For many years I have walked up Pape Ave on my way to Gerrard Square. During the course of this walk I pass by a small, gated cemetery. Many is the time I have wondered about this tiny graveyard; how did it come to be? It is tucked behind a community centre and beside a little park where I sometimes used to take Griffin when he was small. I decided that today I would finally sit down and do a little research about this tiny, oddly placed spot.


Turns out it is called Holy Blossom Cemetery, and was the first Jewish cemetery in Toronto. It was established in 1849 by two prominent businessmen, neither of whom is buried there. At the time when Holy Blossom Cemetery was created, the nearest Jewish cemeteries were in either Montreal or Buffalo. One of the founders was motivated by the fact that he had a seriously ill son, Samuel, who became the first person to be buried in that cemetery. The Jewish requirement that a body be buried within one day of death made Montreal and Buffalo unrealistic destinations in the 1840s under such time constraints. When the land was purchased, for twenty pounds, there were only about three dozen Jews in the city of Toronto. At the time it was a pattern for most immigrants to come to Toronto and make some money before moving on. By purchasing this land, these two gentlemen effectively put down the first roots in Toronto's Jewish community.

When it was originally built, Pape Ave, then called Centre Road, was still very rural. The cemetery was built even before the first synagogue, because, while the Jewish religion does not require a holy building to practise the faith, consecrated ground to bury their dead is a must. When The Toronto Hebrew Congregation, the predecessor to Holy Blossom Temple, was established in 1856, it took over management of the cemetery, and continues to run it today. Over the first decades almost all the early founders of Toronto's Jewish community would be buried there. The cemetery quickly ran out of room, whether due to the development of the city or just the size of the land purchased I could not determine, but it closed its gates to new burials in the 1930s. At that time a new cemetery was opened in the Cliffcrest area of Scarborough.

The site closed almost 70 years ago but still has visitors, says Doug Brown, groundskeeper and next-door neighbour to the cemetery for 50 years. It is his job to maintain the site, and to plant fresh flowers on the graves that have trusts set up for their lasting care. So there we have it, my curiosity about another Toronto spot finally satisfied.

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