One of my fondest childhood memories is connected to my old elementary school: St. Mary’s, a little school tucked away in the hamlet of Grafton, Ontario. It wasn’t the school itself which made such an impression on me, it was the adjacent cemetery on the grounds of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
Sometimes at recess, I would meander alone through the graveyard. The other kids kept far away from the area in fear of gruesome discoveries or ghosts. For me, it felt sacred and quiet. There was that feeling of not being alone, but you felt you were safe. From a child’s perspective, one good scream and you knew the recess teacher could run a lot faster than some old ghost could. Besides, it was always in the middle of the day, and in the middle of the day I was a pretty brave kid.
The headstones, in their tidy rows, stood in mute assembly. Some were grand monuments while others were as simple as a flat slate with a name and date. Older headstones were fascinating. They told a lot about a person: their name, date of birth, date of death, and who their loved ones were. There were details describing whether they’d been someone’s beloved wife or husband, daughter or son. Some graves flourished with flowers and regular care, while other graves faded in solitary melancholy.
As an adult, I have a fondness yet for exploring graveyards, and picking up clues to those who have found eternal rest within their gates. Just this spring I visited the Mount Pleasant Cemetery and was reminded of the unique stories each of the tombstones told. There was one in particular that stood out that day. It was a tombstone that was unique and mysterious. The headstone was created to look like a carved tree stump. The craftsmen created a flat surface for the declarations by forming a parchment on the tree stone. They also added a crest that declares the person who was buried there was a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternity. The monument was decorated with the Latin inscription “dum tacet clamat” which means, “Though silent, he speaks”.
When I got home, I looked on the internet to see who or what organization was connected to this “Woodmen of the World”. It turns out that the group was created in the USA by a man named Joseph Cullen Root in 1890. Root’s vision was to create a fraternal benefit society that would “minister to the afflicted to relieve distress; to cast a sheltering arm about the defenseless living ; to encourage broad charitable views…”
A lot has changed since the early 1900s, but the Woodmen of the World still exist today. The executive vice president Wayne Graham said, “The objects of Woodcraft have always exemplified love, honour and remembrance. Fraternalists are concerned with helping others, promoting patriotism and civic responsibility, and providing financial protection for their families”. Although the Woodmen of the World is still in operation as a fraternity and insurance company, they do not create headstones for all their members.
I have to say it…I am shocked at how large this fraternity was and still is, and how much influence it has in the United States. Woodmenlife is a big name in the states.
So, I decided that having come across an old Woodmen of the World headstone here in Edmonton was a pretty cool thing. Especially since they are most likely to be found in parts of the USA and eastern Canada. I will definitely be looking for more of them on my travels. Who knows, maybe there was one back in that little graveyard behind the St. Mary’s School & Church in Grafton. When I looked at the area on Google Maps, I could see that the school had been either rebuilt or had extensive renovations. The church and graveyard looked very much the same. It’s such a beautiful part of Ontario. I hope one day I can go back and revisit that old graveyard, and all within which had inspired me.
If you who would like to know more details and stories about the Woodmen of the World, I invite you to check out these links: