January’s Indexing Efforts

Our Toronto Trust Cemeteries project volunteers pushed well past the target of 6,000 records for the month to index more than 7,500 records in January. Each of those 7,500 records—all for Mount Pleasant Cemetery—represent two or three names: the deceased, the plot owner, and the next of kin. What an amazing boost this will be for genealogists with ancestors in Toronto!

As we work chronologically through the records, we’re also seeing Toronto grow and develop. In the records we’re working on now, street addresses are included. We’re also seeing the rise of elegantly named apartment residences. Indexer Gwyneth Pearce has discovered some interesting information about one of them.

After a bit of a struggle, Gwyneth deciphered the nearest relation address for an entry as “St George Mansions Cor Harbord & St George St”. She writes, “Looking this up, I found out that this has been described as Toronto’s ‘first official apartment building’. See this Citytv News story,  and p. 13 of this paper from the University of Toronto’s Cities Centre. I think it’s the building on the right at the back of this City of Toronto Archives photo.”

The index we’re creating will provide opportunities for historical research well beyond genealogy. I can’t wait to see what happens.

About indexing place names

As volunteers on the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project, we’re creating an index to some wonderful records. Generally, we transcribe words exactly as we see them, including abbreviations—so Wm or Eliz don’t become William and Elizabeth.

But in indexing the places of birth, death, and addresses of the nearest relative, we have the opportunity to use our local knowledge to expand and correct the place names. This can be really helpful to a researcher who isn’t familiar with Toronto and Ontario. However, we never add a place designation that is not in the original record.

Here are some examples:

  • Port Hope Ont should be expanded to Port Hope Ontario
  • Tor Gen Hosp should be expanded to Toronto General Hospital
  • Gen Hosp should be expanded to General Hospital (don’t add Toronto)
  • Eglington should be changed to Eglinton
  • York Tp or Twp should be expanded to York Township
  • London should never have either Ontario or England added unless in the original record

If we’re not absolutely sure that there is an error or the meaning of an abbreviation, we’ll always transcribe the record exactly as it appears. With luck, the researcher who finds the entry in our index will recognize the place—and we won’t have led them astray by guessing.

We’ve also collected a list of many of the places we’ve found in the records as a reference for indexing volunteers to refer to for puzzling entries.

The FSI program has some wonderful tools to aid in reading the handwritten registers by enlarging the image, adjusting the contrast, etc. I’ve written more about that here. But sometimes the best thing is another set of eyes, and we can let another indexer have a look. More about “sharing a batch” here.

One more thing. We’ve discovered that many of these dearly departed were moved one or more times. For example, in a page of 46 burials in Mount Pleasant Cemetery from January 4 to 27, 1887, folks were moved to Lakefield, Ontario and Trois Rivières, Quebec, as well as to Prospect Cemetery and St. James Cemetery in Toronto.

If a person was moved within the same cemetery, it is likely they were reunited with other family members, so we record only the more recent burial location but the original burial date. If the person was moved to another cemetery, we don’t include that new location, but rather retain only the burial location in the Toronto Trust cemetery and the original burial date.

The details of any reburials will be available to researchers when they look at the digitized image of the register page, as well as officiating minister, undertaker, cause of death, etc.

Some family historians will be amazed at how mobile their ancestors were—even after death!

Congratulations 2011 project volunteers!

I thought you’d like to hear that we managed to index 81,624 names in 2011. That’s an amazing 75 percent more than 2010! Thank you all for your contributions to this total.

Forty-three volunteers participated in the Toronto Trust project in 2011. As I’ve said before, there’s no quota and every page you index is valuable, but I think you agree that these eight volunteers—Verna, William, Marg H., Heather, Marg K., Joyce, Vera, and Barry—who each indexed (and in some cases arbitrated) more than 5,000 names deserve some special kudos!

Our 2011 total is added to the 2010 figure of 46,658 names and 2009’s 32,000 names. (Isn’t it great to see the numbers increasing each year?)

We’ve finished indexing the York General Burying Ground and the Toronto Necropolis records, and are well into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Arbitrators are completing the Necropolis, and there’s still lots of both indexing and arbitration to do on Mount Pleasant Cemetery and Prospect Cemetery.

It was very exciting to see the first fruits of our labours available on FamilySearch.org in June. It is just a fraction of what we have done, and what is waiting for us.

Please consider working some indexing into your daily schedule in 2011. The system lets you set targets for yourself, but even without a target, there’s something very satisfying about watching that little total mount up as you complete a page!

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need help with passwords or other instructions—or a second opinion on that careless clerk’s handwriting!

Happy New Year to all.

Jane MacNamara

I think Thomas Carfrae, one of the founders in 1825 of what became the Toronto Trust Cemeteries, would be pleased to see his family members recalled on FamilySearch.org.

Just where was James Crawford born?

As family historians we know that we should look at multiple sources for every fact we add to our tree. Three sources is a good rule of thumb, but “a reasonably exhaustive search” is required by the Genealogical Proof Standard.

A place of birth in the Toronto Necropolis burial register that puzzled volunteer indexer Marg Kelliher is a great example of why multiple sources are very necessary.

Birthplace of James Crawford in the Toronto Necropolis register

James Crawford, age 78, died in Toronto on July 5, 1919. Cause of death was senility. Here’s an image of his place of birth from the Necropolis register:

Digital images of Ontario death registrations for 1919 are available on Ancestry.ca so we could easily consult James Crawford’s death record to help solve the problem. Here’s an image of his place of birth:

Birthplace of James Crawford in the 1919 Ontario death register

Huh? We were still mystified.

The gravestones in the Necropolis were transcribed by OGS Toronto Branch and published in 2002. The transcription shows that James, his wife Margaret Henderson and six family members are commemorated on markers on plot L 147. James Crawford’s place of birth is carved in stone as: Enniskillen, Ireland.

Obituary for James Crawford of Toronto, in The Globe, July 8, 1919.

But is that what the burial register and death register were trying to say? Were those records providing more specific—or perhaps conflicting—information?

An obituary in The Globe on Tuesday, July 8, 1919, provides more clues to follow up but no resolution to the place of birth question.

If you can decipher (or even hazard a guess) about either bit of handwriting—or if you can add to the story of Mr. Crawford—we’d love to hear from you.

Would you like to join the crew of indexers working on the registers of Toronto cemeteries? Read more about the project here.

You can find the page of the Necropolis register where James Crawford appears here.

Transcribing in full swing at St. James Cemetery

Now that summer is officially here, the Ontario Genealogical Society Toronto Branch volunteer crew will be out transcribing gravestone inscriptions on Wednesday evenings from 5:30 to 8:00 pm and Saturday mornings from 9:00 am to noon.

It is a huge job to preserve the information and make it available for researchers everywhere. We could really use your help.

As you can see from the photo, it is a collaborative process. We work in groups—to locate the plots according to the map and the notes we’ve made from plot records, to find and uncover any markers that have been overgrown with sod, and to read and write down the inscription. We frequently muster the full crew to decipher a particularly puzzling phrase or verse.

What do you need to bring? A pair of gardening gloves would be handy, but we’ll supply everything else. Come dressed for the weather, with sunscreen, hat, drinking water, and perhaps insect repellent. Sensible shoes for uneven ground are in order.

St. James, on the edge of the Don River valley is a haven for birds so you might want your camera, too.

The crew will be out just about every Saturday and Wednesday from now until the fall, weather permitting. Please contact us at info@torontofamilyhistory.org to confirm. At this point we are working in Section A p.s. (along Parliament Street), but we’ll also confirm that location when you get in touch.

St. James Cemetery is on Parliament Street just south of Bloor, and easily reached on the #65 bus which runs between Castle Frank subway station and Front Street. The #94 Wellesley bus which runs between Wellesley subway station and Castle Frank station will also work. (Either route, get off at the Wellesley and Parliament stop.) Drivers can park on cemetery roadways. There’s a map of the sections just inside the gate.

Please join us. It is a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours!

The Ontario Genealogical Society Toronto Branch crew transcribing gravestone inscriptions at St. James Cemetery in Toronto on June 18, 2011.

“Killed by Falling Wall”

by Tricia Clark

One of the reasons I volunteered to index was the glimpses of people’s lives we get from the records. While indexing the records for the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project, I have been following the trends in the Cause of Death column. As I was indexing records for July 1902, one page gave me pause. Of the 52 names on that page, there were nine accidental deaths. This was an unusually high number. Even more unusual was the fact that five of these nine were young men “Killed by Falling Wall” on Thursday, July 10, 1902.

I was immediately reminded of my great-grandfather whose death certificate lists the cause of death as “Fell down shaft at Island”. Only six months after arriving in Canada in 1907 with his wife and five children, he and three other men were killed working on the excavation of a tunnel under Toronto Harbour. They fell to their deaths when a cable snapped on the “bucket” that lifted them out of the tunnels at the end of the day.

I felt compelled to find out how five young men had been killed by a falling wall. The Toronto Star for July 11, 1902 revealed that they were all firefighters killed by two separate wall collapses while fighting a fire at the P. McIntosh Feed Company on George Street.[1]

Firefighters killed in the McIntosh Feed Company fire on July 10, 1902, Toronto (The Sentinel and Orange Protestant Advocate, 12 July 1902, page 5, AO microfilm N 44 reel 11)

At one time, the building had been used by the Toronto Street Railway Company for stabling horses and was packed with hay, straw and other highly flammable materials. The blaze was intense and spread rapidly. Within minutes of arriving on the scene at 6:20 a.m., Chief Thompson had called a general alarm to summon other stations.

Without any warning, the first wall collapsed on Adam Kerr, David See, and W. Harry Clarke. Despite the incredible heat and danger, men worked to move the rubble to free the men. See and Clarke were found and their lifeless bodies recovered within fifteen minutes. Kerr was located a few hours later only a few feet away. A few minutes after the first wall fell, a second explosion was heard. The south wall had collapsed on Walter Collard and Fred Russell as they were preparing to move away from the dangerous area. A third man who had been with Collard and Russell was saved by the fact that he had gone to turn off the water supply for the hose. It was the largest loss of firefighters in the history of the City of Toronto fire department.

The morning following the fire, permission was granted to the Trustees of the cemetery for the civic funeral, waiving a bylaw that prohibited Sunday burials. Thousands of people waited for hours in the heat outside St. James Cathedral at King and Church and all along Yonge Street. The procession took over an hour to pass any one spot on the route to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. See, Collard and Clarke were buried in Plot B – Section 7 Lot 7, Section 8 Lot 6, and Section 8 Lot 7 respectively. Russell was buried in Plot K – Section 30, Lot 8 and Kerr was buried in Adult Single Grave 1827. These two were subsequently relocated to Plot B next to the other three in Section 6, Lot 7 and Section 16, Lot 6 respectively.[2]

Gravestones for three of the fallen firefighters (L to R: Collard, See, and Clarke) in Section B of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, near the Yonge Street gates.

In Their Last Alarm, Robert B. Kirkpatrick recounts the stories of Ontario firefighters who lost their lives from 1848 to 2002.[3] He provides us with some of the details of the men’s lives. David See, 32, single, was a veteran of the Boer War in South Africa.[4] Adam Kerr, 27, single, joined the department in 1900. The cemetery records indicate he was born in England. Walter Collard, 32, was the assistant captain at the Rose Avenue Hall.[5] Kirkpatrick identifies him as single but the Globe and Mail reports him married with no children.[6] The 1901 Canada census on Ancestry.ca confirms this, showing Walter, a fireman, born in 1870, living with his wife Catherine.[7] Harry Clarke, 27, was married with two children.[8] Fred Russell, 32, was married with three children. According to the Toronto Star, at the time of the fire, his wife was visiting the sanatorium in Gravenhurst, Ontario for treatment of consumption.[9]

Returning to that page in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery records with nine accidental deaths, the other four were: Oscar Joyce, 24, who died June 22, 1902 from “injuries falling from a train” in Tyndall Manitoba; Alexander Martin, 69, who died June 27, 1902 in Toronto Emergency Hospital after “injuries to head received in a fall”; Elizabeth Edwards, 17, in a drowning accident at Kew Beach on July 1, 1902; and a second drowning, William Goddard, 22 in the Don River on July 4, 1902. These are stories to be investigated another day.

“There is little doubt that out of the 180,000 people whose final resting place is here in this beautiful cemetery almost every one has a story just waiting to be told.” – Mike Filey in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, An Illustrated Guide


[1] Toronto Star July 11, 1902 page 1, and Toronto Star July 13, 1902 page 1

[2] “David See” article by Mike Filey on the web site of the Mount Pleasant Group: http://www.mountpleasantgroup.com/new/interest/filey/archives/see

A similar article about David See appears in: Filey, Mike, Mount Pleasant Cemetery An Illustrated Guide, Toronto, Ontario, Dundurn Press 1999, p 192.

[3] Kirkpatrick, Robert B., Their Last Alarm, Burnstown, Ontario, General Store Publishing House 2002

[4] David See’s gravestone says he died “in his 30th year”.

[5] Walter is listed on his gravemarker as Walter Oakes Collard, born June 10, 1870.

[6] Globe & Mail July 11, 1902 page 1 and 2

[7] 1901 Census: District 117 Toronto East/ subdistrict R/ polling subdivision 32 in Toronto Ward 2/ p 9. (Viewed on Ancestry.ca on June 17, 2011)

[8] Harry is listed on his gravemarker as Walter H.

[9] Further information about the incident, including nearly a full page of biographical data, can be found in the The Sentinel and Orange Protestant Advocate, 12 July 1902, page 5, Archives of Ontario microfilm N 44 reel 11.
The following web sites were also consulted:
Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Five Orangemen Killed in the line of Duty, July 10th, 1902”, published on the web site of the County Orange Lodge of Toronto

The author, Tricia Clark, who lives in Aurora, Ontario has been collecting family stories since she was a kid. She volunteers as an indexer for the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project as a way to give back to the genealogical community and because it’s fascinating!

Published! St. John’s Norway Cemetery

by Gwyneth Pearce

The Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society celebrated the completion of a 20-year project in March 2011 with the publication of the transcription of grave markers at St. John’s Norway Cemetery and Crematorium.

Main gate of St. John’s Norway Cemetery, Toronto

St. John’s Norway Cemetery, also known as St. John the Baptist Norway Cemetery or St. John’s Cemetery, Berkeley, was originally established as an Anglican churchyard in 1853 on three acres of land donated by Charles Coxwell Small. (The community was known as Norway or Berkeley at various times.) The first recorded burial in the cemetery was that of William Dawes, a local farmer, who died on 19 July 1854. The cemetery was consecrated by Bishop John Strachan in July 1855. It is now inter-denominational, and its grounds have expanded over the past century and a half to cover about 35 acres of land at the northwest corner of Kingston Road and Woodbine Avenue in Toronto’s east end.

The transcription of this cemetery was a massive project that took two decades to complete and involved dozens of dedicated volunteers. The project was headed up by Branch Cemeteries Co-ordinator Jack Tyson, who obtained the necessary approvals, handled the paperwork and logistics, and organized teams of transcribers, inputters, indexers, proofreaders and editors.

The field work for the project took place at the cemetery itself. Transcribers set out week after week, typically in pairs, equipped with spray bottles of water, probes and digging tools, and went up and down the rows of tombstones, carefully recording what they found on each one. They handed over their notes to be typed up by computer inputters, and then made two more full sweeps of the cemetery to check and update the computer printouts. All the data was indexed, proofread and redacted several times. Final proofreading and editing was done by Jeannette Tyson.

The St. John’s Norway Cemetery transcription is 3454 pages in length and contains about 55,000 names in its index. It has been published on CD only, in a fully searchable PDF format. The cost is $30.00 plus $2.50 postage and handling. To order the transcription (Publication number TRN-009), visit contact publications@torontofamilyhistory.org

For more information about this project or how to help with ongoing transcribing of Toronto cemeteries, contact torontocemeteries@ogs.on.ca.

 

The Baroness buried at the Toronto Necropolis: from noble beginnings to a humble ending

by Janice Nelson

While transcribing the burial records for the Necropolis Cemetery, I came across an entry that intrigued me. The person buried was “Baroness Olga Heimrod”. She died 23 September 1912 of apoplexy. It’s not everyday that a Baroness dies in Toronto. A little curiosity led me to find out more about the Baroness and her husband Baron Ernest von Heimrod.

From a search of Ancestry.ca, I was able to find census records from 1881 and 1901 as well as registrations of both of their deaths. These records show that Olga was born on 3 Oct 1839 in Germany (Prussia—according to the tombstone inscription). Her father is listed as Enrich Crome and her mother is listed as Johanne K.E.D. Schiche.

Olga’s husband is listed as Ernest and he was born 26 Feb 1833 in Germany. In Germany, Ernest’s name was Ernst. With just a little digging, I found that he was part of the Hesse-Kassell noble family. According to these documents, his full name was Ernst Baron von Heimrod. His lineage can be found on The Peerage website. Ernest was the illegitimate great-grandson of William I, Elector of Hesse (German: Wilhelm I., Kurfürst von Hessen; 3 June 1743 – 27 February 1821). William I was the eldest surviving son of Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel) and Princess Mary of Great Britain, the daughter of George II.

On the Peerage website, Olga’s maiden name is listed as Cornel. Unfortunately, I could not find any additional information about Olga’s heritage with either of the surnames.

According to the 1901 census, both Olga and Ernest immigrated in 1871. Was there significance to their immigration coming in the year of the formation of Germany under Bismark? There is some general information about German immigration in A History of German Emigration to Canada, 1850 – 1939 by Jonathan Wagner, but nothing specific.

Obituary for Baron Ernest von Heimrod, Toronto Star, June 20, 1910, front page.

In 1881, Olga and Ernest were living in East Toronto in the St. Thomas Ward and Ernest’s profession is listed as “restaurateur”. In 1883, according to the Register of Dominion Annual Register and Review, Ernest was appointed “Consul for the German Empire for Ontario with the exception of the Counties under the Jurisdiction of the Consulate at Montreal”. Ernest held this position until 1888. In his obituary in the Toronto Star (June 20, 1910), it is mentioned that Ernest was quite wealthy when he immigrated to Toronto but lost almost everything in a real estate crash in 1888. At one time he owned property near the Humber River that was sold for $40,000—quite a sum for the times.

In 1901, Olga and Ernest were living in the Toronto Junction area (now part of Toronto) on a small piece of land that they retained. Ernest’s occupation is listed as an “agent”. According Might’s Greater Toronto City Directory of 1903, Ernest was living at 134 Cawthra Avenue and his occupation is also listed as an agent. Given all the train activity in the area, I would guess that Ernest’s job had something to do with that. Information about The Junction can be found at The West Toronto Junction Historical Society.

In 1910, Ernest passed away on June 18 from Bright’s Disease which he suffered from for several years. His full name was listed as Ernest Freiherr Heimrod. Two years later, Olga died. At the time of her death, she was living in the Aged Women’s Home. There is a listing for Aged Women’s Home at 47 Belmont Street in the 1912 City of Toronto Directory (This is a precursor to the present-day Belmont House). The Aged Women’s Home was set up to prevent elderly women from being homeless so it appears that Olga’s fortunes continued to decline after Ernest’s death.

Ernest and Olga do not appear to have had any surviving children. In her will (written 24 October 1911, and probated 22 November 1912), Olga named the German Society of Toronto as executor. The Society renounced administration to the Trusts & Guarantee Co. Olga left her total estate, $417.50 cash and $50 in “household goods and furniture”, to the four children of her “late sister Elise Marie Crome, widow of the late Dr. Eltze, of the City of Charlottenburg, in the Kingdom of Prussia”[1]. The German Society of Toronto or “Deutsche Geselleschaff” was named as the owner of Olga’s grave in the Necropolis burial record. The “Deutsche Geselleschaff” was a benevolence society for Germans living in Canada that ensured that members received an honourable burial.

The modest flat grave marker for Olga and Ernest (Section A, Range 1, Plot 17[2]) adds that the Baron was born in Anhalt-Dessau, and that “Olga Crome Baroness Von Heimrod” was born in Prussia.


[1] York County Surrogate Court estate files, RG 22-305, Grant 26256, 22 Nov 1912, Archives of Ontario microfilm MS 584-185

[2] Toronto Necropolis and Crematorium. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch, 2002, pp 9–10.

Janice Nelson, who lives in Calgary, is a member of the Alberta Family History Society and a volunteer indexer for the Toronto Trust Cemeteries Project. If you can add to the story of the Baroness, or if you would like join the indexing project, please contact us at: fsi@torontofamilyhistory.org.

On to Mount Pleasant Cemetery!

Our diligent crew of indexers are finishing off the registers of the Toronto Necropolis and moving on to the Mount Pleasant Cemetery. We’ll be seeing digital images from a microfilm that covers 1903 to 1933. (We did the earlier years at the beginning of the project.)

For those readers not familiar with the project, our partners at FamilySearch Indexing make the images and the indexing software available online. We do the indexing on our own home computers and the data is uploaded to FamilySearch. When the project is complete, the index and the images will be available online and free of charge. We have indexers all across Canada as well as in England and the US. All you need is a high-speed Internet connection. Read more about the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project.

Together, we have indexed more than 25,000 names in the first months of 2011.

The new Mount Pleasant registers look very much like the Necropolis registers we’ve been working on for the last couple of months. You could hide the “Nearest Relation” fields for now, but you will need them again in a few weeks. Here are instructions.

You’ll also find some history about Mount Pleasant on the blog. It is a very beautiful place, full of magnificent old trees and rare species. As the weather improves, I’ll be sure to post some photos.

Spring is only a week away. Can’t come soon enough!

Satellite image of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto

Discovering the Duchess Street Burial Ground

by Jane E. MacNamara

In the last couple of weeks, indexing volunteers working on the records of the Toronto Necropolis have come across the re-burial in 1911 of remains from a nearly forgotten downtown Toronto cemetery.

The small cemetery was located on the north side of Duchess Street (now called Richmond Street East) roughly bounded on the east by Stonecutter’s Lane, and on the north by Britain Street. The west boundary was a third of the way to George Street, at about today’s 260 Richmond Street East. It was about a half acre in size. The boundaries of the graveyard were reportedly somewhat undefined as bodies were unearthed when both Caroline (now Sherbourne) and Britain streets were built.

The property lay directly south of William Allan’s 100-acre Park Lot 5. The Park Lot started at Queen Street and ran north all the way to Bloor Street. Allan also owned an extension of his Park Lot south of Queen Street known as the “meadow” which included the lot on Sherbourne east of Stonecutter’s Lane. The meadow had a stream running through it. The angled path of today’s Britain Street echoes the path of the stream, and seems to be the dividing line between the burial ground and Allan’s meadow. You can read more about William Allan and his family in our Simcoe’s Gentry project.

Detail of Town of York patent plan showing the lots on Duchess Street between George Street and Caroline (later Sherbourne) Street. The burial ground was just above the double “ss” of Duchess. (Archives of Ontario RG 1-100 Patent Plans)

The 1834 directory of the Town of York[1] tells us that the cemetery belonged to “the Presbyterian Church in Hospital-street, Rev. Mr. Harris, Minister”. (Hospital Street is now part of Richmond Street.) Rev. James Harris was the son-in-law of prominent Torontonian Jesse Ketchum who donated land at Yonge and Richmond streets in 1821 to build a church for the Presbyterian congregation of York. Harris was the first minister, staying until about 1844.[2] The church was named Knox in July 1844 after the Disruption within the Church of Scotland.

But the Duchess Street burial ground dates back to long before 1834—and was not always Presbyterian.

A petition to the Executive Council of Upper Canada in 1824[3] from three trustees, Colin Drummond, Jesse Ketchum, and John Ross, representing the Presbyterian Congregation of York sheds considerable light on the subject. On September 14, 1824, the trustees requested that the “Gore between Lots Number Four and Five on the North side of Duchess Street containing about half an acre of land” be granted to them. They stated that the land had been used as a burying ground “upwards of twenty years” and that the Presbyterians had been burying their dead there for the latter part of that period. The trustees had investigated and found out that the property was not owned by anyone and therefore grantable. They wished to enclose and secure it and continue to use it as a burying ground.

A report from the Surveyor General’s Office[4] supporting the petition summarizes correspondence from February and March 1797, which orders that four acres be set aside for burials “including the present burial ground”. It is not clear whether “the present burial ground” was on Duchess Street or on the land set aside for the Anglican congregation at King and Church streets (where the Cathedral Church of St. James is today.)

So the burial ground on Duchess Street dates back at least 214 years, and perhaps a little longer!

A second document supporting the 1824 petition states that York’s Anglican minister acknowledged that the Duchess Street burial ground had earlier been used for “general interments” but was “by common assent of the Inhabitants allotted to the Presbyterian Church”[5]. An Order in Council on December 1, 1824, granted the land to the Presbyterians, and the transfer was completed in March 1825 when the survey fees were paid.[6]

The adjacent Lot 5 on Duchess Street was sold by Alexander Macdonell to William Jarvis in 1807 and recorded June 26, 1817. A copy of the legal description and a sketch of the property are pasted into the Knox Church minute book[7] and dated March 3, 1849. The documents show that the burial ground had mistakenly enclosed a strip of Lot 5 within the fence. This strip of land came into question again in 1858 and 1859, when a grandson of William Jarvis, George Murray Jarvis, tried to reclaim the 26-foot-wide strip and sell it to the trustees.[8] Legal opinions recorded in Knox’s minutes said that George Jarvis was out of luck. The fence had been up and the burial ground used without objection for much too long, and the most recent date on a tombstone, within the strip in question, was 1841.

Sketch of lots 5 and 4 on the north side of Duchess Street 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)

An 1868 article in the Globe[9], describes the burial ground as “a romantic little nook” with “about a dozen moss-grown stones”. “A solitary cow crops the grass which covers the still visible mounds”. It claims that no burials had taken place for 20 years and many bodies had been moved to other cemeteries. Apparently the map of the cemetery had “got all into confusion” so that families who wished to move loved ones could no longer do so.

A 1904 article in Landmarks of Toronto,[10] claims that the burial ground was used until the establishment of the Necropolis in 1850, but the Globe article mentioned previously would indicate that burials in the later period were likely few and far between. The 1904 article states that the grave markers were buried, the ground leveled, and from the mid 1830s, part of the land used for a carpenter’s shop and cottages.

In about 1886, the Duchess Street Presbyterian Mission Chapel (associated with Knox Church) was built on the property, and according to Landmarks, when a cavity was dug to accommodate a furnace, a quantity of human bones were found and carefully reburied.[11]

In mid-March 1911, articles from the Toronto Star[12] give us a graphic report of gravestones and 19 bodies found during excavations around the “old Duchess Street Mission”. One large gravestone unearthed apparently bore the inscription: “Sacred to the memory of Eggleson McDonald who misfortunately was drowned July 12, 1835, age 24.” The articles also describe the nearly indecipherable coffin plates that were mainly painted rather than engraved. Only one name from a coffin plate, “Powell”, is mentioned, with the date “May 1, 1828.” The reporter notes that a stone used as a step into the Mission building was “sacred to the memory of someone whose first name was Duncan”. He also notes that all the bones were to be reburied at the Necropolis.

The Toronto Necropolis register shows “59 remains removed from the Duchess St. Presbyterian Church Burying Ground” reburied on April 6, 1911, in Plot L 106. The plot owner is the “Moderator Knox Church Sessions”. There are also two re-interments with names: Anne Drummond Kennedy, age 10 who died 12 March 1834, and Duncan Kennedy, age 45 who died 31 March 1834.[13]

An entry on July 21, 1911, shows the burial of another “19 unknown remains from Duchess St. Presbyterian Cemetery” in plot L 106.[14] On December 21, 1911, another 75 remains were buried; on June 5, 1912,[15] 64 remains; and a single burial on October 25, 1912[16]—all in the same plot.

The removal of remains from the Duchess Street burial ground was apparently done to allow the sale of the property. Our Places of Worship Committee’s files show that part of the proceeds of the sale in April 1911 was distributed among four churches—Dufferin Street, Riverdale, Rhodes, and South Side.

Unfortunately, no burial register for the Duchess Street Presbyterian Burial Ground seems to have survived. A fire that destroyed Knox Church in 1847 may explain this, but the map described in the 1868 Globe article mentioned above makes me wonder if the records were saved from the fire. The records of baptisms and marriages from Knox begin in 1823 and have been transcribed by Toronto Branch.

A plaque on Plot L 106 in the Toronto Necropolis reads as follows:

The resting place of early Presbyterian settlers
They were originally buried in the Presbyterian Burying Ground at Duchess (Richmond) and Caroline (Sherbourne) Streets, between 1818 and 1841. Due to steady expansion of the city, the cemetery was closed, and the remains of 263 persons were removed to this location in 1911 and 1912. Although few of those buried here are identified, family records indicate that several members of William Lyon Mackenzie’s family, including three of his children, are interred in this lot. Requiescat in pace.

As we continue to index the Necropolis burial registers, we’ll watch for more of the burials from the Duchess Street graveyard. If you can shed more light on this bit of Toronto’s history, please get in touch.


1. York Commercial Directory, street guide, and register, 1833–4. page 9.

2. Robertson, John Ross. Landmarks of Toronto… 1834 to 1893. J. Ross Robertson: Toronto, 1894, pages 510 and 511.

3. Upper Canada Land Petition, 1824, Volume 550, Bundle Y14, Petition 7 (Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-2980)

4. ibid. page 7a

5. ibid. page 7b

6. ibid. page 7c

7. Congregational minutes of Knox Church, page 105, March 3, 1849 (Archives of Ontario, microfilm GS 6334)

8. ibid. pages 9, 13, 16–18, 20, August 14, 1858 to March 16, 1859.

9. “The Cemeteries” article in the Globe, 21 Nov 1868, page 1, col 8-9.

10. Robertson, John Ross. Landmarks of Toronto… 1834 to 1904. J. Ross Robertson: Toronto, 1904, pages 223 and 224.

11. ibid.

12. Toronto Star, 14 March 1911, page 1, col 8 and 15 March 1911, page 7, col 7-8.

13. Necropolis Register for 1911, entries 31466, 31467, 31468

14. Necropolis Register for 1911, entry 31546.

15. Necropolis Register for 1912, entry 31817.

16. Necropolis Register for 1912, entry 31888.