What came first, Mount Pleasant Road, or Mount Pleasant Cemetery?
Unlike the chicken and the egg conundrum, this question has a clear answer. Mount Pleasant Cemetery is older than Mount Pleasant Village, which didn’t begin to truly grow until the first decade of the twentieth century. When Mount Pleasant Cemetery opened in 1876, the city was still south of where you are standing now. A few decades later streetcars would stretch up this way, and Mount Pleasant Road would split the cemetery in the middle as houses, shops, and parks began to pop up in the surrounding neighbourhoods.
If you died in Toronto before the 1850’s, you may have ended up in Stranger’s Burying Grounds, located in Yorkville. Before Louis Vuitton and Tiffany stores stood proudly along Bloor, it was home to many of the city’s dead, but it was not their final resting place. The growth of Yorkville caused the burial grounds to be closed. Family members of those buried there were given twenty-five years to move their relatives either to the Necropolis west of the city or to the newly opened Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Many bodies were moved up north to Mount Pleasant, but some were left behind and still rest in Yorkville beneath the luxury stores.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery wasn’t just for the dead. The cemetery was designed in the style of garden cemeteries which were fashionable in England and the United States. The core idea of a garden cemetery was to make burial grounds inviting for the living. They were created to be beautiful and walkable, serving as the first public parks in many places. These cemeteries offered sprawling clean green spaces which was a welcome idea in a city that had only recently shed its nickname of “Muddy York”.
The finished Mount Pleasant Cemetery certainly was beautiful and Victorian Torontonians came to see for themselves. Anyone wishing to visit the cemetery could obtain a ticket from the front gate to come in and enjoy the grounds either by foot or in a carriage. Unfortunately for anyone riding horseback, they had to get special permission to enter. It is no wonder why so many visitors flocked to the new cemetery; if this description in 1876 is anything to go by:
“commodious and inviting foot-paths wind around every hill, and explore each dale and shady nook, whence crystal springs bubble forth into beautiful streams.”
While the springs no longer bubble in the cemetery, the tradition of this burial ground as a public space endures. It is a favourite spot for joggers, dog walkers, and nature lovers. It is also a noted arboretum, home to hundreds of varieties of trees from Amur Cork Tree to Weeping Willow. Taphophiles, people interested in gravestones and cemeteries, are also known to frequent the cemetery. Mount Pleasant is home to some of the earliest Torontonians as well as some very prominent and interesting characters. Timothy Eaton, the founder of the Eaton company, has an elaborate mausoleum that was built in 1906. Mary Fortune, a Winnipeg-born Titanic survivor, is also interred at Mount Pleasant.
As you continue further south, do as the Victorians did and take a stroll in the cemetery. You may be surprised by what — and who — you find there.