How the Ontario Genealogical Society's Toronto Branch is making records more accessible—and how you can help


St. James Cemetery was opened in July 1844, originally as the burial ground for the Anglican Cathedral Church of St. James. In 1859 the construction of the Chapel of St. James-the-Less began in the grounds and in 1948 a crematorium was added. It is the oldest cemetery in Toronto that is still operational and over the years 95,000 interments and 114,000 cremations have taken place there. Now located not far from the heart of downtown Toronto, when it was opened it would have been very much in the countryside.

John George Howard’s 1842 plan for St. James Cemetery followed the new “picturesque” style with curved pathways to encourage visitors to wander through the park-like setting. (Toronto Reference Library, Howard drawing 913)

About the year 2000, Toronto Branch, OGS began a project to transcribe the stones in the cemetery before they were lost to erosion. Sometimes no stone could be found, and other stones were buried under several inches of soil; if located, these buried stones were uncovered, recorded and then most were reburied for safety reasons.

The project began under the leadership of Jack and Jeannette Tyson and later that of David Reed. The work was undertaken by members of Toronto Branch and other interested volunteers. The transcribing concluded in 2017. As one volunteer transcriber has put it: It was “close to 20 years of sun, rain, bugs, digging, lugging bits of sod, spraying, brushing, holding a mirror at an odd angle for extended periods, and a bit of dowsing along the way.”

A searchable database of the transcriptions is now available to Toronto Branch members on our Members Only pages. (You’ll need your OGS password to log in.) If you’re already an OGS member, you can add a Toronto Branch membership for only $15.

Eventually the database will be available to the public.

A misty October day in 2017.