I am pleased to welcome Waterloo Historical Society Past-President, Marion Roes, as a guest blogger to Historically Speaking. Marion’s particular passion is the study of local undertakers. She is the recipient of the 2014 Edna Staebler Research Fellowship at the Joseph Schneider Haus. Marion will be presenting her research findings at Schneider Haus in February 2015 during Heritage Week. I am honoured to call her a friend and colleague. Although most of our conversations end up talking about death for some strange reason…
Researching Waterloo Region funeral businesses and practices for the Edna Staebler Research Fellowship has led me to an unexpected business in St. Clements. I discovered that George Rosenblatt, a furniture maker in St. Clements, was licensed by the Board of Funeral Services, Toronto, from 1914 to 1923. Nancy Maitland, archivist for the Wellesley Township Heritage and Historical Society, pointed me to photos and a contact for a Rosenblatt descendent. Through the family member, I learned that the Rosenblatt Furniture Factory, later named Rosenblatt Artworks, was started with George’s father, John, about 1864. The business operated until 1932, when it burned down.
As the Rosenblatt records had been donated to the Grace Schmidt Room, I eagerly awaited the return of the archival collection. Among the many photos, an Artworks catalogue, correspondence and orders in the Rosenblatt archives, I came across a 1917 Income Tax Return giving George’s occupation as “Wooden Artwork and Undertaking.” That one-line mention of George in the records has grown to several paragraphs in my research report. If my research focus was broader than just undertaking, I could write a mini-history about a company in the rural village of St. Clements which shipped its manufactured products across Canada – and to the nearby St. Clement Roman Catholic Church.
Why did George Rosenblatt have a license? Perhaps, it was because the nearest funeral businesses in the early 1900s were in Waterloo, Elmira, Wellesley and Linwood. He did make coffins but a license wasn’t needed to do that. While I may not get all the answers that I’m seeking, I’ve been finding lots of information about local funeral businesses and practices – in the GSR, City of Cambridge Archives, Wellesley, Waterloo Region Museum Curatorial Centre, interviews and from helpful colleagues. There just might be enough for a book!