With the sun sinking beneath the horizon earlier and earlier in the lead-up to Halloween, it’s an ideal time to drag a man to one of Toronto’s graveyards.
St James Cemetery
Closest to the Church Wellesley Village is the St James Cemetery, the oldest operating graveyard in Toronto. Extending from Bloor and Parliament streets south to Wellesley St, just east of St James Town, the cemetery has almost 90,000 bodies buried beneath its soil. The site hasn’t shaken its Anglican roots and is linked to the Cathedral of St James, at Church and King streets, known for its gay-positive vibe.
A modest, though not spooky, mausoleum containing the remains of the Austin family stands partially hidden by trees in a sea of tombstones. The cemetery’s meandering pathways, juxtaposed against tombstones that have weathered over 168 years, would serve as an ideal backdrop for a horror film. Incidentally, the nearby Rosedale Ravine is a tried-and-true gay cruising spot.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery
In the interest of being crass, it’s worth noting that anyone who’s anyone is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Its sprawling, labyrinthine grounds are the final resting place of Glenn Gould, William Lyon Mackenzie King and some iconic Toronto families. The mammoth graveyard contains more than 150,000 corpses, some dating back to the late-19th century. Aging tombstones cling to the sides of the steep hills that punctuate the grounds, and there is an abundance of statues, memorials and family burial chambers.
The Eaton family crypt is a melodramatic affair with high pillars and two menacing lion statues guarding its entrance. The Massey family’s is a castle fit for an elfish king; the compact structure boasts a tower, interior stained glass and a statue at its peak. At the centre of the graveyard sits the massive Mount Pleasant Mausoleum, which contains floor-to-ceiling rows of crypts. Unnervingly, the lights in the hallways are motion sensitive and come on only when the burial chambers are being visited.
Victoria Memorial Square
What the well-dressed men who walk their pooches in Victoria Memorial Square may not realize is that more than 400 corpses are buried just feet beneath the grass. Arguably the oldest cemetery in Toronto, the military burial site just south of the Thompson Hotel, at Wellington and Portland streets, was established in 1764 and closed in 1863. By the early 1880s, nearly all evidence of the graveyard had vanished, thanks to weather, thievery and vandalism, with only a handful of gravestones remaining. The majority of the people buried there were soldiers from Fort York. A memorial at the centre of the park to the War of 1812 was designed by architect Frank Darling and sculptor Walter Seymour Allward and necessitated the excavation of four coffins. A bank of the only remaining tombstones rests at the east side of the park crying out to be noticed.
Richview Memorial Cemetery
Also known as Chapel Cemetery, Richview Memorial Cemetery is located south of Eglinton Avenue West and is completed enclosed within the cloverleaf of highways 401 and 427. The deafening and manic roads that snake around the burial site, which opened in 1846, don’t allow for a pleasant visiting experience. Traffic to and from Pearson International Airport does little to alleviate this problem. The anemic grounds are almost entirely exposed, with very few trees and little foliage, and the jagged headstones sit just feet from crowded overpasses and crooked chain-link fences. In 2004, gay pop group The Hidden Cameras shot a music video here for the title track of their record Mississauga Goddam
. Shot on Super 8 and directed by frontman Joel Gibb, the video illustrates the unsettling isolation and stark urbanism of the graveyard, as airplanes flying directly overhead make their final, and outrageously loud, descent into the city.
The Necropolis Cemetery is located in gay ol’ Cabbagetown, near Riverdale Farm. Opened in 1850, the graveyard contains approximately 50,000 corpses spaced over well-manicured grounds. It features an impressive number of sculptures from a range of styles and eras. A space where people can leave urns that hold their loved ones’ cremated remains is marked by a stunning, modern, black-granite piece titled Onward by artist Kosso Eloul. Nearby, a designated area for scattering ashes showcases a ghostly sculpture of a family playing around the memorials. The cemetery is the resting place of bodies used for scientific purposes by the University of Toronto and is the site of several notable internments, such as former NDP leader and gay rights champion Jack Layton, veteran AIDS activist Greg Pavelich and Canadian rowing star Ned Hanlan, the namesake of Hanlan’s Point.
photos by Robert Kennedy