Cemetery began as a big farm in the early 1800s, writes Susan Goldenberg
Russia’s last imperial grand duchess, Canadian sports icons, war heroes and broadcasting legends are among those interred at York Cemetery, North York’s largest cemetery, near the North York Civic Centre.
It hasn’t always been a cemetery. It began as a big farm in the early 1800s, 200 acres assembled by prominent North York pioneer Joseph Shepard. The land was purchased by the Toronto General Burying Grounds (now Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries) in 1916 but was operated as an airfield until the 1940s when it was converted into a cemetery.
The official opening was in 1948. The tall cenotaph war memorial was dedicated in 1963. The cemetery fronted Yonge Street until 1966 when 18 acres were sold to the City of North York for the new civic centre and associated projects. A proposal that public traffic be allowed to use the internal roadway as a shortcut to nearby streets was strongly rejected. The office, originally a residence constructed in 1837 by Joseph’s son Michael, is a designated historic building.
How did Imperial Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, a member of Russia’s last royals, the Romanovs, born in a Russian palace in 1882, end up at the cemetery in 1960? When her brother, Emperor Nicholas II, was assassinated with his family during the 1917 Russian Revolution, Olga fled with her husband and child to Crimea, then Denmark and finally to Toronto where she lived simply and did paintings. A gravesite plaque, with the Romanov coat of arms, summarizes her history.
Tim Horton, hockey great and co-founder of the fast-food coffee chain bearing his name, is another occupant. He died in 1974 at 44 in a horrific crash while he was driving back to his home in Buffalo after his then-team, the Buffalo Sabres, had dropped a playoff game against his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The top left of his small tombstone says M.G. “Tim” (Miles Gilbert); the bottom left, “T.T.F.N. Daddy-O” (ta-ta-for-now).
Acclaimed CBC radio and TV broadcaster Barbara Frum — “As It Happens,” “The Journal” — who died of leukemia in 1992 at 54 also is there.
Percy Saltzman’s (1915-2007) tombstone says “Canada’s First TV Weatherman.” On CBC 1952-1972, he drew chalk diagrams, dramatically tossing up and catching the chalk when finished.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on April 28, 2021, on toronto.com.