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Britain Street Mystery

Readers of the Toronto Star newspaper may have spotted an unusual notice in the front section on April 5 from the Ontario Registrar of Burial Sites advising of the discovery of a burial site in the heart of the city’s downtown. It turns out that a plumbing crew working on renovations in the basement of a property on the south side of Britain Street, near Richmond Street East, recently stumbled upon human remains that could be more than two centuries old. According to the notice:

The archaeological investigation revealed remains from three individuals, and a potential fourth, all of Euro-Canadian origin. Two disturbed coffins are present, each containing partial human remains, and the partial remains of a third individual, assessed as a juvenile, have also been recovered. The investigation has also uncovered one intact coffin, which may also contain human remains.

The notice drew media attention, and CityNews aired a full television report on the “burial mystery”, featuring an interview with Toronto Branch member Diane Clendenan.

The site of the discovery is near the edge of the Duchess Street Burial Ground, an early  cemetery that was closed to burials by 1850 following the establishment of the Toronto Necropolis. In the 1830s, the burial ground was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, but it was not always Presbyterian and it appears to date back to before the start of the 19th century. While we don’t yet know whether the coffins just found were originally from the Duchess Street Burial Ground, this is not the first time that human remains have turned up during excavations near the historic site. You can find out more about this small but intriguing pioneer burial ground on our Project blog.

Sketch of burial ground location

Sketch of lots 5 and 4 on the north side of Duchess Street (now Richmond Street East) and the gore between the lots that was the burial ground. The encroachment by the cemetery on Lot 5 is shown with a dotted line. (Congregational minutes of Knox Church, page 105, March 3, 1849, Archives of Ontario, microfilm GS 6334)

The Registrar has given notice of the intention to declare the site a “burial ground” and has invited “representatives” of the persons whose remains are interred to contact her by April 26 at:

Nancy Watkins, Registrar of Burial Sites
Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
777 Bay St., 2nd floor
Toronto M5G 2C8
Telephone: 416-212-7499
FAX: 416-327-8406

If you have any information that may relate to the Britain Street discovery, please also consider sharing it with the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Cemeteries Committee, which monitors news about unregistered burial grounds.

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