I began my career here at Woodlawn in May 1977. For those of you who are counting, that’s over 41 years ago. Just think about that for a moment: Elvis Presley was still living, the Atari Video Computer System wouldn’t be released until later that year, and five of Woodlawn’s current team members were not yet born. I think about how much the world has changed over those years. Back in 1977, Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada, so maybe not everything changes.
In my early days I remember talking to visitors at Woodlawn Memorial Park who were born during the 1890s. I had the pleasure of hearing about their lives from the 1800s while getting to know them. Some performed repairs to clocks, some ran businesses, and some worked in factories while others plowed fields using a team of horses. For some, their mode of transportation usually meant a horse or bicycle, but many people walked long distances to get to where they needed to go. It wasn’t long before those visitors became permanent residents of Woodlawn and I lost that connection to the 1800s, or so I thought.
Those stories never vanished, it is during my walks throughout Woodlawn where I am reminded of them every time I see their memorials. I realize that by listening, I was creating a memory and keeping their stories alive.
In some cases, I have had the pleasure over my years to have spoken to three or four generations of the family of these early visitors. I always enjoy it when I can tell someone a story of their great grandfather that they had never heard before.
That honour sways both ways though. You see, my grandfather died eight years before I was born. There were visitors that knew my grandfather personally and would tell me stories about him. They would mention how they would attend the Saturday morning market to attend his auctions when he was an auctioneer. They say he was quite the entertainer with his auction lingo.
They would tell me stories about him as the mayor of Guelph. As the mayor, my grandfather (and grandmother) had the extreme pleasure of personally meeting the King and Queen, who made a brief stop in Guelph on the Royal Train Tour in 1939. I have had people share stories with me about Mayor Bill Taylor kicking off the first ball at a rugby game being played up the hill at the Ontario Agricultural College grounds. There were even stories of the mayor sweeping the front steps of city hall first thing in the morning. Some said he did this to see who was arriving late for work.
As I share these stories with you, I begin to think how few stories I hear about him today. Most of the people that knew of my grandfather are gone now too, but in the last couple of years I have heard a story about my grandfather that put a smile on my face. One last story and memory to share.
A gentleman named Bill Taylor came into our office, and I mentioned that his name was the same as my grandfather’s. To my surprise, he said he knew him. I was a little shocked, as the man in front of me did not look old enough to know my Bill Taylor, but he began telling me a Mayor Bill Taylor story. I couldn’t believe it! it had been years since someone had shared a story of Mayor Bill Taylor with me in the first person! I sat and listened, hanging onto every word he was saying, as the story this young Bill Taylor was telling me was one I had never heard before.
It’s funny how stories are shared and memories are triggered. When I walk around Woodlawn Memorial Park, my memory banks are triggered all the time when seeing the names of those I once had the pleasure of speaking with and getting to know.
With over 36,000 burials and thousands of memorials honouring lives lived, Woodlawn is a great place to walk around to spot those names and remember their stories. I encourage everyone to take a walk down memory lane some sunny afternoon at Woodlawn Memorial Park and see how many stories are brought back to life for you.