Rush and remembrance

Richview-Willow Grove Cemetery

"Cemeteries are a great place to begin your genealogical research. Many cemetery offices have searchable records databases and offer times when the general public can access these records. There are also many good online resources."


Romas Bubelis

Community, Cultural landscapes

Published Date:07 Sep 2006

Photo: Richview-Willow Grove Cemetery

On a windswept summer day in 2005, a small congregation gathered beside a cloverleaf off-ramp at the western fringe of Toronto. In Richview-Willow Grove Cemetery, amid the high-pitched whine of speeding cars and merging semi-trailers, they held a memorial service commemorating Etobicoke’s founding families.

Richview Cemetery officially opened in 1853 to serve a small rural community located in what is now central Etobicoke. The site’s chapel, the Richview Methodist Church, was still active in 1959 when the confluence of the Macdonald Cartier Freeway (the 401) and Highway 427 was developed on a colossal scale. The chapel was demolished and the congregation relocated. But at the community’s request, the traffic engineers’ high-speed ramps avoided the cemetery. This remaining land – girdled and rendered valueless for real estate development – was disturbed no further.

In the 1970s, two other local historic cemeteries, Willow Grove Burying Ground and the McFarlane family cemetery, were closed and relocated to make way for development. Their occupants, numbering about 110, were removed and re-interred alongside Richview Cemetery, between the concrete ramparts. And so it was that the graves of many of Etobicoke Township’s founding families found an unexpected resting place in Richview-Willow Grove Cemetery in the middle of a busy highway cloverleaf.

As memories fade, so did the markers of the pioneer families, each marker subject to its own natural process of deterioration and decay. What remained was a variety of block, slab and obelisk style monuments at various angles of repose and in various conditions. Those carved from limestone and marble showed the most wear, interestingly being made of sedimentary and metamorphic rock that was itself created by a process of decline and transformation.

Into the midst of this cycle stepped the Etobicoke Historical Society and Etobicoke Heritage Foundation. These groups count among their membership a number of descendants of those interred at Richview-Willow Grove Cemetery. They raised $20,000 in funding for conservation of the monuments and these funds were matched by the Ontario Heritage Foundation Community Challenge Fund. Broken stones were repaired with stainless steel pins, cracks were grouted and the markers set on new slab footings. The thin, white marble slabs with carved scrollwork and inscriptions stand upright once again, as did the pioneers in their day.

At Richview, conservation techniques were used to slow the inevitable cycle of deterioration. The markers of a distant point in time have been preserved for a time longer. The pioneers hold their ground, remembered by their descendants even as the world rushes by around them.