A look at one of Toronto's oldest active Catholic cemeteries, final resting place of hockey stars and at least one chocolate magnate.
The mock graveyards decorating residential lawns this Halloween bear little resemblance to Toronto’s real cemeteries, which, actually, are full of life. As we did last year, over the course of this week, we’ll visit some of the city’s most interesting final resting places.
From its small gate entrance along Bayview Avenue, Mount Hope Cemetery doesn’t leave as much of an impression as nearby institutions like the Canadian Institute for the Blind or Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. But this Catholic graveyard has its fair share of interesting monuments. A walk through the grounds offers glimpses of the local ravine system and a great view of the changing skyline of Yonge and Eglinton.
Before Mount Hope, the main Catholic cemetery in the city was St. Michael’s on Bond Street. As that burial site neared capacity during the 1880s, church officials sought a roomier place. The preferred location was somewhere along or near Yonge Street, north of the city.
The plan sat for a decade until Archbishop John Walsh asked his wealthiest advisers to buy land for a graveyard on behalf of the archdiocese.
On July 16, 1897, former Toronto Street Railway owner Sir Frank Smith and brewer Eugene O’Keefe purchased property near present-day Bayview and Eglinton Avenues from a local merchant for $5,000. Almost exactly a year later, on July 9, 1898, Walsh consecrated the grounds and officially named it Mount Hope Cemetery. The ceremony turned into a farewell party for the ailing cleric, who died three weeks later. According to historian Michael Power, the event was also a wake for the influence of the dignitaries on hand, “the last generation of Irish grandees who would hold sway in the archdiocese of Toronto.”
After a year and a half of preparation, the cemetery was ready, and 79-year-old King Street resident Edmund Sullivan became the first person to be buried at Mount Hope. Since his interment on March 24, 1900, over 76,000 people have been buried there.
The main entrance is located at the eastern end of Erskine Avenue. Pedestrians can also enter through a gate on Bayview Avenue, north of Broadway Avenue. Like Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the gently rolling grounds attract many North Toronto joggers and walkers. The most scenic part is the north end, where the cemetery meets the trees of the Sherwood Park Ravine.
Religious iconography is prominent on many of the tombstones, ranging from grand statues to small angels marking young children. Several sections are devoted to Catholic orders, whose members are commemorated by row upon row of small markers or metal rings.
Mount Hope boasts a good cross-section of notables. Hockey fans will find 1930s Maple Leafs legends King Clancy (buried with a modest marker in an area the cemetery office referred to as “the flats”) and Red Horner. Laura Secord chocolates founder Frank O’Connor is here, as is Fran’s restaurateur Fran Deck. Political figures include longtime Toronto city councillor Joe Piccininni, and also Lady Annie Thompson, the widow of Canada’s first Catholic Prime Minister, Sir John Thompson. Representing the arts are writer Morley Callaghan and theatre impresario Jeremiah Shea. Notable sinners include 1930s bank robber Red Ryan, two members of the Boyd Gang, Lennie Jackson (unmarked grave), and Steve Suchan (buried under his real name, Val Lesso).
The monument for George J. Foy is one of the largest grave markers in the city. It’s a 40-foot-high cross crafted from a single slab of granite and anchored to the ground by large stones. It’s said to have taken a team of 24 horses to drag the monument to Mount Hope from Union Station.
Foy made his fortune wholesaling cigars and liquor. He died in October 1909 while out for a doctor-recommended after-dinner stroll along Queen Street in the Beaches. According to his Globe obituary, Foy approached a policeman and quaintly remarked, “Mr. Officer, I believe I have been seized with a slight attack of asthma” before fatally dropping to the sidewalk.
Additional material from A History of Mount Hope Cemetery Toronto , Ontario 1898-1998 by Michael Power (Toronto: Catholic Cemeteries Archdiocese of Toronto, 1998) and the October 2, 1909 edition of the Globe. Photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.