Tucked away amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, some of Toronto’s oldest cemeteries offer tranquility for those seeking peacefulness or reflection. They also offer plenty of opportunities for tombstone tourists looking for notable headstones.
You’ll have to visit outside the downtown core for a grave site selfie with the eternal resting places of Corey Haim, Rob Ford, Marshall McLuhan and Tim Horton. But a pilgrimage to some of the city’s downtown cemeteries will also uncover interesting epitaphs (“Joanie loved a pint”) and historically relevant burial spots. Here are a few names to (respectfully) look for:
Sir Frederick Grant Banting & Dr. Charles Best
Banting was just 32 when, in 1923, he won the Nobel prize in medicine for his role in discovering the use of insulin in diabetes. He shared half of the award money with his assistant, Dr. Charles Best. Now, they share a burial site.
Banting was serving during World War 2 in 1941 when he died due to injuries caused by an airplane crash. Best died of natural causes in 1972. Both are buried not too far from each other in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
More than 3,000 mourners attended the public funeral of celebrated Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, which was broadcast on CBC. Gould died of complications due to a stroke in 1982 at the age of 50. His grave marker in Mount Pleasant Cemetery is engraved with the opening notes of Bach’s The Goldberg Variations. Look for the sitka spruce at the site, which was planted by Sony executives in 1992.
(Photo: A Yee)
Architect E.J. Lennox designed more than 70 buildings throughout Toronto, including Casa Loma, old City Hall and the King Edward Hotel. He even designed the Massey family mausoleum, in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He decided to be buried elsewhere though, in St. James Cemetery when he died in 1933, aged 79 years old.
Peter Matthews & Samuel Lount
(Photo: Alan Brown, Toronto Plaques)
Farmers-turned-politically-active-organizers of 1837’s Upper Canada Rebellion, Matthews and Lount were found guilty of high treason and hanged in 1838 despite thousands of signatures pleading for clemency. A plaque marks the location of their very public hanging at King and Toronto Streets.
The martyrs were unceremoniously buried in Potter’s Field, now Yorkville, but later relocated to the Toronto Necropolis Cemetery where a monument with a broken column symbolizes their untimely deaths.
Anderson Ruffin Abbott
After becoming the first Canadian-born black doctor in 1861, Abbott volunteered with the Union Army during the American Civil War. When Abraham Lincoln, was shot, Abbott was part of the team that stood vigil over his death. After a long life of practicing medicine and advocating for social change, Abbott himself died of stroke in 1913, and is buried in the Toronto Necropolis Cemetery.
Jennie Smillie (Robertson)
Smillie became Canada’s first female surgeon despite being turned away from hospitals who refused to sponsor her. She returned to Canada after interning in Philadelphia, and worked in a private home doing gynaecological surgery. Smillie helped to establish the Women’s College Hospital and the Federation of Medical Women of Canada. She was 70 years old before she married and 103 when she died in 1981. Smillie is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
The founder of Eaton’s hardly did anything on a small scale. Just as the Eaton Centre is hard to miss, so is the Eaton family mausoleum in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. The department store magnate employed more than 70,000 people at one time. When he died of pneumonia in 1907, a funeral procession included more than 200 carriages and newly introduced motor cars while thousands of people lined the streets. Eighteen people are interred in the Eaton mausoleum, including three of Eaton’s babies who died under the age of 2, and his great-great-granddaughter Nancy, who was murdered in 1985.
L. Colonel Arthur Godfrey Peuchen
Peuchen was a wealthy member of Toronto society when, after a visit in England, he set sail for home with a first class ticket on the Titanic. After the ship hit an iceberg and began sinking, Peuchen found his way onto a lifeboat because he had some sailing experience as a yachtsman.
Upon his return to Canada, he was first hailed as a hero for his efforts in assisting passengers into lifeboats during the crisis. Later, he was criticized by Toronto media and the public, who attacked him for surviving when so many didn’t. Peuchen faced further scorn after also returning safely from World War 1. He died in 1929 of pneumonia and is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Thornton & Lucie Blackburn
Thornton Blackburn was an escaped slave from Kentucky who was jailed in Michigan with his wife Lucie. She escaped by switching places with an accomplice, and he was freed by a crowd during the first race riots of Detroit. The pair relocated to Canada, where they were defended against extradition. The Blackburns launched the first taxi cab company in Upper Canada in 1837 with a horse-drawn cab that was able to carry four passengers. They were active throughout their lives, working for abolition on antislavery campaigns and building a sound community. When Thornton died in 1890, he left behind an estate of almost $20,000, and six properties, including a home noted as the only archaeological dig on an Underground Railroad site in Toronto. Lucie died in 1895. Both are buried at Toronto Necropolis Cemetery.
William Lyon Mackenzie King
Canada’s longest-serving prime minister is also the only one buried in Toronto. Mackenzie King died in 1950 of pneumonia. His modest grave and an official memorial plaque can be found at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Joseph Burr Tyrrell
Tyrrell was born in Ontario but is most recognized for his early explorations and for discovering dinosaur bones in Alberta, in 1884. Four years later, he would set exploration aside for gold, and spent the rest of his working life as a mine manager in northern Ontario. In retirement, he lived in Scarborough where he grew apple orchards – later this land would become the site of the Toronto Zoo. Tyrrell is buried in Toronto Necropolis Cemetery with his wife, Mary, who was the founder and president of the Women’s Association of the Mining Industry of Canada.
(Main photo: Still the Oldie)