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COVID Surprise in Necropolis Cemetery

by Marian Press

Although I live quite close to the Necropolis Cemetery, I had, until recently, never been inside its gates. During the past months, the shut-in phenomenon induced by the COVID-19 lockdown made a walk through the cemetery seem like a good idea. I was astonished to find very soon after starting my wandering down the cemetery’s paths to come across a large monument carrying two of the names on my family tree: David Buchan (1807–1877) and his wife, Jane Griffith (1809–1873). David and I share a Scottish 5x great-grandfather, Humphrey Ewing, which makes us 2nd cousins 4x removed. I had known of David and Jane’s presence in Canada and there is a memorial clerestory window to the family in Yorkminster Park Baptist Church at Yonge and St. Clair, but I had never sought to find where they were buried.

David Buchan and Jane Griffith’s grave

In my research into the Ewing family of Strathleven in Dumbartonshire, I had learned of the Canadian connection while reading Glasgow: Past and Present by Senex, a Glasgow historian named Robert Reid and my 3X great uncle. Fortunately for me, his books and articles in the Glasgow Herald often include information on his own family and mine. In a (not-completely-accurate) tree he outlined of the children of the aforementioned Humphrey Ewing and his wife Margaret McLea, he mentions a grand-daughter, “Margt. (Mrs Buchan), who died in Canada.” He adds that she “left issue: David, James and Margaret (Mrs Cameron).[1]

It was not too difficult to discover that David had emigrated to Braeside, just outside Paris, Ontario around 1834 (three years after his marriage), where he took up farming. David was a staunch Baptist and “served as president of the Regular Baptist Missionary Convention for two terms (1849–50, 1876–77) and in 1849–50 was owner-editor of the Evangelical Pioneer (Toronto). In 1851 he was made chairman of the endowment board of the University of Toronto and two years later its bursar, a position he also held at Upper Canada College. Briefly in 1850–51 and permanently from 1866 the Buchan family lived in Toronto.”[2]

David’s widowed mother, Margaret, had accompanied the family to Canada (as Senex had written) and on her death in Toronto on 27 January 1853, she appears to have been the first to have been buried in the grave in the Necropolis. His wife, Jane, who died in Toronto on 1 May 1873 was next, followed by David himself on 17 October 1877. The names of these three are recorded, along with considerable family information, on the gravestone.

After seeing the grave, I decided to track down who else might be buried with these three individuals. Thanks to the Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826–1989 database available on FamilySearch, this was a relatively easy task. The database provides images of the Necropolis burial registers and lists age at death, place of birth and death, date and cause of death and date of burial. In addition, the ownership of the grave is given. Later books include the name and address of the deceased’s nearest relatives.

Ancestry also searches this database, although the images are not provided. This search works particularly well when you use the “Search on Ancestry” facility from within your family tree on the site.

If you want to see what is written on the Necropolis gravestones, Toronto Branch OGS has published a transcription of every legible word on each gravestone in a book that also includes an introduction, many photos, maps and is fully indexed. Toronto Necropolis and Crematorium, Toronto, Ontario is available from the Toronto Branch eShop.

The Buchan grave, and I later found, a Buchan grave right beside it, also with an impressive monument, are full of family. So far, I have been able to determine the names of ten in the two graves. In addition to David, his wife, and his mother-in-law, five of his children lie with him or in the adjoining grave, along with two grandchildren. The last of these burials appears to have taken place in 1925, with the interment of an unmarried daughter, Maria, “on top layer” of her father’s grave.

The Toronto Trust database also revealed that another of David’s daughter, Elizabeth, is buried very close by with her husband, the judge Sir John Alexander Boyd. Another daughter, Margaret, is also interred in the Necropolis with her husband, Patrick Freeland, a barrister and University of Toronto registrar.

I have a final connection to my distant cousin. In 1907, the Home for Incurable Children in Toronto took over the house on Bloor Street built by David Buchan, who lived there from 1866. This house stood where the condo in which I live, and the one next door, stand today.

[1] Senex. Glasgow: Past and Present. Vol. III. Glasgow: David Robertson, 1856, p. 550. Available:

[2] Paul R. Dekar, “Buchan, Jane,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13. Jane Buchan is one of David’s children. The DCB entry says she was one of 14 siblings; I have been able to find the names of only nine.

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