Description of Historic Place
Mount Pleasant Cemetery National Historic Site of Canada is located in the middle of the city of Toronto, Ontario where it occupies some 83 hectares. Established in the late 19th century in an area which, at that time, was on the northern edge of urban settlement, the cemetery was designed as an informal, naturalistic environment where lawns, shrubs and mature trees mingled with large commemorative monuments and grave markers of varying styles and sizes. Many winding paths follow the contours of the scenic, treed landscape. The park-like layout provides picturesque views, which along with selective plantings, emphasize the natural beauty of the environment. Official recognition refers to the cemetery in its defined boundaries, including landscape elements, pathways, tombstones and funerary monuments.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery was designated a national historic site of Canada in 2000 because:
- it is an outstanding surviving example of picturesque design inspired by the 19th-century tradition of rural, American cemeteries defined by winding paths and roads, irregularly shaped islets, panoramic perspectives, and monuments inserted in a naturalistic setting enriched by a wide variety of groves and trees;
- many of the funeral monuments testify to significant epochs in the history of Toronto, Ontario and Canada;
- it stands out today in Canada, for the quality and integrity of its layout, which was developed in a linear fashion from west to east and for which it is possible to follow the changes that have occurred over time.
The land now comprising Mount Pleasant Cemetery was purchased in 1873 as ravine and plateau farmland in what was then the village of Deer Park. Designed in 1874 by landscape gardener H. A. Englehardt, Mount Pleasant Cemetery’s arrangement is closely associated with the 19th-century concept of rural cemeteries. Following three years of development the cemetery opened in 1876. Such “rural” cemeteries were intended as places not only of interment, but also of contemplation and recreation. The cemetery is now distinguished by its picturesque walkways, rare trees from around the world, co-existing native specimens, and a wealth of historic funerary monuments that are well integrated into the original design.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 2000.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include:
- the cemetery’s location in the midst of the city of Toronto;
- the dramatic site with variable topography including ravine and plateau;
- the landscape of 83 hectares laid out as in a park-like manner with planning in the “picturesque” style, defined by curvilinear plots and plantings including lawns, mature trees, shrubs, and ornamental plant material arranged to form panoramic perspectives, the whole now bifurcated by Mount Pleasant Road;
- the definition of the cemetery boundaries by fences, walls, and gates and those original walls and gates in their location, designs, materials and craftsmanship;
- the winding paths, avenues, and bridges in their routes and extent;
- the large commemorative funeral monuments, sculptural grave markers and mausolea of varying styles and sizes which have significant architectural and historical associations, notably the St. Andrew’s Society of Toronto cairn and obelisk, the Freemasons’ column, the Oddfellows’ linked columns, the Robert Wilkes and John Smith sculptural columns, the William McMaster obelisk, the Massey, Eaton, Blackwell, Cox, Just, New, French, and Kelly mausoleums, the Darling and Pearson-designed communal mausoleum, the George Gillies monument, Emanuel Hahn’s memorials to the Empress of Ireland and to Lionel Cutten, the Sir Edmund Walker stele, the Clifford Sifton sarcophagus in their designs, materials and craftsmanship;
- the existence of a variety of grave markers of a variety of types, notably those commemorating various historically significant persons;
- evidence of interdenominational burials;
- continued public access to the cemetery.