MOUNT PLEASANT CEMETERY, TORONTO
The news wasn’t promising for dying Baptists, Presbyterians or Jews in Toronto of the early 19th century. A city ordinance declared that only Roman Catholics and Church of England Anglicans could be buried in cemeteries within its borders.
Not until 1876, a full nine years after Confederation was the all-inclusive Mount Pleasant Cemetery opened. Laid out on the outskirts of the growing town, the cemetery then encompassed 200 acres of land, with over 12 miles of roadway. Scenic ponds and numerous trees dotted the landscape.
The Globe newspaper of November 4, 1876 called Mount Pleasant “a quiet resting place for the people’s dead.”
Today, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, in the centre of the sprawling metropolis is the final resting place of more than 168,000 persons, of all faiths. With its winding roadways, gardens, arbours of shade, and water features, it’s an oasis of calm within a sea of hurry.
On a splendid June day with Mount Pleasant awash in splashes of early summer pinks, golds and scarlets, we found ourselves, cemetery map in hand, on a search for the final resting places of some of Canada’s history-makers.
The grave of Dr. Frederick Banting, discoverer of insulin, and artist extraordinaire was first on our list of visitations.
Modest and understated, like the great man himself, the headstone of Frederick Banting identifies him only as “KBE,” Knight of the British Empire. The medical insignia etched into the background is the only clue to this great Canadian’s outstanding legacy. He’s buried with his second wife, Henrietta whose modesty of accomplishments was less than her husband’s.
I pay silent homage to a man who heads the list of my personal heroes.
Winding our way through Mount Pleasant’s miles of walkways, we’re now on a search for the Massey family tomb. One of Canada’s “First Families,” the Masseys counted industrialists, actors, politicians and a Governor-General in their midst.
The Massey tomb is hard not to spot. Designed in the Romanesque Revival Style, of massive limestone blocks, this mini-medieval castle comes with the requisite goddess on the top, resplendent in turrets, battlements and stained glass.
The ashes of a number of Massey family members, including Governor- General Vincent, and Hollywood actor Raymond are interred within.
Our walking tour is picking up steam—there’s a lot to cover at Mount Pleasant. We stop to pay our respects at the final resting places of Hockey Night in Canada’s Foster Hewitt; pianist Glenn Gould; Timothy Eaton; actress Mary Pickford; Front Page Challenge’s Fred David; Toronto Maple Leaf’s coach Punch Imlach, and newspaper magnate Kenneth Thompson.
Little Allison Parrott, brutally murdered at age 11 is there too. We pass an extra moment of contemplation here.
The Silcox vote for biggest ego in death is saved for the tomb of Steve Stavro. Grocery magnate, onetime owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. Stavro’s monument to himself towers 20 feet in the air.
A stature of Alexander the Great, on his rearing horse Bucephalus looks down from the heights . Three snarling lions at the statue’s base guard its remains. Crests of Stavro’s legacy, including the Maples Leafs and Raptors encircle the tomb.
And still, the best is still to come. Our final stop of the day is at the resting place of Canada’s 10th and longest-serving Prime Minister, William Lyon MacKenzie King. Oddities a-plenty are found at “Willie’s” modest grave.
An unadorned horizontal cement top bearing only the words William Lyon McKenzie King, his dates of birth and death greets us.
But the top is covered with loose change—primarily pennies and nickels. They’re rusty too so the money has been there awhile. They’re joined by a white wooden dowel, a bedraggled Christmas wreath and a polished stone with PEACE inscribed.
What goes on here?
A google search of “MacKenzie King’s grave” (www.valdodge.com/2011/11…/mackenzie-king-generates-some-capital) gives some answers.
Apparently the decorations atop King’s grave change regularly. The money disappears, then it reappears–sometimes loose, sometimes stacked. A small flowerpot, rocks and polished stones have also made their appearance—and disappearance.
Given King’s passionate affair with the spirit life, one can only speculate the stories behind these artifacts. King’s resting place leaves me wanting to know more.
We’re weary after our self-guided Mount Pleasant Cemetery walking tour. With so many stories yet uncovered, we plan to return to take in one of their guided visits at a later date. They’re held regularly on summer weekends and offer knowledgeable commentary and fascinating tales.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery was designated a National Historic Site in 2000.
It is open year-round.
375 Mount Pleasant Road,
Toronto, M4T 2V8