Interview with a cemetery manager

Today’s interview is with Lesley, the cemetery manager for the St. Thomas Cemetery Company.

How long have you worked at the Cemetery?

10 years

How big is the cemetery?

St. Thomas Cemetery on West Ave is 25 acres and South Park is 25 acres 13 of which is rented to Canadale Nurseries

Does the cemetery offer one stop funeral planning?

We do not do Funeral Planning – we give advice sometimes if they ask.  We help pre-plan  with the purchase of plots, markers and monuments, inscriptions.

How old is the cemetery?

The Cemetery where the office is located is 161 years old and South Park was purchased in 1912 and the first burial was Sept of 1917

The West Ave is the largest location but what other cemeteries are part of the St. Thomas Cemetery?

We own South Park and we manage Orwell Cemetery but it is owned by the Municipality of Central Elgin.

At the south park cemetery there appears to be a large section of military graves. There are sometimes poppies on them, who does that and why?

The poppies on the graves was an initiative started by the Southwold Veterans Committee to recognize Southwold veterans but it has blossomed to include all veterans – we sell the poppy plates for $5 simply to cover the cost.

How many visitors do you get in a week/month?

Are we like a bar?  Do we count the regulars or are they visitors?  If we count regulars we probably have forty people a day visit the cemetery.

If I were looking for a relative who was buried at the cemetery, what would be the easiest way to find them?

The easiest way to find a relative is stop and ask – we can pinpoint them directly and give you a map and maybe provide you with some information that you didn’t already know.

In my mind I see two old men, digging the graves and then filling them in afterwards. Is this really how it is done today?

No, we use a back-hoe. Still two men though.

Isn’t it difficult getting the back-hoe between the graves?

Sometimes you have to move the monuments out of the way but for the most part, you can sit and usually get the back-hoe in because it’s a small one, not like a great big huge one. It’s an L35 and the base is 5 feet.

There are lots of different grave stones. Some set flat into the ground, others stand tall and some look like the iconic grave stones. Why?

The traditional, old style monument that you see that is rounded at the top, white, about 3 inches thick, that’s sandstone. It’s porous material, very delicate and don’t survive the weather very well. The big pink ones, they are granite. They look new even though they could have been installed in the late 1800’s. It is not porous. Most of the granite comes from Quebec or Vermont, or out of India. In Ontario we do have granite but it isn’t a very good quality.

What is the correct term? Headstone or Gravestone?

How about monument or marker? A monument is what you see about the ground and a marker is what you see flush to the ground. You can call it a gravestone but it isn’t always a headstone. It could be at somebodies feet. So traditionally the plots were sold and there would be five graves on one side and five graves on the other side and you would put the monument in the middle. So for these people it would be a headstone and for the other people, it would be a foot-stone.

Could you not put them head to head?

No, you always put the heads heading west. You face the rising sun. Your feet are always to the east. That is the Christian way to do it. And you are always buried as you stand at the alter, the husband is always on the right and the wife is always on the left. They would be facing the minister.

With all the bodies interned here, are there any ghosts?

There are all kinds.

Is the cemetery a privately run company or is it part of the city?

Neither. It’s a not for profit organization, registered charity, owned by the lot holders and run as a community service. We do get some funding from the city, but that’s because of the age of the cemetery.

What events do your organize, obviously not held at the cemetery?

Well, we have decoration day in August. We are going to start changing the name of it and calling it the day of the dead. We have ours in August when we plant flowers.

If I was researching my family tree, would you be able to help me?

Lots. Right now, I am taking a university course to become a certified genealogist. We have lots of resources here. Besides having newspaper articles, obituaries, we can tell you who is all buried in the plot, we can give you the stones location, what’s on it, the people who aren’t on it but who are still buried in the plot. Lots of times we can connection genealogists with other genealogists doing the same family.

How soon after death is a person usually buried?

A full burial? Three days, usually. Cremation can be anywhere from 3 days to 3 years, 10 years.

Does a body have to be embalmed before burial?

No. Obviously if they are Muslim it cannot be done. Greek Orthodox also don’t allow embalming either. And they are the next day before sunset. Actually, their coffins are all drilled in the bottom, like a cork board, so they can decompose quicker.

If I chose to be cremated, are they laws as to where my ashes could be scattered?

There are. There are provincial laws that say you cannot scatter except in a registered scattering area. You are not allowed to have your ashes scattered in the lake unless you have permission from the Navy and then they give you a certificate that give your coordinates and where they dumped the remains.

Can you have more than one body per grave?

Yep, you can put in a single grave, two full burials if they are both in vaults. A vault is cement lined, mostly for the saftey of the grave diggers. Or you can have a full burial with two cremations on top. Or you could put in four cremations. And every cemetery is different.

Is it possible to plan ahead and make arrangements?

Yes. Pre-planning is a good idea. It’s not a good idea to wait until somebody dies and then you have to make those decisions.

If I purchased a final resting place and then changed my mind about dying, could I re-sell the plot?

Yes, and as of June the 30th, you can even put it on Ebay. Until that day, the cemetery had to buy back the plot but as the 30th of June legislation is changing. The only thing you have to do is register the purchase with the cemetery.

Who takes care and pays for the maintenance of the graves?

All the plots sold post 1959 have a care and maintenance fee, and the interest from it goes towards cutting the grass.

Finally, when the zombie uprising begins, you will pretty much be at ground zero, do you have an escape plan and if so, would you care to share it.

When the zombie uprising starts – we are so prepared – we made friends previously with all the zombie’s in the event of an uprising.  We will not need to escape but will be providing safe housing for anyone interested.  If you are not to afraid – the basement of our mausoleum sleeps 40.  To be put on the list of “welcome guests” email us. (it may take three to five days to process your request)

Thank you Lesley.

More information about the cemetery as well as contact information can be found at the cemetery website at


  1. Cathy Borgford

    My daughter Stacie is buried in the st.Thomas west cemetery ,but there is no marker,she passed away at the age of 5…so she would be about 26 today…and my mother-in-law is buried beside her..named Lynda doan,and she has no marker…but i am looking into purchasing a marker for them both within the next yr.. or so..i was wonderin if there is a e-mail adresse where i can contact the ppl that run the cemetery???ty..

  2. Things changed alot since I worked there, most of the graves were dug by hand, and usually by one or two people while other employes did other duties…because it was simply easier to do rather then pull up gravestones to get through to a certain area, we had only used the tractor when there was too much rock to dig through.