Susan Smart - Death and Burial in 19th Century Ontario

The practices around death and burial have always been an integral part of life. Funeral rites today are very different from funeral rites even fifty years ago. How different then were the customs around death and burial a hundred and fifty years ago? What does history tell us about how our attitudes surrounding death have changed over time?

This talk focuses on the physical aftermath of death in a key time period in Ontario’s history — from the establishment of Upper Canada to the beginnings of the funeral industry in the early twentieth century. It explains how funeral rites evolved from the simple pioneer funeral to the elaborate rituals of the Victorian era, and how these historic practices still influence us today.

Susan Smart worked for many years as a project manager in the information technology field. After leaving work she attended university and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology from the University of Toronto. One of the last courses taken was titled “Death and Burial”; a course which sparked a continuing interest in the customs surrounding the end of life and prompted her book A Better Place: Death and Burial in 19th Century Ontario.

Susan has been an active volunteer with the Ontario Genealogical Society for over 20 years. She was project co-ordinator and editor of the Index to the Upper Canada Land Books and also co-authored Using Forms for Canadian Genealogical Research.