The first Catholics in the city attended St. Paul’s Parish and were buried in the large lot behind the church. In the 1840’s the Irish Potato Famine brought large numbers of Catholic immigrants and before long the parish cemetery was filled. In 1855 St Michael’s Cemetery was opened near Yonge and St Clair but just a few decades later it was also filled. With the cost of land in Deer Park it was decided to look for another place to open a new cemetery. A location was found just north of Yonge and Eglinton and in 1900 Mount Hope Cemetery opened.
In the 1890’s the area around Yonge and Eglinton was quite different than it is today. Mount Pleasant Road had not been built yet and many of the local streets had different names. Victoria Avenue near the top of this old map from the Beltline Railway is now known as Blythwood. The area which is now Mount Hope Cemetery has been outlined in green. Notice that Erskine Avenue and Woodward Avenue (now Keewatin) meet on the east end at Greenwood Avenue which joined the East York Line (now Bayview). When the cemetery was opened the portions of these roads that were within the cemetery vanished except for perhaps the curved connection that may still be in use as part of the cemetery roadways.
The cemetery gates can be found on Erskine Avenue and there is also a pedestrian gate on the east end for access off of Bayview Avenue. Starting with the gates, it soon becomes obvious that crosses are everywhere. Catholic cemeteries require a cross or some other select religious symbol on every marker which sets them apart from nondenominational or even Protestant ones.
Just inside the gates is a small chapel and administrative building which wouldn’t be complete without a cross on top of the bell tower.
There’s a section in the cemetery for the Loretto Sisters, also known as The of The Blessed Virgin Mary. They lie in rows marked by rows of identical iron crosses.
Friars are male members of a religious order and they have their own section in the cemetery. Like the nuns, they are buried in neat rows, each with the same style of headstone.
John B Murphy was born on March 1, 1850 and went to Norwood High School and St. Michael’s College in Toronto. At 26 he graduated in medicine from Queens University after which he ran a family practice in Brockville until 1890. That was the year he took the position of resident physician at Mimico Asylum when it opened. In 1894 when the Brockville Asylum was opened he was promoted to Medical Superintendent. He died at the age of 54 on January 17, 1904 and is buried in one of the few mausoleums in the cemetery. He was also one of the early interments in the cemetery.
George Foy was a liquor and tobacco salesman for over 40 years and when he passed a 12-metre tall cross was erected in his memory. It is said to be the tallest family monument in Ontario and is carved out of a single piece of granite. It was moved from Union Station to the cemetery with a team of 24 horses.
Frank O’Connor, who founded Laura Secord Chocolates, is buried along the south fence. He opened his candy shop in Toronto in 1913 at the same time as the city was commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of York. Building on the hype he decided to use a war hero who was a household name. Laura Secord had walked under cover of darkness to bring a message to The British forces at Beaver Dams that led to a decisive victory for the defenders. You can read more about Frank O’Connor and see his estate by following the link.
There are 147 servicemen from both world wars buried in the cemetery. I notice these two stones which commemorate two Privates who were killed on Dec. 6, 1941. Canadian Expeditionary Forces were active in Hong Kong in December 1941 but the fighting started on December 8th. It is unclear at this time why these two soldiers died on the same day, or if there is any relationship other than coincidence.
We’ve featured several cemeteries over the years but Mount Hope has to be one of the best ones if you are interested in carvings and other religious symbols and artwork. The sadness expressed in this angel pretty much sums up the feelings of anyone who has lost a loved one
There are several other angel statues throughout the cemetery. The figure of Jesus is also frequently featured. There are also saints that may have had a specific meaning to the dearly departed or their families. Marble can be easily carved but is also susceptible to acid rain and weather. Several of the marble monuments in Mount Hope have become unstable and are laid on the ground for safety reasons. Catholic cemeteries no longer allow marble carvings.
The passing of a child is always tragic but losing twins must be even harder to bear. This pair of small angels mark the graves of a pair of girls who were born on August 20, 1927. Rosina passed away less than three weeks after her first birthday and her sister Irene followed a little more than three months later.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s the cemetery was having around 4,000 burials each year but with the rising popularity of cremations that number has dropped to only 1,200. Even so, the cemetery quickly started to be filled. In the early years Burke Brook formed two ponds on the north side of the property. To make more room, the ponds were drained and Burke Brook was placed into a culvert. A row of trees (marked with dark blue arrows on the Google Earth capture below) still marks the former northern limit of the burial grounds. When this was filled they turned to closing some of the roads and turning them into additional space. At least six of these short connector roads have been indicated with light blue arrows below.
Mount Hope is the only functioning Catholic Cemetery within Toronto City limits and it makes a quiet place to walk and reflect on life and the remembrance of it.
Other cemetery stories: Mount Pleasant, The Necropolis, Prospect Cemetery, Pioneer Cemetery Cairns
Google Maps Link: Mount Hope Cemetery
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