Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Lost Gravestones of Bloomfield

South Cairn of Bloomfield Pioneer Cemetery, Trafalgar, Halton, Ontario
Last summer, I visited a number of graveyards in Halton County west of Toronto; photographing gravestones for the CanadaGenWeb's Cemetery Project.

West Cairn of Bloomfield Pioneer Cemetery
Bloomfield Pioneer in the Town of Milton was one of these cemeteries. At first glance Bloomfield seemed a straight-forward proposition. The graveyard consisted of a line of east-facing stones set in concrete and a scattering of other monuments. Closer inspection, however, revealed a challenge. Hidden in the lilacs to the south of the grassed area was a cairn of toppled and broken moss-covered gravestones. Reading the gravestones, let alone photographing them, would be quite difficult.

Nevertheless, I returned to Bloomfield in early April before the lilacs leafed out. It was relatively easy to gently clean the moss off the stones and to prune back some of the branches. In the dappled sunlight it was now possible to make out some of the inscriptions. The lack of contrast, however, meant for disappointing photographs.

Several months ago I watched a YouTube video about using off-camera flash to photograph hard-to-read gravestones. I had purchased a  CowboyStudio NPT-04 flash trigger and had successfully experimented on a number of  "unreadable" gravestones at other cemeteries. Time for a real test.

The trick is to have the light from the tripod-mounted flash hit the gravestone at an angle almost parallel to the face. By the time I was finished my tripod and knees were covered in dirt, but I had made the unreadable, readable.

Gravestone of Martha Moffatt (1845-1872)
Photograph taken without flash
Gravestone of Martha Moffatt (1845-1872)
Photograph taken with off-camera flash

Bloomfield Cemetery is named after Richard Bloomfield (1780-1870) who donated the land in 1835 for a church and burial ground. A Methodist New Connexion church was built in 1836 and remained in use until 1876. In 1963 many of the headstones were salvaged and set into two concrete cairns. The west cairn is still in reasonable shape.

Martha McKenzie, daughter of John McKenzie and Martha, was born in Canada about 1843. She married John Moffatt in 1862. John, the son of Henry Moffatt and Sarah, was born in Canada about 1839. At the time of the 1871 Census, John and Martha had three children. At Bloomfield there is a gravestone for John Moffatt who died on  October 7, 1872 at the age of six months. John was likely the son of John and Martha, and given his age, it is reasonable to assume that Martha died in childbirth. It is not known what happened to Martha's husband or other children.


  1. The Town of Milton recently cleared the lilacs away from the south cairn.

  2. Nice before and after comparison. Your shot came out very readable.