The Mount Royal Cemetery Company was incorporated under an Act of the Provincial Parliament of Canada in 1847. The first burial in the Mount Royal Cemetery took place in 1852 and it was consecrated on June 8th, 1854 by the Anglican Bishop Francis Fulford. In over 160 years since its first burial, the Cemetery has continued to preserve its rich heritage and tradition. Records of the Mount Royal Cemetery date to 1799 because they include the records of two ancient Protestant cemeteries in Montreal, the oldest being the Old Dorchester Burial Grounds, also known as the St. Lawrence Burial Grounds or Dufferin Square Cemetery, which was opened at the corner of Rene Levesque Boulevard and Cheneville Street.
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. The Mount Royal Cemetery is listed among the first rural cemeteries in North America.
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. The Trustees 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, it's great natural beauties.”
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 1950s, due to maintenance reasons, the conservatory was demolished but the original chapel, on the left of the building, is still intact with a beautiful handmade mosaic floor.
Urns containing cremated remains may be interred in any lot or grave available for casket burials. In addition, a number of locations are available in our cemeteries which provide for the burial of cremated remains in areas designed specifically for this purpose.
So where did Canada's first cremation take place? At Mount Royal Cemetery.
At the turn of the century, crematoriums did not exist in Canada, despite significant demand. In June of 1900, Sir William MacDonald, a strong supporter of cremation, came forward with a generous donation for the construction of an appropriate building, and by 1901, Canada's first crematorium had opened its doors on the grounds of Mount Royal Cemetery.
The evidence of cremation dates from antiquity. Pottery vessels from the Neolithic period, filled with the ashes of several individuals, have been found throughout Europe. Between 1400 BC and AD 200, cremation was the preferred burial custom, especially among Roman aristocrats. The Caesar family was one of many to choose cremation as a means of disposition. Between the 3rd and 19th centuries, Christianity became widely accepted and its doctrines forbade cremation because of the belief that the body could not be resurrected if it were destroyed. Early Jews also prohibited cremation believing it was the desecration of a work of God. Orthodox Jews, the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, and Muslims are still forbidden to cremate their dead. Other cultural groups, especially in India, continue to practice cremation. Today, cremation is practiced by some Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus.