The story of how a burial ground wound up stuck between two of Toronto’s busiest highways.
It’s difficult to envision the tangle of roads and freeways at the junction of Highways 401 and 427 as a sleepy country crossroads. Yet that’s what it was in 1853, when farmer William Knaggs offered part of his land at the southwest corner of the future Eglinton Avenue and Highway 27 for use as a “Union Chapel” not tied to any particular denomination. A cemetery soon followed construction of the church.
The congregation nearly split when the church acquired a pipe organ from Cooke’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto in 1855; several members believed that music was a form of devilish temptation. Perhaps they were on to something, as legend has it the organ met its demise in a barn fire before it could be installed.
Up until the late 1880s, the intersection was known either as Union (after the church) or Kit’s Corners (after blacksmith Christopher “Kit” Thirkle). It became known as Richview after 1887, when a post office bearing that name moved south from present-day Airport Road. The Knaggs family offered more land to build a larger church, which opened as Richview Methodist in 1888. The new building, renamed Richview United in 1925, was a gathering spot for local farmers to enjoy activities ranging from crokinole tournaments to oyster suppers.
Etobicoke land survey, circa 1878.
Richview’s long run as a quiet farming community ended in the 1950s with the encroachment of suburbia. The cemetery and church found themselves in an isolated island in the middle of the interchange of Highways 27 and 401. The church was demolished soon after its last service was held in February 1959, with the congregation moving into its present home on Wellesworth Drive three years later. Cemetery trustees resisted moving the dead, leaving local pioneers undisturbed amid the growing volume of traffic around them.
Maintaining Richview Cemetery proved handy when development elsewhere in Etobicoke crept toward pioneer burial grounds. During discussions of how to move remains from Willow Grove Burial Grove on Rexdale Boulevard to Richview in January 1968, Etobicoke councillors couldn’t resist cracking jokes. When the cemetery board chairman was asked to provide more information on relocation logistics, one councillor told him to “keep digging.” Around 110 bodies were moved to the south end of Richview in 1970, followed by re-interments from the McFarlane Cemetery on Dundas Street West.
From the Oct. 20, 1987 edition of the Toronto Star
While Richview Cemetery is still active, plots are available only to descendants of those buried there. Burials are infrequent, the most recent being cemetery groundskeeper Victor Kimber, who passed away in 2005. Kimber’s burial revealed one problem with holding services at the site—traffic roaring by on Highway 427 made it difficult to hear the minister.
To reach the cemetery, look for an umarked gated driveway hidden between overpasses along Eglinton Avenue. A short road climbs uphill until you reach the fenced burial ground. Historical plaques outline the site’s backstory. Around 300 people are buried in Richview, with the oldest tombstone dating to 1846. While some markers have been restored, age and vehicle exhaust threaten to make others illegible. Hints are provided of the suffering pioneers endured during their final days—the tombstone for Elizabeth Coulter, who died at the age of 22 in 1852, notes “affliction sore long time I bore, physicians were in vain.” Some names are recognizable from roads named after them, such as the Dixon family.
Despite the noise and pollution surrounding it, one can enjoy contemplative moments in Richview Cemetery. “This is a final resting place,” local historian Randall Reid told the Globe and Mail in 2006. “That has to be respected.”
Additional material from Etobicoke Remembered by Robert A. Given (Toronto: Pro Familia, 2007), Villages of Etobicoke (Etobicoke: Etobicoke Historical Board, 1985), the October 28, 2006 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the January 4, 1968 and October 20, 1987 editions of the Toronto Star.