Lichen taking over a flat marker.  Photo E.Moes: Emanu-el Cemetery.

Lichen taking over a flat marker. Photo E.Moes: Emanu-el Cemetery.

So far our focus at the Jewish cemetery has been about the individuals represented by the memorials, their spatial relationship to the landscape and to each other as well as the dimensions of each of the memorial features.  As we move into the second week we are formally introduced to the “business” end of the cemetery; the procurement of, the physical characteristics of and maintenance of the stones and graves.

Before we have even approached the formality of cleaning or understanding the material characteristics, we have already moved absently from the textual experience of the memorials to the tactile. We gently sweep away the debris to uncover the messages within the memorial’s design, or to trace the incised inscriptions with finger-tips, discerning “3”s from “8”s. The compulsion to tidy or to weed comes naturally -not just from a sense of order but also from a sense of reverence.

The Stone

Marble headstones showing characteristic wear. Photo from Morguefile

Marble headstones showing characteristic wear. Photo from Morguefile

Stewart Monumental Works Ltd. a Victoria business established in 1896, is as much a pioneer as many of the individuals that occupy the cemetery and provides many of the headstones, grave structures and restoration services. Luke paused in his placement of a memorial to provide a stonemason’s insight to the characteristics of the individual stones and the thought behind some of the choices. The soft and porous white marble, beautiful at the beginning of their life, is vulnerable to time and nature’s persistent pressures. Most of these memorials are indicative of older memorials connected to their amenability to be worked with the simple technology of chisel and hammer.  The granites, transformed by modern mechanics and technology, by their very nature can tell their story of their origin. The pink granite points to India, the greys and blacks to Canada and the United States while the grains indicate relative ages and maturity of the stones.

Restoration and Care

Restoration and care covers the spectrum from the weeding of grave gardens to the washing off of algae from memorial stones to full excavation and repair of graves due to collapse or sadly vandalism. Trees have a duplicitous role: at once protecting memorials from, sun and rain while themselves contributing to damage by their sap or root damage. When damage is beyond repair the only option becomes a full restoration that can run into the thousands of dollars when it involves the excavation of a grave, re-pouring of concrete or the replacement of headstones and grave markers.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

Thanks to Luke we now have another piece of the puzzle that involves the deeper understanding of cemetery monuments in general and Emanu-el in particular. We have been recording estimated dates for the creation of the monuments based on the dates of death of the individuals only to be reminded by Luke that many of the stones were replacements for wooden markers lost in the many fires that have razed the cemetery over the years. It means that we need to think more broadly and temper out assumptions.

A monument is not just made of pink granite and identified as a “31”. Its colour in fact now tells story of it being quarried and transported from India at the turn of the century, its tonnage shipped overseas, drawn by horses to the stonemasons and eventually to its final resting place at Emanu-el-its purpose to relay information and memorialize those who have passed.

Military headstone showing algae stains. Photo E.Moes: Emanu-el Cemetery.

Military headstone showing algae stains. Photo E.Moes: Emanu-el Cemetery.