This Week in History

Archives

A Living Cemetery

For the week of Monday October 14, 2002

Reverend William Squire

Reverend William Squire
© Charles G. Crehen / LAC / 1965-60-26

On October 19, 1852, Reverand William Squire, a Methodist minister who contracted cholera while caring for a dying man, became the first person to be buried at the Mount Royal Cemetery. Opening a cemetery in the countryside was something new; up until then, cemeteries had been located in the heart of the city.

Around the mid-19th century, urban cemeteries had become overpopulated and were interfering with urban development. Following the recent typhus and cholera epidemics, Montréalers also worried about the possibilities of contamination from the cemeteries. In 1851, the City of Montréal banned burials within its walls. Thus, the Mount Royal Cemetery Company was created. The Company acquired 50 acres of land on the northern slope of Mount Royal, just outside the city, and built a cemetery.

Mount Royal Cemetery

Mount Royal Cemetery
© Mount Royal Cemetery Company

Mount Royal Cemetery was strongly influenced by the “rural cemetery” movement that was prominent in the United States at that time; it placed great importance on nature in cemetery design. The initial project, which was quickly completed, included winding paths, a great many trees and grassy islands of various shapes, where the gravestones are located. The cemetery quickly became a favourite place to stroll among Montréalers. It was so popular that, at one time, the Mount Royal Cemetery Company was even forced to limit the number of Sunday visitors! The magnificent site of this cemetery-garden is favourable to both contemplation and walks. In 1891, landscape architect Ormiston Roy suggested different ways to accentuate the natural character of the site. Despite the changes made and despite many expansions, Mount Royal Cemetery remains picturesque.

Carved door to one of the Molson mausoleums

Carved door to one of the Molson mausoleums
© Mount Royal Cemetery Company

Walking through the Mount Royal Cemetery visitors can see very old monuments, often created by great artists. Some are in memory of people who have played an important role in our history. Among these are the prominent Molson family mausoleums, designed by architect George Brown.

Today, nature is still omnipresent at Mount Royal Cemetery. Each year approximately 100 hardwoods and hundreds of ornamental and flowering shrubs are planted. The cemetery’s tree collection includes mostly red oaks and sugar maples, but also features certain rare specimens such as the ginkgo and the dawn-redwood. These trees provide a refuge to some 150 species of birds.

Mount Royal Cemetery is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. It has been designated a national historic site.

Date Modified: