St. Michael's Cemetery

Toronto's Forgotten Landmarks: St. Michael's Cemetery

Few would suspect that hidden behind the business towers and store-fronts just West of Yonge and St. Clair in downtown Toronto is a 10-acre cemetery. Closed off to the public, this haunting location is accessible only through private household gates, where the owners are frequently seen walking their dogs through the grounds.

The land itself was consecrated in 1855 due to the massive death tolls of Irish immigrants coming to Toronto because of the Potato Famine, many of whom quickly succumbed to their Typhus-related illnesses. When a Bishop bought this Yonge Street property, the parishioners of St. Michael's were upset, as they saw the cemetery as being too far outside of Toronto - more than a little ironic given the subsequent city development.

St. Michael's Cemetery

Tens of thousands of bodies were buried here, Toronto's oldest Catholic Cemetery. A man walking 2 beautiful hounds on the grounds approached me and a friend while we were snapping some pictures, and asked if we had found the oldest gravestone yet - I gave him what I thought to be the correct answer, which turned out off by some 30-odd years.

Before parting, the gentleman pointed to a small stone building in the North-East corner, informing us that it was designed by a Joseph Sheard as a mortuary vault, to store dead bodies in the winter until they could be buried in the spring. Mr. Sheard would subsequently become Mayor of Toronto.

I have been visiting this quiet space for some time now, but I always experience it anew after a walk through the trees at its northern edge...

St. Michael's Cemetery

The trees become an unreal hallway, a passage...

St. Michael's Cemetery

St. Michael's Cemetery

St. Michael's Cemetery

There is a cluster of small cross grave-markers which represent the burial spot of an entire order of nuns...

St. Michael's Cemetery

St. Michael's Cemetery

Thus far, I have implemented a series of abnormal 'shot' styles, ranging from ultra-wide, to infrared. In the next two, I used a somewhat oblique combination of digital-macro and 126mm to try and capture the particular 'mood' of the place. The subject matter is already so emotionally charged in a place such as this, that it almost seems necessary to step outside of the bounds of natural photography in order to capture the experience, no matter how many rules one breaks...

Towers, living and dead...

I was fortunate enough, on one of my visits (wintertime), to encounter a deep fog settling about the place; nothing quite confuses the senses as much as this wonderful phenomenon...

St. Michael's CemeterySt. Michael's Cemetery

I cannot help but smile whenever I am at the busy intersection of Yonge and St. Clair, knowing the secret that lies just behind the glass and concrete foreground structures. It is a little piece of Heav'n on earth, a silent park of the dead, a solitude which can only accompany death, closed off from the public eye.

(If you want to see the rest of the shots from this ominous site, or high-res versions of those above, you can see my flickr slide-show below.)

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