Toronto, as you probably know, is blessed by geography in the form of the many ravines that cross the city. Over the years, some of these have been woven into the fabric of Toronto as cemeteries.
As I’ve mentioned before, there is something very calming about walking through graveyards. Since Mount Hope, Mount Pleasant, and Prospect cemeteries are all within a few km of my home in mid-town, I’ve worked out a walking route that takes these in and ties them together with some interesting neighbourhoods and paths. The route is lovely any time of the year, but if I had to pick early autumn is my favourite, when the trees are just turning colour.
Length: about 16-17 km, probably between 3.5 and 4.5 hours duration depending on your pace and exact route meandering through the cemeteries
Surface: about 80% paved; only the Kay Gardiner Beltline is gravel
Route: Starting at Eglinton Station, walk north on Yonge Street to Erskine Avenue. Go east on Erskine to Mount Hope Cemetery entrance. Walk through cemetery (I like to bear left – to the north – and walk next to the Blythwood ravine) to the exit gate on Bayview Avenue.
Turn right and go south on Bayview to entrance to Mount Pleasant cemetery (about 2 km). Walk through Mount Pleasant (lots of options for meandering) and pick up the Beltline path markers at the west end of the eastern section of the cemetery. Follow the Beltline markers through the underpass beneath Mount Pleasant Road, and then more meandering options through the cemetery to get to the exit at the north-west corner of the cemetery.
Join the Kay Gardiner Beltline and head west all the way to its end at the Allen Expressway. Turn right and go north slightly, to Elmridge Drive and cross the Allen, continuing across Marlee Avenue. On the south-west corner of Marlee and Roselawn (note Elmridge turns into Roselawn when it crosses Marlee), turn left and go south a few meters to the start of the York Beltline trail. Follow this west all the way to the finish at Bowie Avenue.
Exit the trail and walk east along Bowie to Caledonia Road, then south on Caledonia to Eglinton. Go east a couple of blocks to the northern entrance to Prospect Cemetery.
Meander south through Prospect Cemetery to the south entrance on St. Clair. Turn left (east) and cross the street to catch the streetcar back to Line 1 St. Clair station.
Sights: The best part about this route is the variety of sights and sounds, terrain and trails. There’s the calm orderliness of rows of headstones; the subtle geometry of hills and grassland and trees and gardens; the colours in any season; the scents of new cut grass and flowers, and the food smells amongst the shops along Bayview; the sounds of kids playing, dogs barking, birds singing; the crunch of gravel underfoot.
In themselves, these cemeteries are fascinating time-capsules. The history of Toronto is written in the names on the headstones, and you can piece together the waves of immigration by the names and dates. There are the graves of the famous (former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in Mount Pleasant cemetery) and the humble (the graves of the several different orders of nuns in Mount Hope cemetery).
Tying them together are the trails and streets of mid-Toronto. The Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail and the York Beltline Trail follow the route of the Beltline Railway, which carried goods from mid-town to the terminal stations further south. Bayview is a major road and is the main street of Leaside, one of Toronto’s early planned neighbourhoods that dates back to the 1920s. And of course starting on Yonge and ending on St. Clair puts you into some of the most vibrant areas of Toronto.
Food & Refreshment: There are lots of options at the start and end of the route. I suggest fuelling up with a good breakfast or early lunch in the Yonge and Eg area, where there are many options, ranging from organic juice bars to old school diners to grocery stores. At the finish on St. Clair, a short walk east from Prospect Cemetery takes you into the Corso Italia, where you can reward yourself with a gelato, an espresso, or a beer.
Along the way, the stretch along Bayview between Soudan Avenue and Davisville Avenue is packed with shops, restaurants, coffee stops, and bars, so there’s lots to choose from. The Beltline trails don’t have anything directly on them, but you can duck out at say Oriole Park, or near Castlefield Road, where there are a few coffee shops.
Toilet facilities can be a challenge between November and April. In warm months, there are public washrooms in some of the parks along the way, but these close in the cold months. There is one year-round toilet in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, near the office in the middle, but otherwise you’ll have to leave the route to hit a coffee shop.
Diversions: There are several ways to add some variety to the route.
Walk it in reverse – it’s uphill this way, and it’s fun to end at Yonge & Eg and the shops/bars/restaurants.
Split it up – a good mid-way point is to bail out as you leave Mount Pleasant Cemetery, near Oriole Park. That puts you at Davisville Station on Line 1, an easy way to jump back on.
Exit Mount Pleasant Cemetery through the main entrance in the south-west corner and walk down Yonge to St. Clair. This way you skip the Beltline and instead walk along St. Clair to Prospect Cemetery, passing through the Wychwood, Hillcrest, and Corso Italia neighbourhoods with their shops, restaurants and bars . This lets you finish on Eg, and you can take the bus back to Eglinton Station on Line 1. In winter this can be a better route, especially if it’s muddy on the Beltline.
There are several other cemeteries in mid-town that you can incorporate into the route. There is St. Michael’s Cemetery, tucked behind a gate off Yonge just south of St. Clair. There are also the series of small Hebrew cemeteries along Roselawn Avenue between Avenue Road and Bathurst, just north of the Beltline Trail. Each of these are interesting in their own way, expanding on the story of Toronto as they illustrate the waves of immigration that have made up the city over the past 150 years.