the Winter Vault during a guided tour of the cemetery in 2010.* Originally, wooden platforms (such as the one against the wall) would have shelved caskets during winter months. The octagonal shape of the building offers more wall space for platforms on which to place the caskets.

Photographs Special Collection, PH32S/08P

In June 1992, Auxiliary Bishop M. Pearse Lacey unveiled a historical plaque rededicating the structure and marking the sesquicentennial year. 

Toronto author and poet Anne Michaels wrote a novel called The Winter Vault in 2009. To promote its publication, she gave a book reading inside the winter vault at St. Michael’s Cemetery.*

*Note: For the protection of the cemetery grounds and monuments, St. Michael’s Cemetery gates are now closed.  To visit the cemetery please contact Mount Hope Cemetery at (416) 483-4944.

Friday, 19 February 2016

The Maple Leaf Forever!

On Monday, February 15th, Canada celebrated Flag Day. It was on that day in 1965 that the red and white maple leaf flag was first officially used.

To celebrate, we pulled out a few interesting records from the archives.

The photo below is of one of a flag that was in use in Canada between 1922 and 1957 called the Canadian Red Ensign. In the upper left corner is the Union Jack, and in the lower right is the shield of the Canadian Coat of Arms. This particular flag was once used at St. Michael's Cathedral, but came to us through St. Augustine's Seminary.

Red Ensign Flag: ca. 1921-1957
TX 114

Close up of the shield of the Canadian Red Ensign, 1921-1957. In 1957 the three green maple leaves were changed to red.

Today's Canadian flag was adopted in 1965. There was a lot of disagreement about what the national flag should be, so Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson struck a parliamentary committee with members from all parties to find a new design. Thousands of suggestions were considered, but ultimately the single-leaf flag designed by George Stanley won out.

A print of the current Canadian flag signed by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. This item was owned by Cardinal Carter, who had it hanging in his cottage.

Today the flag is proudly flown across the country and around the world at Canadian installations. It has even been to space! When it is seen on a sleeve or a backpack in foreign places, people know they will find polite, kind and friendly travelers. Most of the time we live up to those expectations!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Family Day Family Photos

Monday is Family Day in Ontario.  It's been eight years since we first observed this statutory holiday.

To celebrate, we offer you some family photos of our former bishops and archbishops of Toronto.

Enjoy your holiday and your family!

Photographs Special Collection, PH09F-01P and PH09F/16P

Left photo: James C. Cardinal McGuigan as a Monsignor with his mother, Anne, and his sister, Mother St. George, C.N.D. (Gertrude), ca. 1927. He was serving as Vicar General in Edmonton at the time.

Right photo:  James C. Cardinal McGuigan with his parents, Annie Monaghan and George H. McGuigan, ca. 1946. The Archbishop of Toronto's choir dress is hand coloured in red, indicating that he has been made a cardinal.

Photographs Special Collection, PH11/07P

Studio family portrait shows Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto Francis V. Allen as a toddler, held by his mother Martha, with older brother Edward and maternal aunt Annie Malcolm, ca. 1911.  Edward was the only sibling who did not enter religious life.

Photographs Special Collection, PH11-13P

All seven Allen siblings, including Edward (in the suit), Murray (centre) and Francis (right).  Three of the four sisters were members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. 

Photographs Special Collection, PH14F/06P

Archbishop Philip Pocock as a young boy attending a family wedding.  He is pictured in the front row, right, ca. 1912.

Photographs Special Collection, PH14F/03P and PH14F/04P

Left photo: Young Philip Pocock, holding a cat, with brother Rev. John H. Pocock and one of his sisters, ca. 1915. There were eight children in the family.

Right photo: Archbishop Pocock, as a young priest, with his parents Stephen and Sarah, ca. 1930
Photographs Special Collection, PH18F/162P

G. Emmett Cardinal Carter as a young priest (right). Photographed with his siblings Rev. Alexander Carter and Sister Mary Lenore Carter, s.p., and Sister Mary Bibiana, s.p. (Sister Lenore's companion) at Fourteen Island Lake, ca. 1940s.

Photographs Special Collection, PH18F/163P

Rev. Carter with his mother Minnie at Fourteen Island Lake, 1946.
Photographs Special Collection, PH19F/02P

 Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic (top) as a young man posing with his parents and six siblings. The family came to Canada from Slovenia in 1948 around the time this photo was taken. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Here's One for the Philatelists

This may seem hard to believe, but there was a time before text messages, a time before email and computers, a time even before telephones, when people relied on words on paper to convey messages over long distances. These handwritten notes and letters were sent through the postal system for a small fee.

Since a good chunk of the ARCAT collection was created during this time, many of our records reflect the history and development of the postal system. We pulled some interesting examples as seen below.

Before Canada was a country, its parts were colonies of both France and England. Any attempts at regular mail service would be modeled on and administered by the Homeland. There were routes between Europe and North America, and smaller routes, for example, between Montreal and Quebec City. Service was not necessarily regular. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin (yes that Benjamin Franklin) and William Hunter were named Deputy Postmasters General for British North America. In 1754, a post office was set up in Halifax, which is considered the first in Canada.

Quebec officially became British territory in 1763, and Hugh Finlay was named first Postmaster in Quebec. A route was established between Quebec, Trois Rivieres, Montreal and New York. As the population grew and infrastructure improved, so did the postal service. More routes were established and service became more regular.

One of the earliest examples in the ARCAT collection is a letter sent from Sandwich, Upper Canada (present day Windsor) to York, Upper Canada (present day Toronto). There are many interesting things to note.

  • Before 1851, postage rates were calculated by distance and by number of sheets of paper. If you used an envelope, that counted as an extra sheet, so letters were just folded up and the recipient's information was written on the back.
  • This person paid the rate for one sheet being sent a distance of 201-300 miles, 11 pence. 
  • The letter is marked paid. This means that the sender paid for postage. If it wasn't marked as such, the recipient was meant to pay for it, but they had the right to refuse to accept the letter. 
  • Self adhesive envelopes weren't invented yet, so they had to seal their letters with wax or with small discs of adhesive. There are many holes in the letters in our collection because of this.
  • Before adhesive stamps, letters were hand stamped by local postmasters. The example below was mailed July 22, 1830 from Sandwich, Upper Canada. 

Bishop Macdonell Fonds
M AB09.05

By 1820 there were 19 post offices in Upper Canada. By 1831 the 'Grand Route' from Niagara to Montreal ran five times per week, and there were routes between York, Sandwich, and Amherstburgh.   

This letter set to Bishop Macdonell in Glengarry was sent at a rate of 2 shillings 4 pence, which would mean that there were 4 sheets sent at a cost of 7 pence each (12 pence in a shilling). The text of the letter informs us that there were bank drafts enclosed, but only the letter remains in the collection.
Note the cool wax seal!
Bishop Macdonell Fonds
M AB02.04

A letter mailed from York, Upper Canada to Kingston, Upper Canada on November 3, 1832. The cost of sending the letter was 9 pence for one sheet at 101-200 miles, and the recipient was expected to pay for postage.
Bishop Macdonell Fonds
M AA02.18

An unpaid letter mailed from Montreal to Ste. Martine on November 4th, 1834,  at the rate of 4 1/2 pence: a single sheet sent 0-60 miles.
Bishop Power Fonds
P AB01.02

In 1851, the management of the postal system was transferred to the provinces, and the price of mail was was changed to be 3 pence per half ounce regardless of distance. A lot of the the note paper after this time seems to have gotten thinner!

The sender of this letter from Niagara to Toronto (note the name change!) paid 3 pence in 1854. The Money Letter stamp indicates that their was money enclosed. The recipient had to give the post office a receipt.
Bishop Charbonnel Fonds
C AB10.17

In 1851, Canada issued its first adhesive postage stamp, the Three Penny Beaver, which was designed by Sir Sanford Fleming. This was the earliest example we could find in the collection. The earliest stamps didn't stick very well, so postmasters continued to use hand stamps until adhesive stamps became mandatory in 1875. 

Bishop Charbonnel Fonds
C AB12.05

The first stamps issued in Cents instead of Pence were issued in 1859, following the adoption of decimal currency. Below is an example of the 'small queen' stamp. Local letters were 1 cent per half ounce. In the same year, the first street mailboxes were installed in Downtown Toronto. When Canada became a dominion in 1867, the name of the postal system became Royal Mail Canada.

Archbishop Lynch Fonds
L AH20.11

In 1903 picture postcards were authorized for use in Canada:

ARCAT Photograph Collection

There is a lot more detail to the history of the mail in Canada, but there isn't enough room for all of it in this post. To find more information, check out:

The Canadian Museum of History's Chronology of Canadian Postal History

As a bonus, we recreated how a letter was folded to make its own envelope: