Date: January 21 – August 1, 2022
Partner: Lincoln Museum and Cultural Centre
Location: 3800 Main St., Jordan Station, Ontario
Project Members: Madison Carmichael, Geneva Gillis, Georgia McKee, Sydney Rodrigues
Rest in Peace: Life and Death in Early Lincoln explores the ways in which mourning customs and funeral practices of Victorian England traveled and emerged within the cultural context of Lincoln, Ontario.
In nineteenth-century upper Canada, death was an integral part of the fabric of everyday life. High mortality rates, the hardships of pioneer life, and the lack of sterile practices to fight infectious diseases all played a role in the prevalence of death during this period. Death was so common that mourning customs and funeral practices became more elaborate. Mourning rituals in Canada were directly influenced by those in England, where Victorians strictly observed rituals related to death and dying. The time and effort spent on mourning rituals and etiquette and the rise of the commercial funeral industry were intertwined. As a result of the First World War, death and burial practices were transformed from the complexities of the nineteenth century into the simpler practices of the modern era.
This exhibition spans from the early nineteenth century until the early twentieth century and comprises four themes. The first theme, “The History of Death,” introduces visitors to the different ways in which residents experienced death, as well as received news of death; adults succumbed to epidemics such as smallpox, cholera, and typhoid, and news of the death was communicated through popular means such as obituaries, funeral announcements, and mourning cards. The second theme, “Mourning, Memorial, and Burial,” discusses the cultural and social dimension of death, concentrating on etiquette and expectations surrounding the mourning process. The impact of death is revealed through the pressures on the part of the living to mourn correctly, as well as the elaborate rituals and customs which served to identify the mourner and memorialize the deceased.
The third theme, “The Business of Death,” discusses the rise of the rural funeral industry in Lincoln as a result of high mortality rates and society’s focus on the rules of etiquette surrounding death. This section describes how the products provided changed and evolved as the century progressed, bolstering the demand for funeral goods, services, and the professionals that provided them. Finally, the fourth theme, “Victorian Mourning in Decline,” serves to bookend the exhibition’s focus on the Victorian period in Lincoln through an explanation of how and why the mourning and burial practices explored in the exhibition went out of style. This theme, therefore, focuses on how traditional mourning and burial customs were deeply disrupted by the First World War and continued to decline thereafter.
The exhibition capitalizes on images, objects, interactive experiences, and immersive environments to draw visitors of all ages into the dark world of Victorian mourning. From embalming equipment to mourning jewelry and mementos, this exhibition features significant loans from public and private collections, including the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, Niagara Falls Museum, and Oshawa Museum.
As part of the exhibition’s development, thematic education and public programming recommendations were formulated. These recommendations include curated tours, school tours with curricular connections, a lecture series, family activity guides, ‘I Spy’ Cards, photograph preservation classes, flower bouquet-making classes, and historic cemetery walks.
The exhibition serves Lincoln’s diverse community by creating an environment to explore, learn, and reflect on Victorian attitudes that resonate with contemporary mourning and funeral practices. After experiencing this exhibition, visitors will:
1. Understand how Victorian mourning customs were adopted and integrated into Lincoln’s cultural landscape.
2. Be moved by the intricate and sentimental mourning and death rituals held in Lincoln.
3. Consider that these practices and beliefs were not morbid or macabre in the context of contemporary Victorian Lincoln.
4. Recognize how Victorian death practices have endured and transformed into the twenty-first century.
We would like to thank the Lincoln Museum and Cultural Centre for helping this project come to fruition. We would also like to thank our course instructor, Dr. Agnieszka Chalas, and the Faculty of Information for their continued support and guidance throughout this process.