For the first half of the nineteenth century most Roman Catholics were buried in parish cemeteries, notably St. Paul’s on Power Street.
This changed drastically in 1847 with the great Irish potato famine. Immigrants fleeing Ireland arrived exhausted and malnourished. Many soon fell victim to the typhus epidemic. The parish cemeteries were soon filled to capacity.
Bishop deCharbonnel, the second Bishop of Toronto, responded to the needs of his people by purchasing property on Yonge Street and on September 28, 1855 St. Michael’s Cemetery was consecrated.
At first, Catholic parishioners were upset that the cemetery was so far outside the city, but for the next 50 years St. Michael’s Cemetery became the final resting place for Toronto’s Catholics as the city grew.
In 1855, the most notable feature of the cemetery, the winter storage vault, was built by Joseph Sheard, the only architect to become the mayor of the City 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. The winter vault has long stood as a small but particularly attractive architectural monument which over the years has been admired by many for its striking design and simplicity.
Today St. Michael’s Cemetery has become known as a “quiet, gentle surprise” tucked behind the store fronts of Yonge Street just south of St. Clair Avenue.
In its grounds lie the history of Toronto’s Catholic pioneers. Over the years some 29,000 Catholics of the Toronto Archdiocese, priests, religious and laity, have been buried in these ten acres. Those famous and the anonymous who lived their faith and now rest from their labour.
Today Catholic Cemeteries has kept pace with the rapid growth of the Archdiocese since the early 1950′s with seven major cemeteries.
Together we carry out the Corporal work of mercy of burying the dead in ground consecrated to God, a sign of hope in the Resurrection.
**NOTE: For the protection of the cemetery grounds and monuments, St. Michael’s Cemetery gates are now closed. To visit the cemetery please contact Mount Hope Cemetery at (416) 483-4944.