Toronto-Potter’s Field

Yorkville in the early 1800’s was where York’s middle and upper classes built homes there to escape the “hustle and bustle of city life.” Back in 1825, decades before the Sante Bloor-Yorkville Winefest the Toronto Film Festival, Bloor Street was known as the First Concession and the northwest corner of Bloor and Yonge was undeveloped.  A group of residents of York pooled their money and paid about seventy-five pounds ($300 dollars) for a six acre plot of land on this corner.  Then they proceeded to bury people there.

York General Burying Ground officially opened in 1826.  It was overseen by five trustees for the purpose of laying to rest those who did not have an Anglican or Catholic affiliation, and those who were transient visitors or complete strangers.  In fact, some called it "Strangers Burial Ground”, or, more commonly, Potter’s Field.  Over the course of thirty years nearly 7,000 souls were buried there, including the possibility that mass graves were also dug and used for the victims of the cholera outbreaks of the 1830’s and 40’s.

Yonge Street would soon be developed into a business area.  Potter’s Field was nearly full and citizens of Yorkville petitioned to have it closed.  From 1854 to 1875 the daunting task of contacting family members and moving the bodies commenced.  Some went to family plots out of the area, but 984 went to the newly opened Necropolis and another 364 went to Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  When the area was sold to developers in the late 1870’s, bones were found from time to time but with the massive projects like high-rises, the Bloor subway line, and the underground shopping mall, even more remains surfaced.

One source claims Potter’s Field ran west from Yonge nearly to Avenue Road. Howard’s Plat Map, however, clearly shows a large rectangular segment of land on the northwest corner of Bloor and Yonge northward to Yorkville Avenue. It is probably more accurate to assume that the Bloor end of the property ran only as far west as the eastern edge of 50 Bloor West.  Reported hauntings in the Yorkville area are few, and none are from this area specifically.  One private home has been reported haunted as has the location of the old Mynah Bird Club whose house band once included Neil Young, Rick James, Goldie McJohn (later of Steppenwolf) and Bruce Palmer (later of Buffalo Springfield).

It’s not really a big surprise that the area is devoid of ghostly activity.  Contrary to Hollywood portrayals, cemeteries are statistically not haunted.  Reports come in from homes, factories, schools, even from the occasional hospital, but all of these places were somehow significant to the presumed spirit while living.  Typically, ghosts haunt where they lived, not where they died or where they are buried.

If you’d like to pay your respects, tours of the historical area are offered by Genova Tours every Sunday.  Bring comfortable shoes—and an active imagination!

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