HISTORY OF THE MOUNT ROYAL CEMETERY COMPANY
Mount Royal Cemetery was the first cemetery to be located on Mount Royal on the site of old farms. Following the trend of the American rural cemetery movement, the purpose of choosing land on the mountain was to use the natural surroundings to combine horticulture and commemoration in perpetuity. The original landscaping plan laid out the site in a series of terraces which followed the natural curves of the mountain.
This is an extract from the First Annual Report of The Mount Royal Cemetery Company in 1852:
“The Trustees last obtained on the other side of the Mountain a tract of land admirably adapted for their purpose, possessing sufficient depth of soil, rivulets and springs to make ponds and lakes, well wooded, and with an undulating surface and beautiful for situation, - retired from the bustle and heat of the City, and yet near and convenient of access. A spot capable of being made one of the most beautiful and finest cemeteries in America. TheTrustees are desirous of making it such. They therefore engaged Mr. Sidney, an eminent English Surveyor and Civil Engineer (…) to lay out the property acquired by the Company, so as to adapt it to its purposes, and to display, to the best advantage, its great natural beauties.”
The Mount Royal Cemetery Company is a non-profit organization administered by a Board of 21 Trustees who are all volunteers and lot owners. They are elected annually and represent different religious denominations proportionately to the number of lots sold for each denomination. The Charter of the Company has never been changed and still stipulates that all profits should be entirely devoted to the embellishment and improvement of the properties.
The Company has evolved and broadened its services over the years. After the construction of a crematorium and the opening of another cemetery in the early 1900s, the Company expanded again in the late 1900s to provide its clientele with a complete variety of funeral services:
Construction of the first Crematorium in Canada on the eastern side of the Mount Royal Cemetery property. This building is the oldest of its kind in the country and it remained the only crematorium in Quebec until 1975. The first cremation took place on April 18, 1902.
Opening of Hawthorn-Dale Cemetery in Pointe-aux-Trembles.
Addition to the crematorium building to include a second chapel, a mausoleum and a columbarium.
Acquisition of M.A. Blythe Bernier Funeral Home in Montreal (Park-Extension area).
Inauguration of Complexe Funéraire des Trembles on the Hawthorn-Dale Cemetery property in Pointe-aux-Trembles.
Construction of the Mount Royal Funeral Complex, again expanding the 1901 Crematorium. That same year, The Mount Royal Cemetery Company decided to operate under the name Mount Royal Commemorative Services to better identify the multitude of services now offered.
Expansion of the Mount Royal Funeral Complex to enlarge the second chapel and add a porte cochere.
The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated Mount Royal Cemetery as a National Historic Site in 1998 and this plaque was installed at the Cemetery’s main entrance in 2002, the year of Mount Royal Cemetery’s 150th anniversary.
In 1862, ten years after the opening of Mount Royal Cemetery, the entrance gates were built in the Early English style of architecture.
The first Crematorium in Canada was built in 1901 with funds donated by Sir William Christopher Macdonald, a well-known tobacco tycoon and great philanthropist. In his formal offer to the Trustees on June 29th, 1900, he was willing, not only to build a crematorium but to endow it and provide anything needed except for the land that the cemetery should supply. As soon as the Trustees accepted the offer, Macdonald proceeded immediately and less than a year later the Crematorium was ready to operate. Built with Montreal limestone, the original building had a chapel, a room for the cremation chambers, a large winter storage vault and a conservatory filled with exotic plants. In the 1950’s, for maintenance reasons, the conservatory was demolished but the original chapel, on the left of the building, is still intact with a beautiful hand made mosaic floor.
Although Mount Royal Cemetery remains a very active cemetery today it has become part of our heritage since its founding in 1852. Mount Royal Cemetery covers 165 acres (66 hectares) and even the old portion of the cemetery still has some burial sites available.
Contrary to general belief, the cemetery has not yet attained full capacity. From this advertisement of 1939, it seems that the
management already needed to re-assure the population of the amount of space available.
The multitude of beautiful trees, shrubs and flowershas always made Mount Royal Cemetery an interesting place to visit.
Close to 200,000 are buried in Mount Royal Cemetery. A visit to their graves gives a sense of the time that goes by, connecting past, present and future generations.
The Reverend William Squire was the first person buried in Mount Royal Cemetery. Minutes from the Annual Report of The Mount Royal Cemetery Company reported: “On the 19th day of October 1852, the first interment was made – being that of an esteemed and respected minister of the Wesleyan Methodist connexion, the late Rev. Mr. Squire whose remains were followed to the grave by a large number of sorrowing friends of his own and other denominations”.
Sir Arthur William Currie had the most impressive funeral that ever took place in Mount Royal Cemetery. He was the Commander of Canadian Troops during World War 1 and he was also Principa lof McGill University from 1920 and 1933. At his death in 1933, a gigantic funeral procession left the McGill Campus, walked up Park Avenue and entered the cemetery gates. The crowd was estimated at 20,000 people: politicians, diplomats, military bands and hundred of veterans attended. Three years later, a military monument, the Cross of Sacrifice, was erected at his grave.
Mount Royal Cemetery is now bordered on the south/east by Mount Royal Park, on the west by Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery and on the north by two Jewish cemeteries. The only opening in the fence between the two large cemeteries is where two adjoining military sections are. Shortly after World War 1, to emphasize the comradeship and uniformity of sacrifice of Protestant and Catholic soldiers, the Imperial War Graves Commission insisted on an open passage between the two plots and the Cross of Sacrifice was erected.
These red plaques were installed by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to commemorate Sir John Abbott, Prime Minister of Canada from June 1891 to November 1892 and Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, Father of Confederation.