rusty_armour (rusty_armour) wrote,

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A Visit to the City of the Dead...

This year, I was looking for a fun Halloween activity -- a ghost walk if possible, though I knew I had gone on most of them already. As luck would have it, I found a list of Toronto Halloween activities online, which is how I learned about the Necropolis Cemetery tour taking place on Sunday. It immediately appealed to me because I had never been to the Necropolis Cemetery before or seen much of Cabbagetown at all, really. As you'll see by my photos (which probably don't do the place justice), the Necropolis Cemetery is a beautiful, fascinating place and the tour was excellent. It was conducted by staff from Mackenzie House, so much of what we saw and heard had some link to Toronto's first mayor and his tumultuous life.

I'm going to provide a very quick history of the Necropolis Cemetery and share some pretty pictures. Then I'm going to share more pictures that I took during the tour, along with some interesting facts and Victorian trivia I learned along the way. I'll even tell you how to be sure not to bring a ghost home with you when visiting a cemetery.

The name "Necropolis" comes from the Greek, meaning "city of the dead". The Necropolis Cemetery opened in 1850 and is Toronto's second oldest non-sectarian cemetery. After Potter’s Field (the first non-sectarian cemetery in the city) was closed and the land was sold, many of its inhabitants were moved to the Necropolis Cemetery, including 984 early settlers of the Town of York. Henry Langley, a prominent architect at the time, designed the wonderful chapel that was erected in 1872. The chapel stands at the entrance of the cemetery and is an example of High Victorian Gothic architecture. The crematorium was the first one in Ontario and was built in 1933. Many famous residents of the city are buried in the Necropolis Cemetery. I'll be mentioning some below, but you can find a fairly complete list here.

The Necropolis Cemetery is said to be haunted. There have been reports of orbs and apparitions dressed in period clothing. Apparently, some people have even reported being watched by something or touched by disembodied hands. I wish I could claim that I had a paranormal experience in the cemetery, but it seemed completely serene when I was there and I felt calm the whole time. In other haunted locations, I've felt a bit anxious, sometimes even queasy, though this may be because I was at a haunted location at night and had just heard some good ghost stories. On my visit to the Necropolis Cemetery, it was a sunny afternoon.

The chapel as seen from the sidewalk. While this might appear to be
the front, it's actually the back and it faces out on to the street
to allow bodies to be easily transported straight into the chapel.

Front of the chapel

Chapel tower

Inside the chapel

The crematorium

Entrance to the cemetery

I had time to kill before the tour started, so I decided to take a sneak
peek at the cemetery. Of course, I ended up whipping out my camera.

Now the actual tour begins...

The Patriots of 1837 Memorial was erected on June 28, 1893 to honour
Peter Matthews and Samuel Lount, men considered martyrs of the
Upper Canada Rebellion. While Matthews and Lount did participate in the
rebellion, they were farmers not soldiers. Lount even tried to get
medical assistance for loyalist Lieutenant Colonel Robert Moodie and
stopped William Lyon Mackenzie from burning down the Hon. William
Botsford Jarvis' house. The punishment Matthews and Lount received
for their participation in the rebellion didn't fit the "crime". On
the advice of their legal counsel, they pleaded guilty to treason.
The authorities decided to make an example of them and they were
both hanged on April 12, 1838.

The top of the monument wasn't broken by accident. It was made to
look like this deliberately to symbolize two lives that were cut short.

Grave of Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews. Their remains
were moved from Potter's Field to the Necropolis Cemetery.

Samuel Lount appears to tell us his story

Grave of Ensign Malcolm McEachren

New tombstone placed above original tombstone
during the rededication ceremeony in November 2009

Ensign Malcolm McEachren was the first combat casualty of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. On June 2, 1866, McEachren was killed during the Battle of Limestone Ridge, which is of historical significance because it was Canada's first modern battle. Unfortunately, it was considered a disaster at the time as the Canadian troops were basically slaughtered by the American Fenians. Many of the Canadian volunteers had no military experience, fewer than half having the opportunity to practise firing live rounds before the battle. Many of the Fenians had fought in the American Civil War and did have military experience. The Canadian press exaggerated the extent of the defeat and the Militia Department's incompetence was covered up, the blame being placed squarely on the inexperienced frontline troops. It was almost 25 years before the Canadian government acknowledged the contribution and sacrifices made by men such as Ensign Malcolm McEachren.

This is an example of a ledger marker, a thick slab of stone that covers
the entire grave and is meant to deter grave robbers. This ledger forms
the Durand family vault. Charles Durand, a friend of William Lyon
Mackenzie, made the mistake of praising the progress of the rebellion
within the hearing of several people. Durand was tried and arrested for
treason, spending several months in prison and facing the very real
prospect of execution. He was spared that fate and eventually released.

The Oldright mausoleum was bricked up when the last member of this
family was interred. The gate would have been added later as an
extra layer of protection. Once again, this is to protect the
tombs from grave robbers, who would not only have been in search
of bodies (to sell to medical schools) but money and jewels. Only
an affluent family could have afforded to construct a mausoleum.

This is the grave of Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the first Black
Canadian to be a licenced physician. Abbott not only served in the
American Civil War, but he became a friend of Abraham Lincoln. In
fact, Abbott was one of the surgeons who attempted to save Lincoln
on the night he was shot. Lincoln's widow, Mary Todd Lincoln,
presented Abbott with the plaid shawl her husband had worn to his
inauguration. Anderson Ruffin Abbott's father, Wilson Ruffin Abbot,
also made his mark. Abbott Sr. moved from Alabama to Toronto after
his grocery store was ransacked. By 1871, Abbott Sr. owned 48
properties and had even become active in politics.

Probably the most famous and photographed tomb at the Necropolis
Cemetery. This ornate mausoleum was erected by a prosperous pharmacist.

Grave of Thomas Carfrae Jr., a political opponent of William Lyon
Mackenzie. Among his many accomplishments, Carfrae served on
Toronto’s first city council in 1834 and was made harbour master in 1838.
Before his political career took off, Carfrae campaigned for
an open cemetery in the city, and a site was approved in January 1826.
Carfrae and four other men purchased six acres for 75 pounds and became
Potter's Field first trustees. Sadly, the first body buried in Potter's
Field was Carfrae's infant daughter, Mary. Carfrae was also originally
buried in Potter's Field before his remains were moved to the Necropolis.

Mackenzie Monument

Charles Lindsey, biographer to his father-in-law, William Lyon Mackenzie,
drops in to speak about Mackenzie and gripe about Mackenzie's daughter.

As you probably guessed, this is where William Lyon Mackenzie, his
wife, and various children are buried. It would be impossible to
provide a decent biography of Mackenzie here. I'll simply say that
Mackenzie was a prominent journalist and politician. He was the first
mayor of Toronto and a leader in the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.

Statues of urns partly covered by cloth are a common feature
of Victorian graves. The cloth symbolizes worldly possessions
being cast away and represents the thin veil between the world
of the living and the world of the dead.

For those of you who have made it this far, here are some fun Victorian superstitions revolving around cemeteries:

~ If you don't remove your hat at a graveside, you'll be the next person to die.

~ If it's a grey day and the sun comes out to hit your face first, you'll be the next person to die.

~ Don't count the number of vehicles (e.g. horse-drawn carriages) in a funeral procession as it will equal the number of years until you die.

~ In a cemetery, you should pick up an object (e.g. a stone or a twig) and be sure to drop it back on the ground before you leave. This is to ensure that the ghost of the cemetery (usually thought to be a white figure) doesn't follow you home. This last superstition worked out beautifully because there were kids on the tour. One was already carrying around a large stick and the other children soon had sticks as well after hearing that useful piece of advice. Hilariously, one little girl not only picked up a stick but the biggest leaf I've ever seen. She obviously wanted to be absolutely sure that nothing followed her home.

Crossposted at

Tags: canadian history, halloween, toronto
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