May 18, 2022
Most Toronto residents are familiar with the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in mid-town. A sprawling oasis in the middle of one of the largest cities in North America, it’s a popular destination for passive recreation, history buffs, wildlife lovers and amateur arborists. But fewer of us know the fascinating origination story of the Mount Pleasant Group, which owns Mount Pleasant and many other cemeteries, funeral centres and cremation centres across the GTA. In 1825, the City of Toronto did not yet exist. The town of “Muddy” York was the capital of Upper Canada, with a fast-growing population of just over 1,700. (York had more than doubled in size since the War of 1812). Slowly expanding west of the Don River and north of King Street, York had more than 250 houses and almost 50 merchants’ shops. With the growing population came an increase in disease. Many inhabitants suffered from fevers brought about by poor sanitary conditions and the crowded living quarters of the poor. Tuberculosis was a constant threat, as were epidemics of cholera, smallpox and scarlet fever. The town had two burying grounds. One for the Catholics and one for Anglicans. If you weren’t of either faith, you were not welcome to be buried in their cemeteries. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"] Map of early Toronto showing location of Potter's Field[/caption] York desperately needed a burial option for those who weren’t associated with the predominant churches of the day. In late 1825, public notices appeared calling “a meeting of the inhabitants of York” at the Masonic Lodge on Colborne Street south of King Street. William Poyntz Patrick was named chairman, and William Lyon Mackenzie was appointed secretary for the meeting, which he reported on in the December 8th issue of the “Colonial Advocate,” the newspaper he had founded the year before. Thomas Carfrae, Jr. who had been asked to find a suitable piece of land for York’s first public burial ground for “all classes and sects,” reported that he had located a six-acre property at what is now the north-west corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets, one mile north of the town limits of York. The property was part of the farm of John Elmsley. Carfrae’s recommendation was approved by the meeting and Messrs. Patrick, Carfrae and Mackenzie were asked to draft a petition to the two members of the Legislature representing York, “praying for an act of incorporation” for the public burying place. The petitions were successful, and an Act of Incorporation was passed on January 30th, 1826. The cost for the burial ground was $300 which was raised through public subscription, with no one person permitted to give more than one dollar. Five men were appointed Trustees of the York General Burying Grounds: Thomas Carfrae, Jr.; Peter Paterson; John Ewart; Thomas Helliwell; and, Dr. Thomas D. Morrison. Unfortunately for the Trustees, their work wasn’t over. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"]Yonge and Bloor c. 1837 The North-West corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets c.1837[/caption] Following incorporation in 1834, the City of Toronto grew rapidly northwards and in no time at all, the cemetery was outside the required one mile beyond the city limits. In 1849, the Trustees once again petitioned parliament, this time to allow them to purchase new land in the township of York. They repeated the petition two years later and were able to buy up to 25 acres of land in York township. In the meantime, the town of Yorkville came into existence north of Toronto, and the residents objected to the nearby Potters Field. In 1855, they were successful in petitioning the government to close the cemetery. The Trustees were empowered to sell the land as soon as all the remains had been removed, and re-buried. Most of the remains were removed by friends and relatives, with the Trustees providing equivalent burial space elsewhere. Those remains that hadn’t been claimed by 1875 were removed by the Trustees, and Potters Field was finally closed. Of those remaining, 984 were re-buried in the Necropolis, which the Trustees had bought in 1855. The remaining 364 bodies were moved to the new Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Both of these properties were the requisite one mile beyond the city limits.
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May 16, 2022
For decades, cremation was separate from the funeral experience. The funeral would end and then the cremation would take place elsewhere, often in a dark industrial facility, far removed from family and friends. Days or weeks after the funeral, cremated remains would be buried or scattered. This old approach and the old equipment that was used for cremations, no longer meet the expectations of those who choose cremation. [caption id="attachment_362" align="alignright" width="300"] The witnessing area in Thornton's Cremation Centre[/caption] There were two trends driving the need for innovation in this area. First, many friends and family strongly prefer to be present for a loved one’s cremation. And for many, it’s more than a preference. Hindu, Sikh and Jain believers all have religious practices that are rooted in cremation and for them it is important to be present for the process. But old cremation facilities were not built with this in mind. They are industrial-looking and cannot safely accommodate people for a witnessing ceremony. A second important trend relates to environmental concerns. While all of Mount Pleasant’s legacy cremation equipment met Health Canada standards for emissions, we knew that more modern equipment could further reduce those emissions, in some cases nearly to zero. The Mount Pleasant Group has been aware of these trends for some time. We have seen the popularity of cremation continue to grow; a trend which we do not expect to slow down. And we have also seen the ways in which our immigrant population has changed over time, now leaning heavily toward new Canadians from Asian countries with traditions that favour cremation and witnessing. In response to these trends, the Mount Pleasant Group, decided to replace our existing cremation equipment to lessen its environmental impact and to transform the witnessing process. We began by scouring the globe to find the best equipment possible. After a lengthy process of due diligence and regulatory approvals in Canada, an entirely new cremation experience was made available at Mount Pleasant Cemetery and Elgin Mills in 2014. In 2017, we completed the process with the conversion of the cremation equipment at Meadowvale and Thornton Cemeteries. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"] Witnessing the cremation of a loved one[/caption] MPG’s new witnessing rooms are bright, spacious, comfortable rooms that can accommodate large groups. The state-of-the art cremation technology allows family members to safely and comfortably witness and even take part in seeing the casket enter the cremation chamber. Witnessing is a way for people to participate in the last part of their loved one’s journey, not unlike watching a casket being lowered into the grave. From an environmental perspective, the new equipment is the cleanest in North America with particulate matter and other emissions thousands of times lower than Ministry of the Environment safe health standards. For all intents and purposes, emissions and particulate matter have been reduced nearly to zero. The process of transforming the cremation experience for our customers took well over a decade from start to finish. This investment of time and resources was part of our ongoing commitment not only to meet, but also to anticipate our customers’ needs. But even more than that, it was just the right thing to do.
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May 12, 2022
As our society becomes ever more complex, many people are seeking to inject some simplicity and authenticity into their lives. This yearning for grounded, natural experiences takes many forms, from choosing to live “off the grid” in remote areas, to the “slow food” movement which focuses on home-made meals shared at a table as a way for families to slow down and connect with one another. [caption id="attachment_366" align="alignright" width="300"] The Memorial Obelisks for Duffin Meadows' Natural Burial Area.[/caption] This trend toward more natural experiences is changing the way we think about burial too. While the majority of Canadians still choose cremation or traditional burial when a death occurs, a growing minority are choosing natural burial. This type of burial allows the body of the deceased to return to the earth as naturally as possible – without embalming and in biodegradable caskets, urns or shrouds. While natural burial has existed for hundreds of years in Europe, it was not available in the GTA until 2012 when we opened the first natural burial grounds at Meadowvale Cemetery in Brampton.  In addition to our Meadowvale location we now have a second natural burial section at Duffin Meadows Cemetery in Pickering. [caption id="attachment_331" align="alignleft" width="300"]Natural Burial Area The Natural Burial Area in Duffin Meadows Cemetery[/caption] For families, natural burial is a personal choice, usually driven by a desire to let nature take its course without any of the barriers put up by traditional burial like vaults, heavy wood or metal caskets, granite markers and embalming. But there is an important community side to natural burial too. The grounds are left to grow freely, with native grasses and self-seeding wildflowers, while tokens of remembrance like photos and flowers are not permitted. Natural burial sites are green oases set within our dense, urban environments. While natural burial is the choice for a minority of burials today, we believe it’s popularity will continue grow because it taps into something important about life in major urban centres in the 21st century. That is, that many of us want simpler, more natural and more environmentally-conscious experiences.
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May 11, 2022
The people who choose careers as funeral directors or cemetery staff usually do so because they want to help others who are dealing with one of life’s most difficult moments. They do it because they are compassionate and because they care. [caption id="attachment_306" align="alignleft" width="167"]Staff Volunteers An MPG employee volunteering at a hospice fund-raiser[/caption]

When Mount Pleasant Group was looking for a focus for our charitable giving, we took inspiration from our staff. We knew we wanted to concentrate our efforts on a single partner to achieve the maximum impact, but equally, we wanted one who shared our values of compassion and care. Hospice and Palliative Care Ontario (HPCO) was the perfect fit.

The need for quality end-of-life care in Ontario is overwhelming, not only to provide dignity and support at a critical time, but to relieve the burden on our overstretched healthcare system when it’s needed most. It is an urgency that our staff understand all too well. In fact, when the partnership began in 2017, many of our staff were already dedicating their time volunteering at nearby hospices. They already understood the need and recognised kindred spirits in the hospice staff and administrators.

Because we both work with end of life, Mount Pleasant Group has more to offer HPCO than just donations and volunteer hours. We can also share our expertise and experience. And we can benefit from HPCO’s knowledge and experience as well.

[caption id="attachment_307" align="alignright" width="300"]
MPG staff participating in the Healing Cycle ride[/caption] Over the years of our partnership, Mount Pleasant Group has provided our facilities for meetings, training, and events hosted by our hospice partners, while supporting fundraising efforts and donating to them directly. Our teams came together to participate in annual events such as bake sales, the Hike for Hospice, and the Healing Cycle Ride to raise money for local hospices. Last year we were honoured to help further the HPCO’s Centre of Excellence, an accreditation system dedicated to better patient health and experiences, as well as reduced costs for the system and improved resilience among caregivers. Our communities have become increasingly reliant upon the support of private organisations to ensure the care and dignity of those of us facing the ends of our lives. COVID-19’s impact on an already overburdened system has only made this more critical as hospices and palliative care facilities face an unprecedented crisis. There is no shortage of worthy causes to support. For Mount Pleasant Group, the right fit was one where there were natural and organic connections between the work we do every day and the organisations we wanted to support. The result has been a very strong partnership that has grown year over year; one that staff are excited to become involved in, support and give their time to. And one that we hope is making a real difference in our communities.
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