Cemetery team, UC reno earn heritage nods

Efforts to unearth the past has earned Woodland Cemetery’s history team, composed largely of Western Public History students,  a 2019 London Heritage Award. Presented by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario London Region and Heritage London Foundation, the awards annually recognize leadership excellence in heritage conservation across the London region.

The Woodland team was one of two heritage awards with strong campus connections: Western’s restoration of University College received honours from the committee as well.

The Woodland summer project began in 2016 as the brainchild of then-manager Paul Culliton, who hoped students might find and restore a few headstones that had been lost to time. But the project snowballed, so that now hundreds of half-buried headstones have been brought to light, mapped, researched and blogged.

“The students have poured their heart and soul into this,” said cemetery manager Roula Drossos. “When we received the award (Friday), I was so proud of all the students that were part of this. There’s no greater thing than to preserve London’s stories of the past, and for the present and future.”

One story among the hundreds stands out for Mackenzie Brash, a member of the 2017 team, now an intern at Western Archives.

“We had finished finding, uncovering and restoring the St. James monuments, about 150 of them, and a short distance away we found a really, really small stone mostly buried under ground. And then we found two more children’s stones.”

The three headstones memorialized Mary, Minnie and Clara Perkins – three London sisters who were younger than 10 when they died in early 1891. Records suggest two of the little girls had a respiratory infection; it’s possible all three died of complications from a Russian Flu epidemic that claimed about one million lives worldwide.

“This (find) was especially poignant for me because they were children. That was very hard-hitting because they died of diseases that are easy to prevent or cure today,” Brash said.

Woodland Cemetery – with its resident deer, mature trees and monuments of well-known and unknown Londoners – has also become a site for guided and self-directed heritage tours, said Drossos, who credited Culliton with the vision.

She hopes Summer Grants Canada will again enable them to hire more students this summer, with the aim of restoring more headstones and perhaps even adding an audio walking tour.

The student team over the years has included interns Levi Hord (now a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University) and Thomas Sayers.

Western received accolades for restoring and renewing the iconic University College building, conserving cherished heritage features while transforming its infrastructure and learning environment to meet the needs of contemporary students.

The 2019 London Heritage Awards were announced at the 12th annual London Heritage Awards Gala at the Delta Armouries Hotel. Other winners include:

2019 CONSERVATION & REUSE AWARD HONOUREES

  • Ute Lawrence and Stan Fisher – For the restoration of Belvoir, a landmark country house and estate in Delaware, demonstrating a well-considered effort to maintain its historical significance;
  • Corporation of the City of London For the major rehabilitation and restoration of Blackfriars Bridge, a nationally-significant heritage structure which is a highly valued icon for all Londoners;
  • Greg Bruzas and Kathryn Hodgkinson For the restoration and renovation of 293 Central Avenue by owners who have invested in and strengthened the heritage neighbourhood of Woodfield;
  • Joel McLean and William Russell For the creative adaptive reuse of former industrial space at 345 Ridout Street N., weaving together many old buildings into an inspiring head office and contemporary workspace for Info-Tech Research Group; and
  • Forest City London Music Awards Board of Directors and Mike Manuel – For the sympathetic reuse and conservation of a downtown landmark building at 182 Dundas St., the former home of Nash Jewellers, and creating an inspiring venue and home for London Music Hall of Fame and London’s rich musical heritage.

2019 ADVOCACY AWARD HONOUREES

  • Michael Baker For his broad knowledge and outstanding research on London and area history as well as his eloquent and energetic advocacy for heritage over many years;
  • Susan Jory For her passionate leadership and advocacy for the built heritage and spirit of the Blackfriars community, helping to make it a more resilient neighbourhood; and
  • Don Menard For his significant and enduring contributions to education and advocacy for London’s history and culture over many years.