Down a small, completely nondescript alleyway off of Yonge Street, just south of St Clair Avenue, lies the entrance to a hidden treasure — St. Michael’s Cemetery. The entrance is so unassuming that it is likely that many long time residents of the area have never noticed it. The 10-acre cemetery itself is sandwiched in behind skyscrapers, shops, and residential neighbourhoods. Almost no-one knows it is there. It is actually the oldest surviving Catholic cemetery in The GTA.
Opened in 1855, it replaced St. Paul’s Cemetery at Queen and Parliament, which had been filled to capacity by the influx of Irish Catholic settlers fleeing the Great Potato Famine. Some 29,000 people are currently buried at St. Michael’s. It is the final resting place mostly for working class Irish Canadians, Toronto’s Catholic pioneers.
One of the most notable features of the cemetery is the octagonal winter mortuary vault designed by Joseph Sheard, who later became mayor of Toronto. The winter vault was used to store the bodies of the deceased during the winter until the graves could be dug again in the softened soil the following spring. The octagonal shape of the winter vault offered extra wall space for platforms to place coffins.
In this episode we’ll venture inside the cemetery to take a look at some of the more interesting markers and quiet corners. We’ll get a look at the outside of the winter mortuary vault, as well as the beautiful row of trees leading up to it. All in all, it is a very unique and peaceful place in a busy modern metropolis.
Down a small, completely nondescript alleyway off of Yonge Street, just south of St Clair Avenue, lies the entrance to a hidden treasure — St. Michael’s Cemetery. The entrance is so unassuming that it is likely that many long time…