Guthrie jested that half the world seem to think society doesn't change fast enough and the other half thinks it changes too fast. Beechwood offers evidence in support of both views.
We stopped at a number of notable graves, including:
Governor General Ramon John Hnatyshyn (an old friend of Bill & Georgie Tupper)
Thomas G. Fuller (decorated WW II naval officer, nicknamed the “Pirate of the Adriatic”)
Moss Kent Dickinson (founder of Manotick) (below)
Joseph Currier (Dickinson's partner in building what we now call Watson's Mill)
Sir Robert Borden (Prime Minister during WW I)
Sir Sandford Fleming (inventor of standardized time)
Premier Tommy Douglas (CBC's pick for 'greatest Canadian' for pioneering Medicare)
The graves of Dickinson and Currier were of particular significance to our group. It was noted with some concern that the decorative pillar of the Dickinson monument stands in need of repair.
Guthrie has his own connections to Beechwood. Some of his wife's relatives are buried there and the long-time volunteer delights in commuting there by bike, calling the 20 km round trip his minimum exercise for good health. In Guthrie's view, the site is ideal for recreation in the sense of re-creating the joys of life, while paying respect to the dead.
Indeed, Beechwood's many trails are well-used by the living: walkers (with and without dogs) bikers, families, painters, photographers and relatives who come to decorate graves and remember their loved ones. A local school even has nature studies there, making good use of the wildlife and pond biology at ready display. The grounds include Dr. J. David Roger Canadiana Gardens featuring native plants and flowers. There is also a tree-shaded hosta garden with one of the largest collections in Eastern Ontario and Western Québec (over 300 varieties).
A wind storm in late April last year caused significant damage to Beechwood's important urban forest, but Guthrie feels the grounds are recovering reasonably well. Stuart Rogers recalled Beechwood was once a good spot for harvesting downed limbs for firewood. At present, measures to combat the invasive emerald ash borer mean no wood may be removed.
Beechwood is a grand, expansive experience on many levels, well worth seeing for yourself. We thank Ian Guthrie and Beechwood's gracious staff for a lovely and informative tour.
The weather was perfect for a field trip – neither too hot, nor too cold – as we gathered at Beechwood Cemetery, arriving by carpool or on our own.
Our group was met by Ian Guthrie, who serves on the cemetery's board and delights in conducting tours. Guthrie proceeded with a splendid homage to a place he called “a living landscape”.
The core of Beechwood was a 100 acre farm purchased by Hector and Mary McPhail in 1834, after coming to Canada from Scotland to construct the Rideau Canal. In 1873 that property, along with land from the MacKay/Keefer estates, became today's 160 acre cemetery. A visit to Beechwood was once an excursion to the country. Now surrounded by city, Beechwood's urban forest remains a serene oasis for this region's one million inhabitants.
According to Guthrie, the cemetery is maintained by 11 full-time staff, assisted by 18 seasonal employees. There is an active “Friends” group, numbering around 300. Although nearly 76,000 have been laid to rest at Beechwood, it is only half-full.
The past decade has brought a number of distinct designations: in 2001 Beechwood was made the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces, and in 2002, a National Historic Site. In 2004, the RCMP National Memorial Cemetery was established. In 2007, the Veterans Sections were amalgamated with the National Military Cemetery. Beechwood was designated as Canada's National Cemetery in 2009.
Like death itself, Beechwood does not discriminate. There you will find headstones reflecting prestige and family devotion near orphans and so-called 'friendless women' laid to rest in graves provided by local churches. Guthrie said the last such burial took place as recently as the 1970's.
The many religions, cultures and customs that found their way to Ottawa are well-represented. We walked among numerous Celtic crosses (Guthrie's favorite), headstones inset with photos in the Portuguese plots, the geometric precision of the military section and more headstones rendered in graceful Chinese calligraphy. Monuments grand and humble, commemorating universal values of family, culture, community – all leaving some mark of a life gone by.
May 2010 Excursion, Beechwood Cemetery
...Tour by a Beechwood Volunteer
Article by Lucy Martin