Charles Woodward and his Egyptianised Mausoleum

The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 sparked a frenzied interest in all things Egyptian. This excitement would reach Canadian businessperson Charles Woodward in Vancouver and lead him to build a mausoleum for himself and his family in Egyptianising fashion in 1924. Today it marks a commanding spot in the Burnaby Heritage Cemetery in Burnaby, British-Columbia. This week, the Nile Scribes pay a visit to the mausoleum and unravel some of its Egyptianising elements.

The Mausoleum of Charles Woodward dominates the Burnaby Heritage Cemetery (photo: Stefan Greiner)
The Mausoleum of Charles Woodward dominates the Burnaby Heritage Cemetery (photo: Stefan Greiner)

The Burnaby Heritage Cemetery

The cemetery is located in the historic Vancouver Heights neighbourhood just west of Brentwood Town Centre. The mausoleum is aligned on a south-north axis and its surrounding ground slopes downward towards the main gate over 100 metres away. Many early Freemasons now call the cemetery their eternal home and still enjoy some lovely views of the surroundings for posterity. The Freemasons’ fascination with Egypt goes back to the 1800s and saw inspiration in Egypt’s knowledge and architecture. The Masonic Association of B.C. purchased this plot of land in 1924, during the heyday of the Golden Twenties and Tutankhamun’s impact on the Art-Deco movement.

Charles Woodward of the Woodward department store fame (photo: Grand Lodge of British-Columbia and Yukon)
Charles Woodward of the Woodward department store fame (photo: Grand Lodge of British-Columbia and Yukon)

Charles Woodward: Vancouver’s famous businessman

The owner of the Mausoleum is none other than Charles Woodward of the Woodward department store fame. Born in what was Beverley Township near Hamilton, Ontario in 1842, Charles Woodward had already pursued several business ventures before his entrepreneurial spirit moved him and his family to Vancouver in 1892. There, in 1903, he opened his first department store at Hastings and Abbott Streets in downtown Vancouver, a company which eventually encompassed several stores in Western Canada before it was bought by Hudson’s Bay Company in 1993. The “W”-sign, which was on top of the original building, is among the last remains of the Woodward’s Building and its legacy today.

The “W”-sign is one of the last remnants from the original Woodward’s Building (photo: Adam Jones)
The “W”-sign is one of the last remnants from the original Woodward’s Building (photo: Adam Jones)

Charles Woodward would see much success with his stores and also served in the local government as a Liberal MLA in the 1920s. Meanwhile, he also began the construction of his mausoleum, where he would be buried following his death in 1937.

The Woodward Mausoleum

As the only mausoleum in the Burnaby Heritage Cemetery, the Woodward Mausoleum was built to contain his entire family, including Woodward’s first and second wives as well as several of their children. With the cemetery to open in 1924, the mausoleum was finished shortly before the opening and shows clear connections to Egyptianising styles. After all, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb had unleashed a wave of Egyptomania among wealthy circles around the world. Art-Deco, a visual and architectural style, would incorporate many Egyptian elements into its designs, and became wide-spread in Europe and North America. Commodities inspired by the boy king would become hot sellers and buildings such as London’s Carreras Cigarette Factory (built in 1928) would build on Egyptian artistic and architectural traditions. Of course, Charles Woodward was also a Freemason; thus, incorporating Egyptian elements into his mausoleum was to be expected.

The mausoleum from a photograph in the 1920s (photo: Burnaby Heritage Cemetery Burnaby)
The mausoleum from a photograph in the 1920s (photo: Burnaby Heritage Cemetery Burnaby)

Popular Egyptian Elements

Aligned with the entrance to the cemetery, the mausoleum’s entrance features two open papyroform columns on either side of the main door. The lower parts of the columns show in nice detail the vegetation we find frequently represented on Egyptian columns – note also the decoration along their capitals. The top part of the building shows the cavetto cornice that circles round, a popular architectural feature of ancient Egyptian buildings. The name “Woodward” is carved atop the door and a winged sun-disk offers its protection over the monument with two stylised cobras emerging from either side. The emphasis of the mausoleum lies on its front entrance. Looking around the monument there are no more discernible decorative features that stand out.

The Woodward Mausoleum today (photo: Stefan Greiner)
The Woodward Mausoleum today (photo: Stefan Greiner)

A stained glass window was installed at the back of the mausoleum and the visitor can get a glimpse of it through the glass of the front door. Unfortunately, it does not feature Egyptian designs! Nevertheless, the mausoleum pays homage to a well-known Vancouver figure and visitors can see the Egyptianising influence first-hand in this funerary monument.

Notes:

The mausoleum first came to our attention through a mention in Exploring Vancouver: the Architectural Guide, edited by H. Kalman and R. Ward (Douglas & McIntyre; Vancouver, 2012, 4th ed). The Woodward-sign mentioned above decorates the book’s front cover.

Thank you to the Burnaby Heritage Cemetery (formerly the Masonic Cemetery) in Burnaby for permitting the use of the archival photographs.