Monument Style

Tombs, Headstones, and Tablets

Grave marker trends and styles tell us a lot about what mattered to people: both to individuals and the society they lived in.

In the Victorian era, stones reflected loved ones’ hopes for the afterlife of the deceased. These stones contained decorative and symbolically carved motifs, such as clasped hands (two people saying farewell). A bouquet of flowers symbolized the soul of the deceased and ivy served as a reminder of immortality, friendship, and fidelity. Christian beliefs were emphasized through lines of scripture or excerpts from hymns incised on the stones.

Tablet-style Victorian monuments proliferated in Langley's cemeteries throughout the 1890's. Virtually all were carved from marble by monument makers in New Westminster and Vancouver.

Robert Mackie headstone,
Fort Langley Cemetery.
Photograph by Ron Bryson

The tombstone of Robert Mackie, the first burial in the Fort Langley Cemetery in 1882, is an example of a typical Victorian tombstone. The stone's design is laden with symbolism. Much of its inscription is placed on a raised heraldic shield, creating a sense of antiquity. The gathered drapery flanking the stone is representative of mourning.

By the early 20th century, Victorian symbolism was in decline; headstones were simple, with few symbolic images. From 1900 to 1920, most stones were made of granite and were formed into various obelisk (tapered, four sided pillars) and pedestal-like shapes. By the 1920s, roughly hewn grey granite tablets were common. Names and dates were recorded, but little other additional information was present.

Mavis family monument,
Fort Langley Cemetery.
Photograph by Ron Bryson

The Mavis family monument at the Fort Langley cemetery is an example of this style. It also demonstrates a trend toward commemorating several family members with a single monument. Like other monuments erected at this time, it is made of polished red granite and takes the form of a modified obelisk. The stone was probably sent to a monument maker in New Westminster or Vancouver in virtually finished form. All the monument maker had to do was add the particulars of the deceased and some ornamentation.

By the 1930s, most North American cemeteries were lawn style cemeteries. They feature low lying concrete ledger stones with low, stamped concrete tablets at their heads. This style allowed for easy lawn maintenance and an understated acknowledgement of death.

Hallack monument, Murrayville Cemetery.
Photograph by Ron Bryson

The Hallack monument is a charming example of an early response to the needs of the lawn cemetery movement. The stone is low, but not flush to the ground. It is rendered from white marble in the form of an open Bible. A cross marks the exposed page. One page lists Hugh Hallack’s particulars (1874-1931), the other his wife Martha's (1872-1954).

Like society in general, cemetery monuments today tend to be more secular and individualistic. They tell more about what the person cared about in life than about the family's wishes for their afterlife. Symbols of a person’s interests is common, such as images of favorite activities, sports, or hobbies. Inscribed phrases may say something like "gone fishing" or "see you in the movies."

More Information

Langley Centennial Museum
604.532.3536
museum@tol.ca