Hidden Toronto: York Mills Baptist Church cemetery

A thicket of bushes and chain link fence between two houses marks the location of the graveyard of York Mills's first church


What

York Mills Baptist Church Cemetery

Where

104 York Mills Road

Why you should check it out

Before it was known as Hogg’s Hollow, York Mills was a foreboding place. Bogs and marshes pockmarked the hilly stretch from present-day Yonge Street all the way to the east branch of the Don River.

Remnants of the old village still remain, most notably the Georgian Revival Miller Tavern, the mid-1800s haunt that originally served as the York Mills Hotel. 

But other landmarks of that era have been covered over by time and rapid post-Second World War development. 

In the mid-1950s, there was a gruesome discovery: graves from the former Presbyterian church cemetery on Yonge were uncovered during construction to make way for apartment buildings. The church that occupied the site had been demolished and with it the memory of the graves. 

Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations gravitated to the area and also erected churches that have since been torn down. But the graveyard of the area’s first church still remains.

The York Mills Baptist Church Cemetery on the north side of York Mills just east of Yonge is hard to find. There’s no sign marking its location on what looks at first glance like a vacant lot between two houses. The thicket of bushes outside the chain-link fence that surrounds the property blocks out everything but a rusty gate. A lift of the latch gets you in. 

A pink granite marker at the entranceway notes the cemetery’s closure in 1945. The church that used to stand just to the east was built in 1833 and torn down in 1948, apparently amid financial difficulties. In fact, at one point the congregation had as few as six members, according to city records, which gave rise to its alternate name – the “Church of the Six Sisters.” 

About a dozen gravestones occupy the space. A number of them tell sad stories. For example, the oldest grave marker, which dates to 1839, belongs to Barnabas Bond, who died at the age of 13 years and five months.

In one corner near the back, the Sloss family stone marks the deaths of two more children, age 8 and 10.

Next to that, it’s the Fulton family plot and the distinct military marker for First World War vet Sapper Morden Jay Fulton. His tombstone says he died a year after the war in February 1919 at Guelph Military Hospital. He was 24 and according to his military record part of the army corps of engineers.

But it’s the large marker near the entrance that casts the longest shadow. It sits over the grave of Walter S. Gooderham of the famous Gooderham family of distillers. Ezekiel Gooderham was the church’s first minister.

Photo by Enzo DiMatteo.

Walter’s brother William ran part of the Gooderham and Worts distillery empire on Toronto’s waterfront. York Mills also had its share of distillers, but the area was better known for its wood manufacturing. 

Its location made it particularly well-suited for it, with surrounding forests providing the raw materials and a dam that crossed the Don at Hogg’s Hollow supplying the power. Mill operations in the area, in fact, gave rise to small villages all up and down Yonge. 

Photo by Enzo DiMatteo.

@enzodimatteo

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