MOUNT ROYAL CEMETERY
1297 Chem-in de la Forêt
Bella Morte Rating: 1 Tombstone
By the mid-1800s, Montreal’s downtown cemeteries had reached capacity and it was determined that property outside the city was be needed for the purposes of burying the dead. Accordingly, members of the Protestant church purchased land on the northern slope from Dr. Michael McCulloch. It was subsequently incorporated in 1947. The cemetery was consecrated on 8 June, 1854 by Francis Fulford, a bishop in the Anglican Church. The first interment took place on 19 October, 1852 when the mortal remains of Methodist minister, Rev. William Squire were committed to the earth.
Mount Royal Cemetery has the distinction of being the “little sister” of neighbouring (5 Tombstone-Rated) Our Lady of the Snows. The cemeteries do not share a formal connection; however, their proximity certainly cements their relationship. Mount Royal was created to be a Protestant burying ground by 21 Trustees who represented among them the six Protestant denominations involved in the purchase. It has since opened its crypts and mausoleums to those of any (or no) denomination. In addition to the borders it has in common with Our Lady of the Snows, Mount Royal shares its northern border with two Jewish cemeteries. Presently, more than 165,000 rest within her embrace.
From its establishment until the (to us, horrible) reign of superintendent Ormiston Roy, in the early 1900s, Mount Royal enjoyed all the Victorian touches we here at Belle Morte have come to adore. Romantic monuments and mausoleums flourished and death, though deeply mourned, was celebrated as an inevitable part of life. It was during this Garden Cemetery era, that the English Gothic entrance gate (1862) was erected.
In addition, Canada’s first crematory (designed by architect Sir Andrew Taylor) was built in Mount Royal in 1901. Sir William Christopher Macdonald, a wealthy tobacco dealer and well-known philanthropist was the sole funder of the project. The crematorium, which still stands today, is constructed of Montreal limestone and, in addition to the cremation chamber itself, houses a chapel with mosaic flooring and a receiving vault. Originally, it also boasted a lovely conservatory, however, this was demolished in 1952 due to deterioration. The first cremation occurred on 18 April, 1902. In 1984, a second chapel, with a decidedly modern appearance, was added to accommodate the growing needs and tastes of the community; however, the original chapel remains in use and still reflects the sensibilities of the Victorian era.
With the coming of the aforementioned Mr. Roy, Victorian beauty was scrapped in favour of the dreadful, utilitarian “architecture” of the “Park Cemetery.” Breathtaking statuary, ornate mausoleums and beautiful stones were replaced with flush markers and spiritless, flat expanses punctuated by sparse landscaping elements such as trees and shrubs.
The Roy family blight continued until the 1990s. Today, with the trend turning toward more personalized forms of memorialization, Mount Royal is beginning to enjoy the reappearance of some more comely monuments, however, the long, “dark ages” of the cemetery have left an indelible and tragic mark on Mount Royal.
Among the more notable interments in Mount Royal are:
* 15 individuals who perished in the steamboat “Montreal” disaster. (click here for newspaper accounts of the incident)
* Joseph Guibord, (1809 ~ 1869). Mr. Guibord is notable for having been a temporary guest at Mount Royal. He was a printer by trade and was widely recognized as the most accomplished typographer in Canada. A professing Roman Catholic, he should have rightly been interred in Our Lady of the Snows following his death on 18 November, 1869; however, upon the discovery that he was a member of the Institut Canadien de Montreal, Ignace Bourget, the bishop of Montreal, forbade such burial.
Guibord’s “offense” was his belief in a far more open-minded and intellectual approach to his faith. The institute he belonged to consisted of 200 liberal professionals who supported a library, reading room and forums for debates. Threatened by any challenge to Roman Catholic authority, the bishop and many conservative Montreal Catholics were scandalized by the thought of letting Guibord rest in consecrated ground. His wife, Henriette Brown, argued he had received communion and absolution before his death; however, the attending priest protested he acted without knowledge of Guibord’s membership in the liberal organization and, upon presenting the body for burial, his widow’s request was denied. She was forced to take her husband’s corpse to Mount Royal for entombment until such time as she might prevail.
Having failed to have her case heard following numerous legal appeals, she died without seeing her wishes fulfilled; however, members of the Institute took up the cause and on 21 November, 1874, after five years of legal struggles, they were triumphant.
Or so it seemed. There was yet some insult to be added to the injury.
Conservative Catholics, including multiple clergy members blocked the burial party as they made their way into Our Lady of Angels on 2 September, 1875. It was not until the 16th of November, 1875, that Guibord’s faithful friends, accompanied by an escort of 2,500 police and soldiers, were able to gain entrance and inter the body of their deceased companion next to that of his widow. Even then, no priest would attend and it was left to one of Guibord’s friends to make the sign of the cross over the grave. The casket was then covered with a mixture of metal shavings and concrete to foil any attempts at removal by those intent upon such a dishonourable deed.
The final insult came when, in a fit of pique, Bishop Bourget officially deconsecrated the earth that sheltered Guibord’s remains. Bourget declared the plot “forever under an interdict and separate from the rest of the cemetery.”
As a side note, following this fiasco, the Roman Catholic Church appealed for, and received, the rite to determine who may be buried in consecrated ground. The law, part of the Burial Act of Quebec, is in effect even today.
* Jocelyn Gordon Whitehead , (1895~1954). Mr. Whitehead’s dubious claim to fame is that of being the man accused of killing famed stage magician, Harry Houdini by delivering an unanticipated punch to the older gentleman’s abdomen. Houdini was resting on a couch when Whitehead, intent upon disproving the magician’s claim to being impervious to such attack, delivered the blow. Although it has been decisively proved that Houdini died of acute appendicitis, and not the effects of the punch, popular culture maintains the more dramatic story.
Mount Royal possesses a peaceful aura as well as a gently sloping topography which begins near Montreal (proper) and slowly rises to a height which offers some nice views of the cities (one of the living, one of the dead) below.
In 1999, it was designated a National Historic Site.