The History Inside Mt. Pleasant Cemetery

Mt. Pleasant Cemetery was designated a National Historic Site in 2000 and with good reason. The cemetery marks the final resting place of nearly 170,000 people, including:

  • Sir Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best, discoverers of insulin and heroes to millions of diabetes sufferers and their families
  • Dr. Allan G. Brown, Physician in Chief at the Hospital for Sick Children and partly responsible for the development of pablum
  • Herbert Bruce, 15th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 1932
  • Henry John Cody, Chancellor and President of the University of Toronto and Provincial Minister of Education
  • Charlie Conacher, former NHL player for the Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Timothy Eaton of the famous department store chain
  • George Howard Ferguson, Premier of Ontario from 1923-30
  • Glenn Gould, famous pianist
  • George S. Henry, Premier of Ontario from 1930-34
  • Foster Hewitt, famous hockey announcer
  • George ‘Punch’ Imlach, coach of 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1967 Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leafs
  • John Kelso, reporter for the Globe who founded organizations that would lead to the creation of the Toronto Human Society and the Children’s Aid Society
  • Warring Kennedy, Mayor of Toronto from 1894-95
  • William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister
  • J. Keiler MacKay, 19th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1957-63
  • Albert Matthews, 16th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1937-46
  • Samuel McBride, Major of Toronto from 1928-29 and 1936 when he died in office
  • William Barclay McMurrich, Mayor of Toronto from 1881-82
  • Sir Oliver Mowat, Father of Confederation, 8th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (1897), Senator (1897), and Premier of Ontario from 1872-96
  • Alexander Muir, author of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’
  • John Andrew Pearson, architect who designed the main block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa and the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall amongst other famous Canadian buildings
  • Dr. Jennie Smillie Robertson, Canada’s first woman surgeon and founder of Women’s College Hospital
  • Robert H. Saunders, Mayor of Toronto 1941-44
  • Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior that oversaw the expansion of the west and the creation of Saskatchewan and Alberta
  • William J. Stewart, May of Toronto 1931-34, Speaker of the House (Ontario) 1944-47
  • Augusta Stowe-Gullen, first Canadian woman to study medicine and graduated with a degree in medicine from a Canadian university
  • Donald Summerville, Major of Toronto 1963 (died in office)


I spent around two hours walking around the grounds bust mostly focused my time in the east end of the grounds. The cemetery is split in half by Mount Pleasant Road. The visitation centre, Garden of Remembrance and Cemetery Office are all located in the eastern half of the grounds towards Bayview Avenue. The Mausoleum Crematorium and Chapels, as well as the bulk of historical figures mentioned above are located in the west side of the grounds towards Yonge Street. The grounds are a very short walk from Davisville Subway station and about a 15-20 minute walk from St. Clair Subway station.

It was a particularly gorgeous day when I went – 17 degrees Celsius and lots of sun. Here are some of the highlights of my walk:

Banting and Best – located near one another in section 29 of the eastern half of the grounds (Banting faces section 27 and Best faces section 28)

Banting and Best

Alexander Muir – located in section X of the western half of the grounds (facing section L)

Clifford Sifton – located in section 10 of the western half of the grounds (facing section V and not marked on the history tour map provided by the office)

Sir Oliver Mowat – located in section W of the western half of the grounds (facing section 7)

Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King – located in section L of the western half of the grounds (facing section K)

Bringing Our National History to Life on Parliament Hill

Commemoration on Parliament Hill

Canada’s Parliament buildings were constructed on Old Barrack Hill now commonly known as Parliament Hill. Construction began in 1859 and was finally completed in 1876, grossly over-budget and surviving countless delays. When new provinces joined the federation in 1905, expansion of the building began once more. in February of 1916, fire broke out and destroyed all but the Library of Parliament as its gigantic iron doors had been shuttered in time to save the room and its priceless contents. Parliamentarians, sitting in the House that evening, escaped after hearing of the fire and Prime Minister Borden crawled through the hallways to safety. By 1920 the Centre-Block was rebuilt and by 1927 the Peace Tower was complete. In 1952 the Library caught fire though was not destroyed and repairs quickly began. Maintenance has continued on all buildings since.

Surrounding the buildings today on the grounds of Parliament Hill are several statues and monuments commemorating the contributions of some of Canada’s greatest citizens. Seven Prime Ministers are honoured with their own statues: Macdonald, Mackenzie, Laurier, Borden, King, Diefenbaker, and Pearson. Two Queens, Victoria and Elizabeth II, are honoured. Two fathers of Responsible Government are honoured: LaFontaine and Baldwin. Two slain Fathers of Confederation, McGee and Brown, also have statues. They are joined by another Father of Confederation, Cartier. And one other monument, dedicated to the Famous Five which it represents: Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Cartier’s statue was the first to be installed and was done so at the personal direction of his long time friend, Prime Minister Macdonald. Affected deeply by his death in 1873, Macdonald ordered a state funeral and a statue for the Hill. Alexander Mackenzie’s statue was installed in 1901 after being on display in Paris, as was Queen Victoria’s. Brown’s was erected in 1913 and Baldwin and LaFontaine’s joint monument in 1914. Wilfrid Laurier’s monument was decided on in 1922 and his successor Borden’s in 1957, the largest gap in installations to that point.

In 1967, the Centennial year, four statues were to be commissioned to celebrate 100 years of Canada. They were to be of Arthur Meighen, WLM King, Richard Bennett and Louis St. Laurent. All but Bennett’s were constructed, the design for his being rejected. However, in the more stylized 1960s, all but King’s statue were seen as unfit for the Hill. King’s statue was erected, Meighen’s sent to the town he was buried in, and St. Laurent’s left in storage.

It would be another 18 years before a new statue was brought to the Hill. In 1985, a statue of Diefenbaker was raised and four years later joined by a statue of a seated Lester Pearson. 11 years later, a monument to the Famous Five, the women involved in the Persons Case, was installed on Parliament Hill.

R.B. Bennett and the Calls for a New Statue

There has been no Prime Minister purposely ignored more than Richard Bennett. Leading during the Great Depression, he is not simply forgotten like some Prime Ministers before him, but openly derided for things that were largely beyond his control. The lone Prime Minister without a statue despite one being called for, his absence from the Hill is notable.

Former Liberal Prime Minister John Turner and Conservative Senator and historian Hugh Segal have both called for a statue to be commissioned of the millionaire Prime Minister. A teenager from Bennett’s home province of New Brunswick named Jordan Grondin is actively pushing for a statue of Bennett. He has apparently swayed the sitting Prime Minister on the issue which suggests his efforts will likely bear fruit.

I support Turner, Segal and Grondin is their calls but wish to make one of my own. Instead of calls for individual Prime Ministers to be honoured, why not bring history alive on the Hill by creating a fully supported historical walk with informative plaques and brochures to guide participants? Why not support the project with legislation to determine who receives a statue, when and what the guidelines are for its construction? Why not include the path beneath Parliament Hill as a way to commemorate the Premiers who ushered their provinces into Confederation whether it be in 1867 or 1999?

Commemoration Circuit

The grounds of Parliament Hill and surrounding areas beyond should boast statues of every Prime Minister Canada has ever had, not necessarily to celebrate their politics or personal legacies but Canadian history in general and the time in which they played a heavy role in shaping.

Calls for a statue of Bennett should be echoed by ones for Abbott, Thompson, Bowell (yes even Bowell) and Tupper. It should include the underrated Meighen and St. Laurent and continue with Trudeau, Clark, Turner, Mulroney, Campbell, Chretien, Martin and one day, Harper. Each Prime Minister has their official portrait hung in the halls of Parliament and should receive similar treatment on its grounds. Though, it should be noted, Meighen’s portrait was only recently hung despite his service as Prime Minister ending in 1926.

It might be hard to argue the merit of installing a statue to Bowell yet his time in office reflects the issues of his time and mark the only time a Prime Minister was forced to resign because his Cabinet would not support him. That history is worth knowing and sharing.

Trudeau likewise presided over historic times and Patriated the Constitution yet does not have a statue. Campbell was Canada’s first ever female Prime Minister and nearly 20 years after her time in office, still lacks a monument.

Canadians tend not to celebrate their history and at times seem quite adverse to monuments. But if we are to be aware of our mutual history, if we are to celebrate it, and if we are to share it with the world, there is no better place to commemorate our past than on Parliament Hill. But that commemoration should be selective or biased. We should tell our national story in its entirety and that begins with remembering those who have led us.

Path of the Premiers

At the foot of Parliament Hill there lies a walking trail next to the river. It is a nice place to get some exercise and fresh air or just a view of Hull across the water. However, because of its location at the foot of Parliament Hill I think the trial can do more for our national narrative and our awareness of our collective past.

Thirteen different Premiers either initiated their province or territory’s inclusion into the Federation or became the first representatives of that province or territory after that inclusion. I believe that this pathway should be used to share the history of Confederation, from 1867 until 1999. By understanding how our federation came to be, we can better understand how to navigate its sometimes complicated waters and work to make it stronger.

The combination of Commemoration Circuit and the Path of the Premiers would help bring Canadian history to Parliament Hill to the necessary degree that has not yet been carried out. Canadians need a stronger relationship with their history and our government can help.

1841 and the 4th Riding of York

In Sharon, a small town in Ontario located not far from Toronto, there exists a historical site housing a building of historic, religious, and political significance called the Sharon Temple.

The history and significance of the building can be told through many different lenses but perhaps the most important is the political as the Sharon Temple played a significant role in the creation of our country.

I have previously written of LaFontaine and Baldwin and their contributions to Canada. I have also written of how these two men, despite the enormous debt Canadians owe to them, have largely been forgotten in our modern society. Even at the Sharon Temple, where Baldwin stepped aside to allow LaFontaine, a Montrealer, to run in the 4th Riding of York and be elected as a reformer to Parliament, there is no marker recognizing either man. LaFontaine’s election paved the way for he and Baldwin to reform Parliament and our country, ultimately resulting in the creation of Responsible Government.

LaFontaine’s election in York was not easy as he was from out-of-province, he was French and of a different religion than the local Quakers who would elect him. Political opponents in the area threatened violence but LaFontaine was invited to the riding anyway and after hours on the muddy roads arrived in the riding for the first time at night on September 3rd, 1841. He stepped into the Sharon Temple, lit up with candles for a biannual feast, and was welcomed by locals he was introduced to. This was followed by his attendance at a service the following day which led to further appearances throughout the riding as support for LaFontaine began to spread. When he was eventually victorious in the election on September 21st, he had dinner with Baldwin in Sharon before being led to neighboring Newmarket along Yonge Street by a throng of supporters.

In 1843 Baldwin completed the switch by getting elected in Rimourski, Quebec as an English-speaking Torontonian. Baldwin and LaFontaine would eventually form a reformist government that LaFontaine would lead as Prime Minister in 1848. The road from 1841 to 1848 was not easy, nor was life for either man after the introduction of Responsible Government. Many attempts were made on LaFontaine’s life and Parliament itself was burnt to the ground during his leadership but he and Baldwin responded the same way to each threat: with peaceful defiance.

Baldwin would die in 1858, nine years before Confederation. LaFontaine would eventually follow him in 1864, just three years shy of the realization of a new country they had an enormous hand in building. While their story did not begin in Sharon at the Temple, it certainly made an irreversible turn for the historic that rainy September 3rd in 1841 where LaFontaine first met the constituents that he and later Baldwin would represent. The election of LaFontaine in York marked a turning point for the entire country where lines of unity were no longer drawn on the basis of language or religion but instead the shared vision people had for their society.

Despite how important the Sharon Temple was to the election of LaFontaine and with it, the founding of this country, there exists no marker on the grounds to celebrate the event or the man. The provincial marker mentions the role of locals in the 1837 Rebellions but leaves out LaFontaine and Baldwin.

The federal marker speaks of the religious importance of the site but offers no hint at its political and national importance.

Why does it matter? It matters because LaFontaine’s election and the subsequent events that followed are some of the most important moments in our young history. Pre-Confederation history is often forgotten in Canada (along with most post-Confederation history, admittedly) and political leadership before John A. Macdonald is rarely acknowledged as if Macdonald alone ushered in Canada as a united nation. While Macdonald played an extremely important role, it is important to remember that while he was a freshman MP attempting to start a duel with another MP in Parliament, LaFontaine was Prime Minister of the United Canadas. Even Macdonald had to learn the ropes and he did so in a system shaped by LaFontaine and Baldwin. Macdonald has a plaque, LaFontaine and Baldwin do not.

There is always a reason for not raising a plaque. In good times funds are allocated for important programs. In tough times, they are taken away from important programs and no hope exists for any further funding for heritage recognition. There is simply never a convenient time for heritage projects and so they must be fought for despite this because our history really is priceless and the cost of forgetting it is too high.

I believe LaFontaine and Baldwin should be recognized in Sharon and across Canada for the contributions they made to this country. It is not wrong to point out that if a gazebo costing $100,000 can be built ‘for’ a G8 summit and $800-$7000 can be spent per sign on creation and installation of Economic Action Plan signs (that do nothing for the economy and act as partisan campaigning with public funds) then surely money can be allocated to honor these two men and the importance of Responsible Government. Though such a concept may be lost on those funding gazebos and advertising campaigns instead of actually governing.

No government in Canadian history has taken up this effort and it is a shame. Yes, there is a statue on Parliament Hill for LaFontaine and Baldwin and yes a Heritage Minute was crafted. But a statue in the back corner of the grounds does not create an intimate connection between Canadians and their political founders as much as a plaque commemorating those men in the very places they walked would do.

As of today there is no plaque for LaFontaine and Baldwin at the Sharon Temple. However, there does stand three Economic Action Plan signs directly next to one another at the very front of the property facing the road, several feet away from the existing plaques for the Temple. I suggest the people of Sharon, Newmarket and surrounding areas as well as all Canadians across the country demand Responsible Government be returned to its rightful home. It’s time to scrap political advertisements on such important grounds. It’s time to celebrate politics at its best. It’s time to recognize LaFontaine, Baldwin and the sorely missing concept of Responsible Government.

Toronto and Canada’s Forgotten History

I have spent much of the last year in Toronto and am soon to become more of a casual visitor again than pseudo resident. On this last day in the city, I wanted to do something I’d been meaning to do for some months which was encounter some of the most important history in our country and I would argue, the modern world. I wanted to go on a walk on this Sunny day in the city and encounter some remnants of the life of Robert Baldwin. But the only record of this important man’s time in this city is a plaque near a Starbucks. Heritage Toronto is not well-funded (and unlikely to become any more well-funded) but the loss of recognition for this important part of our history is not a modern event.

Canadians need a better relationship with our history. I know there is an appetite for it as I saw at the ROM sponsored debate series this winter called History Wars. But in a city where heritage buildings literally crumble as citizens walk by, I think both our politicians and we as citizens must do more to protect our historical narrative as a country and as a people.

The Toronto Star: Forgotten Founders (Video)

Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine created the Canada we know, but their names and the places they lived and worked have been all but forgotten. The Star’s Christopher Hume explains.

LaFontaine Mansion in Montreal

An important part of the Baldwin story is the story of his friendship with LaFontaine of Montreal who together with Baldwin instituted Responsible Government in Canada. The men share a statue on Parliament Hill but are otherwise largely forgotten. Two students of Concordia University in Montreal are currently attempting to have LaFontaine’s Mansion restored and recognized as an historical site. To sign their petition you can follow the above link.

Remembrance Day 2010

From the department of Veterans Affairs.

First World War (1914-1918)
Approximately 650,000 Canadians served, including members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served with British forces (Newfoundland was a colony of Great Britain until 1949) and merchant mariners. Of this number, nearly 69,000 gave their lives.

Second World War (1939-1945)
More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in Canada’s Armed Forces, in Allied forces or in the merchant navy; over 47,000 of them gave their lives.

Korean War (1950-1953)
26,791 Canadians served in the Canadian Army Special Force; 516 of them gave their lives.

Approximately 125,000 Canadians have served in peacekeeping missions since 1947; more than 100 Canadians have given their lives in this service.

Flanders FieldsWhile we do not always agree with the reasons for war, the outcomes of war, or the death toll and social scarring of war, it is important to remember the dead, civilian or not, and learn from what has transpired. I have spent several Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa and to be there with those veterans is quite the experience. Remembrance Day is not a glorification of war, but a solemn promise that one day the phrase ‘never again’ can be uttered during a lasting peace.

“And I have lived since – as you have – in a period of cold war, during which we have ensured by our achievements in the science and technology of destruction that a third act in this tragedy of war will result in the peace of extinction.”

“As a civilian during the Second War, I was exposed to danger in circumstances which removed any distinction between the man in and the man out of uniform.”

“As a soldier, I survived World War I when most of my comrades did not.”

“It has too often been too easy for rulers and governments to incite man to war.”

“The choice, however, is as clear now for nations as it was once for the individual: peace or extinction.”

“As to the first, I do not know that I have done very much myself to promote fraternity between nations but I do know that there can be no more important purpose for any man’s activity or interests.”

“But while we all pray for peace, we do not always, as free citizens, support the policies that make for peace or reject those which do not. We want our own kind of peace, brought about in our own way.”

“Of all our dreams today there is none more important – or so hard to realise – than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.”

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given to participate in that work as a representative of my country, Canada, whose people have, I think, shown their devotion to peace.”

-Lester B. Pearson