This Week in History


Serenity in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

This story was initially published in 2003

On November 4, 1876, the Mount Pleasant Cemetery officially opened in Toronto, Ontario. Located not far from the city centre, this carefully tended cemetery in a magnificent setting is a peaceful place of rest for both the dead and the living.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery
© Parks Canada / M. Trépanier / 1996
In the early 1800s, the City of Toronto did not yet have a cemetery for citizens who did not belong to the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church. In 1825, these citizens sought permission from the government to have their own non-denominational burial place. As a result, Potter’s Field Cemetery was created the following year.  However, the city’s expansion forced that cemetery to close in 1855. Another cemetery, Necropolis, then became the alternate site, but space at Necropolis was soon used up. This led the non-profit Toronto General Burying Grounds Trust to buy a 200-acre lot in 1873 to develop a new cemetery, named Mount Pleasant. A few burials took place there in July 1875, although this cemetery was not officially inaugurated until November 1876.

The Mount Pleasant Cemetery, noted at the time for its rural location, is now incorporated into the City of Toronto, which has expanded continuously for nearly 200 years. Even today, a walk in the grounds of Mount Pleasant Cemetery will help one forget the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city. This setting is attributed in large part to the genius of the German-born landscape architect Henry Engelhardt. In 1874, he was charged with developing plans for the cemetery, which included a network of roads and winding trails crisscrossing the site. The cemetery encompasses a number of islands, where funerary monuments and abundant vegetation grace the landscape. Strollers and tourists can admire the monuments erected in honour of many famous citizens, such as William Lyon Mackenzie King, who found their final resting place here.

The Monument of William Lyon Mackenzie King.
William Lyon Mackenzie King Monument
© Parks Canada / N. Clerk / 1999
Over time, the cemetery has undergone a number of transformations. Some of the roads and buildings have disappeared, and watercourses have been filled in. Other structures have been added. The older western portion of the cemetery has retained much of its original character. The eastern portion is less picturesque. Its layout remains stylized, though the presence of nature is still strongly felt there.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery is a product of an important movement to create rural cemeteries that spread through Europe, the United States and Canada in the 19th century. Mount Pleasant Cemetery is a perfect example of a large rural cemetery that combines the aesthetics of monument design with the beauty of scenic landscapes. The cemetery was designated as a national historic site in 2000. 

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