The Toronto Book of the Dead by Adam BunchThe Toronto Book of the Dead by Adam Bunch

The Toronto Book of the Dead

byAdam Bunch

Paperback | September 16, 2017

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Exploring Toronto's history through the stories of its most fascinating and shadowy deaths.

If these streets could talk.

With morbid tales of war and plague, duels and executions, suicides and séances, Toronto's past is filled with stories whose endings were anything but peaceful. The Toronto Book of the Dead delves into these: from ancient First Nations burial mounds to the grisly murder of Toronto's first lighthouse keeper; from the rise and fall of the city's greatest Victorian baseball star to the final days of the world's most notorious anarchist.

Toronto has witnessed countless lives lived and lost as it grew from a muddy little frontier town into a booming metropolis of concrete and glass. The Toronto Book of the Dead tells the tale of the ever-changing city through the lives and deaths of those who made it their final resting place.
Adam Bunch is the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project, and has written about the history of the city for Spacing Magazine, Torontoist and the Huffington Post. In 2012, he earned an honourable mention for a Governor General's History Award. Adam lives in Toronto.
Title:The Toronto Book of the DeadFormat:PaperbackDimensions:424 pages, 8 × 5 × 1 inPublished:September 16, 2017Publisher:DundurnLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1459738063

ISBN - 13:9781459738065

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from great Read Loved the marriage of creepy and local history. #plumrewards
Date published: 2018-06-08

Read from the Book

The dead keep silent watch over the Don Valley. There are tens of thousands of them there, their bones buried in the soil not far south of Bloor Street. Their gravestones are hidden beneath the grand old trees that loom above the western slope. Even if you know they're there, it's easy to forget them as you rumble across the Bloor Viaduct on a subway or zip by in a car. But many of them have been resting in the earth on the edge of the valley since long before the Viaduct existed or a highway roared below. Some have been there for more than 150 years, since the Necropolis cemetery first opened its gates. The Necropolis was a new kind of graveyard. Garden cemeteries were all the rage in the middle of the 1800s. As Victorian cities became more and more crowded, the question of where to bury the dead was a growing concern. There were more people dying than there was space left to bury them - churchyards were filled to overflowing, and shallow burials meant bodies could easily be uncovered by a heavy rain or a curious dog. The living and the dead were being forced into ever closer quarters. In response, cities began to open large green spaces on the outskirts of town, where the living could visit the dead in the quiet of a pastoral setting, far from the rush and roar of urban life. The new burial grounds of the "cemetery beautiful" movement were as much parks as they were boneyards. The Toronto Necropolis fit that new mould. The old Potter's Field cemetery at Yonge and Bloor was quickly reaching capacity and would soon be closed: a petition from Yorkville residents demanded the dead be evicted from their neighbourhood. Thousands of bodies - including some of the city's early settlers - were dug up out of the ground and moved to a new home. The Necropolis was opened for them on a more peaceful spot: perched atop the verdant slopes of the Don Valley; a scenic place filled with trees. A small chapel was designed by one of the city's leading architects, complete with a beautiful white archway that serves as an entrance to the cemetery - a portal through the black iron fence into the graveyard beyond. It feels like a gateway into another world.  That's not by accident. Necropolis is an ancient Greek term: "city of the dead." And Toronto's Necropolis does feel something like its own city. (In fact, with a population of 62,000 residents, there are more dead people buried inside the Necropolis than there are people living in all of Fredericton, New Brunswick.) Even today, the Necropolis gives the impression of being a place separate from the modern world. On one side of that graceful white arch: the city of the living. On the other: the city of the dead. At first, people flocked to the new garden cemeteries in droves. Those elegant graveyards became centres of social life. They were founded in a time before large city parks were common and in the days before many public art galleries and museums had opened their doors. Garden cemeteries became a way for large numbers of people to enjoy green space, appreciate fine sculpture, and explore local history. In time, as urban populations continued to boom, those pastoral cemeteries on the edge of town were swallowed up by the cities they served. Over the last century and a half, Toronto has grown from a provincial outpost of thirty thousand to a cosmopolitan metropolis of millions. As the city has expanded, many of the graveyards that used to stand well outside its borders now find themselves surrounded by the loud chaos of modern life. St. Michael's Cemetery, one of the area's first Catholic graveyards, used to stand at the edge of a deer park in the rural reaches north of the city; now it has disappeared behind the office towers of Yonge and St. Clair. Richview Memorial Cemetery was once a quiet resting place for Etobicoke's early settlers; now it stands in the middle of a deafening highway interchange. St. James Cemetery, the city's oldest graveyard still in operation, sits in the shadows of the St. James Town apartment blocks - one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods on the continent. The Necropolis, originally outside the official boundaries of the city, now finds itself right in the heart of Toronto. The quiet of the graveyard is broken by the hum of traffic in the valley below. As dusk descends, the silver lights of skyscrapers wink on in the distance. Paradoxically, even as garden cemeteries found themselves surrounded by ever growing numbers of people, their popularity declined. For the Victorians who built them, death was still very much a part of daily life. But in the 1900s, as mortality rates dropped, religion became less popular, and parks and art galleries became more common, the number of visitors to garden cemeteries dwindled. Today, graveyards like the Necropolis still attract joggers, cyclists and flâneurs - as well as some mourners - but they aren't the social hubs they once were. In time, left increasingly alone in their walled gar¬dens, the dead became easier to forget. Their graves were no longer a constant of everyday life; they weren't outside the church every Sunday as townspeople went to pray. The dead were now locked away in their own parallel cities, kept safe behind wrought iron fences, mortality contained. And so, it became easier than ever to imagine the city of the dead and the city of the living as two distinct realms. I've been spending a lot of time in graveyards recently - since the summer of 2010, to be exact. That's when I launched the Toronto Dreams Project. The project explores the history of the city in many different ways - including a blog where several of the stories in this book originally appeared - but it's centred around a series of fictional dreams about people from the city's past. I print copies of each dream on custom-designed postcards and leave them in public places related to the true story of that person's life. And there are few places with a more powerful connection to a person's life than the place where they lie buried. The Dreams Project has sent me venturing into the land of the dead on a regular basis, passing through the gates we keep between ourselves and our ancestors, wandering among their bones in search of gravestones bearing familiar names. There are many of those in the Necropolis. It's home to some of the most fascinating figures from the history of Toronto: William Lyon Mackenzie, the mayor who became a rebel; George Brown, Father of Confederation and founder of the Globe newspaper, fatally shot by a disgruntled employee; the Abbotts and the Blackburns, who escaped racial persecution in the United States and helped make Toronto a vital stop at the end of the Underground Railroad; Joseph Tyrrell, the geologist who uncovered dinosaur bones in Alberta; Kay Christie, the nurse who survived a POW camp in Hong Kong; Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party felled by cancer before his time. Some of their stories even appear in this book. There are very few experiences that bring the history of the city more vividly to life than spending time among the dead: standing at their gravesides above bones that were once part of a living, breathing, feeling body, contemplating the lives they led. The more time you spend with them, the clearer it becomes: the boundary between the city of the dead and the city of the living is an illusion. The dead are not so easily contained. Cemeteries cannot hold them. Toronto - like every city - is a city of the dead. It's the collective creation of all those who have come before us. Their homes are our homes, their roads are our roads, their traditions are our traditions, their stories are our stories. The dead are all around us. They haunt our every waking moment whether we realize it or not. And so, by understanding the dead - how they lived, how they died, how they mourned - we can better understand ourselves and our city. To know the Toronto of today, it helps to know those stories: of recently deceased loved ones with fresh flowers on their graves, of Victorians interred within the confines of their garden cemeteries, of early settlers laid to rest in small churchyards, of the First Nations and their ancestors who have been buried in the land beneath our feet for thousands upon thousands of years. You can tell the history of Toronto, from a time long before the first Europeans arrived all the way to the modern metropolis of today, through tales of its dead. After all, every story ends the same way.

Table of Contents

Foreword: Toronto's Dead History Is Quite Alive by Shawn Micallef

1. The Feast of the Dead
2. The Beaver Wars
3. Elizabeth Simcoe's Nightmare
4. The Murder of Chief Wabakinine
5. The Town's First Hanging and How It Went Wrong
6. Whatever Happened to Peggy Pompadour?

The War of 1812
7. The Battle of York
8. The Bloody Burlington Races
9. The True Story of Toronto's Island Ghost

10. The Deadly Duel
11. The Blue Death
12. Revolution! Ish!
13. The Grisly Grave of Robert Baldwin

The Booming Metropolis
14. Black '47 in the Orange City
15. Abraham Lincoln's Shawl
16. Cannonball
17. A Brief History of the Pigeons of Toronto
18. The Tooth
19. The Crooked Knight of Casa Loma

The Great Wars
20. The Group of Seven on the Western Front
21. The Night of the Drowning Nurses
22. The Great Beyond
23. The Most Dangerous Woman in the World
24. I'll Never Smile Again
25. Journey's End
26. How Toppy Topham Died
27. Toronto Hearts Stalingrad

The Modern City
28. Disaster!
29. Neil Young's Hearse and a Dead Man's Name
30. Shoeshine Boy
31. No Sad Songs
32. The Falling Lawyer

Conclusion: The Work of Remembering
Selected Bibliography and Further Reading

Editorial Reviews

Sometimes gruesome, sometimes eerie . Highly fascinating and very informative. - Westend Weekly