Toronto Walks: Mount Pleasant Cemetery

What fascinates me about this place are the stories of the people and places that can be found here. Local, National and International stories. From the small to the epic, the people who helped to build our world.

But not just stories. There are the carved monuments and artistic endeavours of the gravesites. And it is a world famous arboretum. When it opened in 1876, trees and shrubbery were a top priority. Over the past hundred years it has become magnificent.

From Fire Chief Richard Ardagh and the great Toronto fire of 1895, to internationally renowned pianist Glenn Gould these stories can be found in the book “Mount Pleasant Cemetery, An Illustrated Guide Second Edition” by Mike Filey. If you want to uncover the many stories yourself, I recommend getting this book. It has a chapter on the monuments and carvings, the arboretum and the people.

But first, an update on my back pain. I will not have to have spine surgery which is a big relief for me. I will always have the pain when I walk but will be managing it. I’ve got exercises to do and physiotherapy sessions. It means less walking next year when we go on our adventures – but, I have plans

If you want to find the people behind these stories you will need to have a map. Also, there is an app “Find a Grave” that will help you to narrow down the location. Both can be found at the Mount Pleasant Group website.

The site is huge – from Yonge Street to Bayview Ave. The older markers are on the west side, closer to the St. Clair entrance. I started from the Davisville entrance walking south from the subway station to Merton, then along a laneway to the gates. You can also use the Beltline trail for the “Pedestrian Entrance”

When I first started coming here, dogs were not allowed. “More honoured in the breach” as Shakespeare said. As the condos went up, more and more people took their dogs in for a walk. Eventually the Board of Directors changed the rule. Today I’m bringing Eve with me.

At one point I had to be very watchful for cyclists as they sped along the road. I see this year they have posted warning signs. There are security vehicles that patrol the roads.

My first stop is John Davis, who Davisville is named after. We know of these neighbourhoods but not often the story behind them. He arrived from England in 1840. He was an accountant but gave it up to move north of the city and start a pottery business. The Davisville Pottery Works was on Yonge just north of present day Davisville. It ran for over 80 years establishing the community of Davisville.

I then went in search of John Kelso’s gravesite to pay my respects. At the age of 23, he founded the Toronto Humane Society in 1887. It was as a reporter that Kelso became aware of the inhumanity toward both children and animals. At first, the Society looked after both, but in 1890 he organized the Children’s Aid Society and split the duties. He pushed for several provincial Acts to look after the welfare of children and setup the Toronto Playground Association (which I thought was very cool).

He definitely made Toronto a better city. Looking for a place to rest, I headed to the Cutten memorial. It is the work of sculpture Emanuel Hahn. He also did rower Ned Hanlan statue and Sir Adam Beck’s located in the median of University Avenue.

Lionel Cutten was born in Guelph in 1871. He formed an import company of automobile parts, radios and drapery.

It was a most enjoyable rest time. Any great benefit of walking in Mount Pleasant with back pain, there are benches and rocks to sit on.

John Turner, the 17th Prime Minister of Canada was buried in the area in 2020. He only served for 79 days. In the subsequent election he lost to Brian Mulroney in 1984. He was born in the United Kingdom – the only one since Mackenzie Bowel in 1896.

We left the paved road and walked up the hill. Found this weathered Celtic Cross.

John Milton Cork. You may not recognize his name but I bet you do his partner – Theodore Loblaw. Yes, they both had small grocery stores but in 1919 decided to pool their resources and open something new – a self-serve grocery store. And the rest, they say, is history. After the death of T. Loblaw, John Cork wanted to remain behind the scenes. The name Loblaw stuck.

Touring the sculptures and monuments is a lesson in itself. Many of the polished columns had to be imported from Scotland and Northern Ireland because the tools and skills were not available in Canada – The Eaton mausoleum for example.

Skilled Scottish stone masons arrived in Toronto and began to work on the imported marble and granite. The Celtic Cross, seen above is a common motif along with hands, clover, ivy, anchor, grapes and the Eye in Triangle (eye of God in the Trinity).

The Michener family with Roland Michener (18th generation) becoming Governor General of Canada from 1967 to 1974

Alexander Muir, composer of Canada’s “other National Anthem” – The Maple Leaf Forever. He answered the call of a contest to compose the best Canadian patriotic song. He was walking along the street when a maple leaf floated down and clung to his coat. Five hours later he had written The Maple Leaf Forever. He won second prize and $50.

The granite monument was designed by Toronto sculptor Arthur James Clarke. At the unveiling, 100 students from the Alexander Muir Public School sang “O Canada”.

Bobby Gimby was a celebrated Canadian musician. In the early 40s he formed his own orchestra and played Toronto’s Palais Royal, Palace Pier and the Brant Inn in Burlington. He was part of the musical troop for CBC’s “The Happy Gang” until the late 50s.

But he is best remembered (at least by the kid in me) for “The Ca-na-da Song”. Sang this in school during Centennial year. It was a children’s marching song so it was easy to get kids moving to it. Gimby promoted it all over the country making it become the biggest selling record at the time.

He arranged to have royalties from the song go to the Boy Scouts of Canada. Also in 1967 he was named to Officer of the Order of Canada

I headed over to the Mausoleum. On the steps is a strange looking monument that will catch your eye

It is the tribute to William Barker VC “The Most Decorated War Hero in the History of Canada and the British Empire”. In the First World War he destroyed 50 enemy aircraft. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, Military Cross and Bars and the Victoria Cross

He died in 1930 while testing a plane near Ottawa. At his funeral, six aircraft flown by WW I pilots skimmed over the gravesite and release thousands of rose petals.

His remains are located in the main room of the mausoleum.

Mark Fortune from Winnipeg, took his wife Mary and their 4 children on a business trip to England. Their return journey was on the Titanic. Mark and his young son were among the dead. Mary and the 3 girls were on lifeboats. She confirmed to the inquiry later that one of the passengers in the lifeboat was a man dressed as a woman.

Arthur Peuchen was also a survivor of the Titanic disaster. As a chemist, he was the first person in the British Empire to make acetone directly from wood. It was used in the explosive cordite. He new how to sail a boat being a member of the Canadian Yacht Club. As such, when the iceberg hit, he was given command of a lifeboat. A dozen people were rescued from his boat.

Luigi Von Kunits, established the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1927. From then until 1931 (when he died) he conducted the symphony.

Born and educated in Vienna but he decided to make Toronto his home and we are the better for it.

Another prime minister buried at Mount Pleasant – William Lyon Mackenzie King. He was Canada’s longest serving prime minister.

The highlights are indicative of the deterioration of this statue. John Severn’s monument dates back to 1880. He was a blacksmith in York (Toronto) but decided to move up to the village of Yorkville and established a brewery in 1832.

He was elected one of the councillors for the new village of Yorkville in 1853. The six pillars represent Severn, his 3 wives and 2 children

What makes Mount Pleasant distinct is its landscape architecture. It was designed by Henry Englehardt. His inspiration was Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. It officially opened on November 4, 1876. Pictured here is a London Plane tree

It is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. Whether you explore the stories, the sculpture of the landscape it really is Toronto’s treasure.