Cemetery of the Week #72: Avondale Cemetery

The John Street entrance to Avondale Cemetery

Avondale Cemetery
4 Avondale Avenue, Stratford, Perth County, Ontario N5A 6M4 Canada
Telephone: 519-271-0250 ext. 246
Founded: 1871
Size: 44 acres
Number of interments: 30,000
Open: Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Winter hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In 1824, the government of Upper Canada received a grant of a million acres of land to settle. The area around what would become the village of Stratford began to be settled in 1828 after the Huron Road was surveyed.

A shrouded granite urn

Among the first businesses in the area was the Shakespeare Hotel, owned by William Sargint (who would one day be buried in the Avondale Cemetery). He received a portrait of Shakespeare from the director of the Canada Company, which helped to fund the settlements. The same director named the settlement Stratford and renamed the creek – which had been called Little Thames – after the Avon River. Stratford grew to become a village by 1854. By 1859, it was large enough to be a town.

Stratford benefited from the Grand Trunk Railway and the Buffalo and Lake Huron Line, which made it a railway hub. The town also manufactured furniture, an industry that was so successful that it cushioned Stratford from the hard times that struck the rest of Canada in the 1890s.

Military headstone with maple leaf decoration

Lovely Avondale Cemetery was created by the City of Stratford in 1871. (It continues to be overseen by the city’s Community Services Department.) In 1883, the London Diocese purchased 17 acres adjacent to the public cemetery for the burial of Catholics. Many of the local churchyards moved their residents here as land in town increased in value. This Catholic area, at the crest of the cemetery, still bears the names of saints.

Military grave with a veterans poppy

Also near the top of the cemetery lies the military section. Rather than symbols of religious affiliation, as you would see in America, the gravestones are adorned with maple leaves. Many of them also had bright images of red poppies affixed to their faces. Veterans’ poppies, which used to be commonly sold in November, refer back to the red poppies that nodded over the burial grounds of the First World War. The image was popularized by the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. Do yourself a favor and go read it here.

The 1918 Influenza Epidemic hit the area hard; 88 victims were buried in the graveyard in the course of a single month that autumn.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival was organized in 1953. Its first play, performed in a tent, featured Alec Guinness as Richard III. The festival has expanded to include four permanent theaters now. Each season, its plays span from Shakespeare to Gilbert & Sullivan to musicals like 42nd Street and more modern work like MacHomer, which reimagines Shakespeare’s play with characters from The Simpsons.

The “famous” people buried in Avondale are either hockey players or connected in some way to the Shakespeare Festival, including the Festival’s longest-running artistic director, Richard Monette.

A field of granite monuments

Avondale is the first Canadian cemetery I’ve had the pleasure to visit, but I found it remarkable for the number of ornately carved granite monuments. My suspicion is that some marble markers have been replaced. The soft stone wouldn’t fare well with the fierce Canadian winters.

In Memory of My Dear Ekie

I didn’t find any historical information in the cemetery as I wandered, but there is a good walking tour online, should you find yourself in Stratford.

Useful links:
The history of Avondale Cemetery

Map and GPS coordinates to Avondale Cemetery

Lovely black-and-white photos of the Angels of Avondale

My visit of Avondale Cemetery.

7 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #72: Avondale Cemetery

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