There had been a small Presbyterian burial site in the vicinity of the Oshawa Union Cemetery since 1848, when the property was sold to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church by Robert and Euphemia Spears. However the location’s use as a burial site predates even that, with the oldest burial there being that of Alexander Armstrong who died in 1837.
By the 1870s the community had grown too large for the small Presbyterian cemetery to handle. To remedy this matter the Oshawa Union Cemetery Company was established to acquire some of the surrounding properties so as to expand the site. Being located close to the Oshawa-Whitby border, the newly expanded cemetery serviced both Oshawa and Whitby.
The site’s well-kept and elaborate landscaping is typical of 19th century rural cemeteries. Settlers had traditionally buried their dead either on their own property or on Church grounds. However as time went by and population density increase the former became unappealing and the latter started getting over crowded. This lead to a general trend of creating far more spacious and visually appealing purpose built cemeteries which operated as their own institutions. The Oshawa Union Cemetery’s layout, which conforms to and compliments the natural topography of the land, was designed by German-Canadian landscaper Henry Engelhardt, a notable pioneer in Canadian landscaping.
In 1922 the 30 acres of the Oshawa Union Cemetery had been acquired by George W. McLaughlin. He donated the cemetery to the City of Oshawa, along with a donation of $500 to help bury deceased WWI soldiers in the veterans’ section. The mausoleum would be added in 1926, and the office was added in 1934.
Many of Oshawa’s most noteworthy citizens, such as the industrialists Robert McLaughlin (McLaughlin Carriage Company), John Schofield (Schofield Works), and James Robson (Robson Tannery), are interred in the cemetery.
Today the Union Cemetery remains a well-kept resting place for the dead, with a number of trails running through it. It is the only remaining cemetery in the city where burials still take place.
While many of the cemetery’s records were lost in a fire, those that remain are put to good use. Every year the cemetery plays host to the Oshawa Museum’s Scenes from the Cemetery. Here actors play the part of the interred, and tell of their lives based on the meticulous research of the Oshawa Museum.