Park Lawn Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in Toronto.
The beauty of this 73-acre cemetery belies its deep connection to local farming traditions, which, like many things dating back to the 1800s, hint at a dark and murky history.
As Etobicoke’s largest cemetery, there are over 100,000 burials here, ranging from local farm families to a number of politicians and musicians such as Jeff Healey.
The most besieged mayor in Toronto history, Rob Ford, rests here. His father, Doug Ford Sr., and Mr. York himself: former mayor of the York Municipality, Fergy Brown.
But of the thousands of people buried here, 75 of them, ranging from toddlers to late teens, lie in anonymous graves.
Two mass graves in Park Lawn Cemetery are where you’ll find the remains of 75 children at home: young people who came to Canada on ships from the UK to find work between 1869 and 1949.
It is a tragic part of the country’s history. Approximately 35,000 children were reportedly brought to Canada by by Barnardo, a still-existing children’s charity founded in England by a Christian evangelist named Thomas Barnardo.
Many came as farm laborers and indentured servants who were contracted out to rural families across the country. Many have been terribly abused, worked to the bone, and lived overall miserable lives.
Some were murdered by their employers, others died of tuberculosis or in childbirth. But regardless of the cause of death, their bodies have been dumped in the same plots for over 50 years, never identified by friends or family.
But thanks to an organization called the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association and $ 16,000 in donations, a granite monument was placed on one of the plots in 2017, which pays tribute to thousands of these poorly treated young people.
The plots are located in the oldest part of the cemetery, in the northwest corner.
Many Torontonians have used the BHC online register to see if their ancestors were “Barnardo Home Boys” (the girls were sent to Barnardo’s receiving and distribution house in Hazelbrae, Peterborough).
“The graves of the 75 children buried at Park Lawn Cemetery are a poignant reminder that although many children have thrived in Canada, many have not,” the organization said.
“Our country is strewn with the graves of lost Home Children, unfortunately many will never be found.”
The two mass graves are certainly one of the most interesting, if not morbid, parts of Park Lawn’s history.
Much less intriguing is the fact that part of Park Lawn (named Humbervale Cemetery until 1915) almost became a residential development in 1912if not for the work of the Humbervale Cemetery Defense Association.
Today, the tomb’s careful collection of trees and plants belies its past. Don’t be surprised if you see an assortment of Canadian wildlife, from blue jays to deer families grazing among gravestones.