A cemetery nestled in a highway interchange provides a noisy final resting spot.
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.
It seems like a strange location for a graveyard. Tucked within the massive interchange of Highways 401 and 427, Richview Memorial Cemetery stands calmly amid the traffic chaos surrounding it. The heritage site provides the final resting place for members of western Etobicoke’s pioneer farming families.
Though burials were made onsite as early as 1846, Richview wasn’t officially a graveyard until the Union Chapel was completed, around 1853. According to a historical plaque, farmer William Knaggs (who is buried at Richview) sold the land that became the cemetery for use as “a chapel and lot without belonging to any particular church or denomination, to be respectively devoted exclusively to religious purposes in the discretion of certain trustees.” The church, which evolved into Richview United Church, moved south of the cemetery in 1888 and remained there until the nearby stretch of Highway 27 was converted into an expressway during the 1950s.
While the church relocated west of the future Highway 427, cemetery trustees resisted calls to move the graveyard, which led to its odd present-day positioning. The site was filled out with even more remains during the 1970s, as graves were moved from two other former Etobicoke cemeteries: Willow Grove Burying Ground (which was located at Kipling Avenue and Rexdale Boulevard) and McFarlane Family Burying Ground.
Around 300 people are estimated to be buried in Richview, of which only 90 have markers. Only descendants of those resting there can buy plots. The most recent burial was Victor Kimber, who maintained the grounds for over 40 years before he died in 2005.
Finding the entrance is tricky if you aren’t paying attention. A hidden driveway runs south from Eglinton Avenue, just west of the exits from the surrounding highways. The road leads to a high, gated fence, which may or may not be locked when you arrive.
Don’t expect a tree-shaded vista: grass and shrubs provide the only hints of greenery. What you will see are plenty of century-old tombstones mixed in with historical plaques telling the cemetery’s story.
As a 2010 instalment of Ask Torontoist noted, exhaust fumes from neighbouring traffic are damaging the tombstones. Restoration efforts have included mounting markers onto new slabs. The graveyard no longer appears to serve as a dumping ground for construction refuse, though.
At least one family name is recognizable, if only because of the Etobicoke road named after them: Dixon.
Several tombstones provide glimpses into the lives of those buried below them. Take Elizabeth Coulter, who passed away at age 22, in November 1852. Though her marker is missing a few pieces, enough remains to hint at the pain surrounding her passing:
Affliction sore long time I bore
Physicians were in vain,
Till God was pleased to send me [home?]
And free me of my pain.
Repent in time make no delay
I in my bloom was called away.
Additional material from the October 28, 2006, edition of the Globe and Mail. Photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.