Our Monthly Story

Charles Bolton

Section 12, Lot 179
Prospect Cemetery

Charles Bolton may well have introduced the fine art of embalming to Canada. In the fall of 1861, the 16-year-old Bolton and his friend 21-year-old Thomas Hughes set off to the United States in search of work. Though it was against the law (the Foreign Enlistment Act forbade British subjects from enlisting in the armed services of foreign countries), both men ended up in the Union Army. Mr. Lincoln’s Army, the Army of the Potomac. (In all, it is estimated that somewhere between 40,000 and 64,000 Canadians ended up enlisting in either the Union or Confederate army.)  Bolton’s whereabouts from the time of his arrival in Brooklyn, New York in 1861 until February of 1864 are not known. There is speculation that he enlisted right away, but no records have yet been found to substantiate that suggestion. He does show up in February, 1864 as a bugler in Company “K”, 11th Ohio Cavalry. With them he served in the Trans-Mississippi army on the Frontier, stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas until mustering out in July, 1866. A carpenter by trade, (his father was a cabinet maker and sometime funeral director), there is reason to believe that Bolton’s “missing” years may have been spent in burial detail with the medical corps, during which he would ultimately have come in contact with the new concept of arterial embalming as introduced by Captain Thomas Holmes, the father of embalming in North America. Bolton apparently became a student of the technique. His 1930 Toronto Telegram obituary states that “While in the States he learned the undertaking business, and when he came to Toronto, he introduced embalming here.”  During his years on the plains, Bolton saw the end of the Western Confederacy, and apparently tangled with the Sioux nation. (His diary contains a Sioux–English dictionary recorded by Charles Bolton.) In 1866, he returned home to Toronto and, in June of the following year, he married Sarah Nurse. Together they produced 11 children one of whom, son Ernest, married Alberta Irene Robjohn, a grand-daughter of Bolton’s friend, Thomas Hughes. Bolton went into the funeral business. In addition to introducing embalming, it is claimed that he also made the first casket used in Toronto, and conducted the first funerals at both Mount Pleasant and Prospect cemeteries. Bolton was a charter member and bugler of the Toronto Order, Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), J. S. Knowlton, Post 532, and one of only 273 Toronto members to wear the GAR badge. As his comrades died, he rendered the service of playing the Last Post over their graves, performing the office for over 100 of them. He also played for the 10th Royals of Canada, who turned out in force when the Last Post sounded for Charles Bolton, who died on February 20, 1930.



 

» Story Archives