Note: This article is written without any prior affiliation to or contextual knowledge of the history of the Highland Memory Gardens or the family farms of North York. Their inclusion is as a reference tool to show change.
This is Highland Memory Gardens. It is located near the intersection of Don Mills and Steeles Avenues, in Toronto’s north end. The development of this cemetery and its surrounding area is an interesting look into the creation and evolution of this inner suburbs.
This is the area around Highland Memory Gardens in 1860. Historically, the area consisted of lot 21 (at today’s Finch Avenue) to lot 25 (at Steeles Avenue) of the Third Concession East of Yonge Street (Leslie Street), which were generally 200-acre lots extending to the Fourth Concession East (Woodbine Avenue/Highway 404). Notably absent is a middle road (now Don Mills Road) between the two concession roads. The cemetery itself is located along the east side of the top half lot 23 and the bottom half of lot 24.
As seen this 1878 map, the area was part of the larger community of L’Amoreaux (also spelled L’Amaroux). The village crossed both sides of the North York-Scaborough townline, with its spine running along Finch Avenue and lots extending to Steeles and Sheppard Avenue.
The L’Amoreaux Post Office stood just west of Victoria Park Avenue on the south side of a lost section of Finch Avenue (it would be re-aligned through the townline in the 1970s). Further west, a Methodist Church and cemetery, a Temperance Hall, and School House stood near Leslie Street.
Cutting diagonally through the large block was a creek, now named Duncan Creek. It ran from near Leslie and Steeles (where its namesake’s farming lots stood) to its terminus near Victoria Park and Finch. It does not to seem to have been a major source of industry, compared to the adjacent Don River which hosted a number of mills. In the 1916 map below, the creek slinks its away across lots, although its course is a bit off compared to the earlier maps and later aerial photographs.
This 1954 aerial photograph is a visual of the area and tells us that even by this decade, the area still maintained its largely rural character. A more precise view of the creek is visible along with the greenery running along its course.
For the area plot that would become the Highland Memory Gardens, 1953 was last year it existed as farm fields. A key reference point is the small roadway leading from Woodbine Avenue to a farm near the banks of Duncan Creek. This roadway was the divisor between lots 23 and 24.
The cemetery found a home to the west of Woodbine Avenue, with an entrance leading off the street. The initial layout of the cemetery is a circular path. Some “offshooting” paths seem to laid out as well.
By 1956, an “arm” shoots off the southern half of the main circle, looping west to connect to the main roadway.
By the close of the decade, the layout of the cemetery increased more with off shoots on the north of the main circle.
In 1962, more acreage is added westward and a pond on the north east corner of the plot seems to be more completed. The lawns of the ground look to be landscaped. A tiny building, potentially the administrative centre, appears at the top of the lot.
The midpoint of the decade saw few geographic changes, but the notable start of residential development to the west of the creek.
By 1968, the cemetery expands again to the west. It would be its last major territorial expansion. The subdivision to the west of the creek appears complete, clearly stopping at the property line midway between Woodbine and Leslie.
By the start of the 1970s, development starts to grow to the south of the cemetery, replacing the longtime farm buildings. An early Don Mills Road begins to curl in from the the south as well as an early McNiccol Avenue slinks from west to east.
By 1973, the farm buildings near the creek are razed as the land is about to be filled in by housing. The creek itself disappears under the subdivision to the south of the cemetery. The land north of the cemetery also sees new subdivisions.
By 1976, Don Mills Road is completed, seemingly bending through the area to provide a second access point to the cemetery. Townhouses are built between the creek and Don Mills Road.
By the 1980s, Highland Memory Gardens took on the form seen today. Highway 404 was completed in the late 1970s replacing the former Woodbine Avenue right of way. With that, the main entrance to the cemetery shifted to Don Mills Road with the old entrance off Woodbine being built over. Several other buildings would later fill the northeast corner.
Today, Highland Memory Gardens is part of the Hillcrest Village neighbourhood of Toronto, an area roughly encompassed by Steeles Avenue, Finch Avenue, Leslie Street, and Victoria Park Avenue.
The Zion Church and Schoolhouse still stand today as 19th century reminders, but references to the area as L’Amoreaux are non-existent today. The post office and its street are gone, with the Old Finch Avenue closed in 1977 and Pawnee Avenue roughly replacing it as the two Finches were connected. (The L’Amoreaux name does live on in Scarborough, of course.)
There is a trail and parkland which follows Duncan Creek; the Seneca Newnham Campus, founded in the late 1960s, now runs over a buried portion of the creek. The property lines of the 40-acre Highland Memory Gardens reference the old concession lots, offering a forgotten link to the past.