Some fights never die

Questions linger over wheather Mount Pleasant Cemetrey is still a public trust or not

Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the final resting place of many influential Canadians and one of the largest green spaces in the city, is a well-known Toronto landmark. What is lesser known is just who owns the famous burial ground.

In 1826, the original cemetery was created as a public trust and there are those who insist it remains one to this day, while the body now operating it contends it is no longer a trust but a not-for-profit corporation.

“The cemetery operation started as a trust under a special act of Ontario in 1826,” says Rick Hall, a spokesperson for Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries, which operates 10 cemeteries in the Greater Toronto Area. “In 1871, the company was converted by another special act into a corporation, and today is subject to the Corporations Act.”

Community activist Margot Boyd argues that its status as a public trust remains unchanged.

Boyd was a member of the Moore Park Residents’ Association that fought unsuccessfully to block the construction of a visitation centre and parking lot in the cemetery in 2006. She has since been featured in various media speaking to issues concerning the cemetery.

Boyd has researched the cemetery’s 185 history and pored over the special acts. While she concedes that Mount Pleasant Group is a corporation, she contends that it is still a trust, one that was vested in the corporation in 1871.

“Every piece of land that is owned by Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries is owned by the trust,” Boyd said during an interview. “The trust is a public trust, so they are to be accountable and transparent to Ontarians.”

In the 1871 Special Act, Mount Pleasant Group, known as the Trustees of the Toronto General Burying Ground at the time, appears to have been made a corporation. The very first words of the document describe it as: “An Act to incorporate the Trustees of Toronto General Burying Ground, to confirm certain purchases made by them, to authorize them to acquire additional lands for the purposes of the said trust, and to amend the Acts relating to the said trust.”

That act also instructed the trustees to hire a secretary and treasurer. In 1876 the secretary-treasurer wrote a letter “By the order of the Trustees” which stated: “Mount Pleasant Cemetery is therefore property of the citizens, and its affairs are managed by a Board of Trustees, chosen according to law, who have no private interest whatever in the trust.”

With donations from the community, Boyd engaged the McCarthy Tetrault law firm in 2009 to review the statutes and acts pertaining to Mount Pleasant Group. In an 18-page letter sent to Premier Dalton McGuinty on Boyd’s behalf, McCarthy Tetrault wrote: “Legally, this trust might be characterized in several ways, but an accurate description of the trust in question is a ‘public trust.’ ”

Local politicians have indicated they agree with that statement. MPP Glenn Murray, whose riding borders Mount Pleasant Cemetery, insists it remains a trust.

“It’s still a public trust and that hasn’t changed,” Murray said, when reached recently by telephone.

During the municipal election campaign last fall, Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow promised to support the creation of an oversight committee for the area’s parks, ravines and cemeteries.

“This includes Mount Pleasant Cemetery, which is currently run like a private corporation rather than a public trust (as it was meant to be),” says a statement on his website.

The controversy surrounding the visitation centre was a perfect example of Mount Pleasant Group ignoring the public’s concerns, Matlow said in a recent interview.

“Even though Mount Pleasant Cemetery was created as a public trust, as a public cemetery … even though there is such a great public interest in the use and management of the cemetery, when it comes to decisions that impact the cemetery the public is shut out from the discussion,” Matlow said. “And that is fundamentally wrong.

“It is anti-democratic.”

Hall maintains that the cemeteries under the control of Mount Pleasant Group are private properties, but that the corporation is aware of how important the cemeteries are to the public.

“In many of the communities where we’re located we’re the largest — even though this is actually private property — we are actually the largest green space and property owners, so we know we are very important to the communities where we’re located and we take that very seriously,” Hall said.

Starting this spring, Mount Pleasant Group will be holding events intended to engage the local community around Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Hall said.

Matlow says he will work with the community and fellow city councillors to form a public oversight committee that will help clear up some of the issues surrounding Mount Pleasant Group.

“Hopefully, this can act as a catalyst for a more formal recognition that the board of trustees should be publicly appointed,” Matlow said.

Boyd intends to continue to raise awareness through her website.

“In the end, we’re doing this to preserve this for future generations, because when it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said.

About this article:

By: Tristan Carter
Posted: Feb 24 2011 3:28 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto