Scenes From The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens

The Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens is a beautiful park in midtown Toronto which dates back almost ninety years. The cause to memorialize its namesake Alexander Muir was so great that he had the gardens dedicated to him twice.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 2020. Source: Google Maps.

The first Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens was located near Lawton Boulevard. It was in a triangular plot of land caused by the unusual eastward veering of Yonge Street near Heath Street. The “correction” was made to directly align Yonge Street in the original Town of York with Lake Simcoe when the street was originally surveyed in the 1790s. Yellow Creek flowed through the park.

Tremaine’s Map of the County of York, Canada West, 1860. Source: Old Toronto Maps.

With construction beginning in 1933, the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens were officially opened on August 6, 1934. It was established 24 years after Muir’s death on June 26, 1906. The Gardens were located directly across Mount Pleasant Cemetery — his final resting spot.

Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1934. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
“Alexander Muir Memorial Garden Officially Opened”, The Globe August 7, 1934. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.
Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1947. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The entrance to the gardens featured an ornamental gate at Yonge Street. This led to an impressive stone wall and terrace with a carving of a verse of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever” — Alexander Muir’s best known work. In the garden were 1,000 rose bushes and a well-manicured lawn. In the north of the park was a sunken rockery garden and lily pools below a willow tree. Other ‘Canadian’ trees and Japanese cherry trees were also planted.

Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens Gates, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens with Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Old Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens ravine or pond, 1935. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

Alexander Muir himself was a hero of sorts of old, colonial, British Toronto, so the appetite to pay tribute to him in the 1930s was high, especially with centennial celebration of incorporation of the City of Toronto happening in the decade. Among other identities, Muir was a patriot, educator, and composer. In addition to Yonge Street, Muir’s geographic footprint stretches across Toronto from Scarborough to Leslieville to Little Portugal — all school sites associated with him late 19th century.

Muir, Alexander, 1830-1906, 1855. Source: Toronto Public Library.

His ‘Maple Leaf Forever’ is an anthem for British Canada. Its original lyrics made a point of celebrating General Wolfe — the man who led the English to victory over the French at the Plains of Abraham — and highlighted scrimmages in the War of 1812 — a conflict used heavily in the construction of  ‘Canadiana’. His funeral in 1906 was “impressive” and attended by “hundreds”, including the many older Toronto organizations Muir was affiliated with — the Loyal Orange Association, the York Pioneers, the Independent Order of Oddfellows, and others.

Muir, Alexander, gravestone, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, 1920. Source: Toronto Public Library.

In the 1950s, Toronto’s character was changing — both culturally and physically. The coming of Yonge Street subway almost spelled the disappearance of the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. The Toronto Transit Commission needed to fill in the ravine to make way for the Davisville Yard. The TTC eventually pledged to cover the $100,000 cost of moving the memorial. Proposed new sites for the gardens included on Lawton Boulevard itself which would have removed four houses and on Gladstone Avenue where Muir himself once worked. Eventually, a spot only several blocks north on Yonge Street was chosen.

“Subway Forces Move of Muir Memorial”, The Globe, December 29, 1950. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.
Davisville Yard, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The new location for the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens was located near St. Edmunds Drive. The Lawrence Park neighbourhood was laid out in 1908 as a garden suburb with winding streets and comfortably sized lots. It also kept a ravine space extending south from the southeast corner of Yonge and Lawrence as parkland. This area would come to house the new Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. In preparation, several hundred trees were cut down. A red maple from the old park was also moved to the new park.

Lawrence Park, 1934. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Lawrence Park, 1947. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

The new Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens opened in Lawrence Park on May 28, 1952. Impressively, the wall and terrace were reconstructed in the new location and new trees and gardens were landscaped. A new, maple leaf-ornamented plaque was added to the gates to mark the occasion.

“Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens,”, The Globe, May 23, 1952. Source: Globe and Mail Archives & Toronto Public Library.
Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1952. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens terrace, 1952. Source: City of Toronto Archives.
Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens, 1956. Source: City of Toronto Archives.

A walk through the Alexander Muir Gardens today is a marvel. Leading from the gates is almost a labyrinth of paths and corners to discover. Well-presented flora and accompanying fauna catch one’s eye at almost every look.


Leading off the spacious lawn in the west part of the Alexander Muir Gardens, the park’s contours show themselves on the way up to Dawlish Avenue. This tree-covered topography hides Burke Brook, a Don River tributary. Following Alexander Muir Road past the tennis and lawn bowling courts, the trail continues through several parks ending at Sunnybrook Park.

As it has historically, the central wall and stairs rightfully remain the focal point of the Alexander Muir Memorial Gardens. In its modern use, the structure is best known as a popular destination for wedding parties. One wonders how much would-be brides and grooms and other park users have a look at the additional words of re-dedication which accompany the poem by Muir and reflect on his legacy and origins of the park. With everything that may come with it, Muir loved his country, and his profession in education is generally a commendable one.

In a current social climate in which the focus of commemorating Toronto history should be on untold stories rather than its colonial figures, these Memorial Gardens likely would not be a priority if they were created today. But alas, their visual beauty is a positive. Alexander Muir and his poem still live on today within the park.

Scenes From Vale of Avoca & Mount Pleasant Cemetery

I’m at Yonge and St. Clair. It’s my second Explore Toronto Meetup, the first – a stroll through Rosedale and Yellow Creek – concluding in this very spot. We’re picking up where we left off with a walk through the Vale of Avoca and Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

To start things off, despite boasting a time when the area witnessed deer trotting around, Deer Park is very post-WWII. Heading east on St. Clair, I see the Weston Centre, built 1975. As its name might suggest, it houses the headquarters of the mighty George Weston Ltd. empire.

Weston Centre
Beside that is Deer Park Library, a 1952 construction designed by Arthur Eadie. Personally, it’s actually a boring structure as far as libraries go, but not every branch can be a handsome Carnegie or a swanky fortress of glass, can they? Deer Park is very 1950s – simple, modernist, in starch contrast to the extravagance of the 1930s. Across from the library is the Arthur Meighen building, itself of the mid-1950s.

Deer Park Library
Looking east on St. Clair, it’s hard not to think about the bridge that spans the deep Vale of Avoca ravine. Our river valleys are great gems, but they’ve been barriers in the past to building a city with, well, continuous roads. The St. Clair Viaduct came to us in 1925. Before that, a narrower bridge taking a diagonal path was used to cross the valley.

St. Clair Ave East bridge

Item consists of one photograph of the Moore Park bridge at Avoca Vale. *** Local Caption *** Item consists of one photograph of the Moore Park bridge at Avoca Vale.
Old Avoca Bridge. Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1914.
Vale of Avoca Bridge, 1924
Tail of two bridges. Source: City of Toronto Archives, 1924.

The railings that line Avoca Avenue are from the original pre-1925 bridge.

Avoca Avenue bridge railings
I overhear someone in the group reflect that Shanghai and Toyko don’t have the natural spaces as Toronto does. I don’t know how true it is, but go us! With that colouring my thoughts, we enter the Vale of Avoca where the former bridge once existed. It’s a rather ‘fun’ descent with steps of worrying steepness and edge.

Vale of Avoca 1
It’s not long before one realizes the tranquility of this urban yet rural space. Yellow Creek, as slow moving as it is, flows down below. Around us is just wilderness. One has to wonder how magical this place would look in autumn. You can just look up at the slopes of the ravine and realize how far deep you are.

Vale of Avoca 2
But civilization offers its reminders of its existence once in a while. At the arches of the viaduct, the thumping of automobiles above informs us, “You’re not that far away, explorer.”

Vale of Avoca bridge 2

Vale of Avoca bridge 1
Vale of Avoca Yellow Creek
Moving past a lookout point over the stream, the path transitions from the cool canopied-top ravine to the warm openness of Mount Pleasant Cemetery. It was opened in 1871, although wasn’t annexed into the City of Toronto until 1914. Yellow Creek (and a pond!) once ran through the cemetery’s grounds before being buried sometime in the second quarter of the 20th century (a guess based on these Toronto Historic Maps).

Vale of Avoca 4

Mount Pleasant Cemetery 1
I have a moment where I realize I’ve been to a few a cemetery tours in Toronto and can pick out the rhyme and reason of Mount Pleasant. The significance of park-style layout, the beautifully landscaped plots, the obelisks, ‘cut’ monuments, Celtic crosses: I totally get it.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery 2

Mount Pleasant Cemetery 4
Mount Pleasant Cemetery 5
At a pause in the group’s trek through the expansive path, I rush away to get a look at the nearby Mount Pleasant Mausoleum, built her in 1920. Distinct in its NeoClassical styling, it’s fronted by a beautiful line of gardens.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery Mausoleum

Mount Pleasant Cemetery garden
In addition to the thousands of loved ones buried here, Mount Pleasant hosts a formidable group of luminaries from Toronto’s and Canada’s past. Glen Gould, Foster Hewitt, Oliver Mowat, Steve Stavros, the families Weston, Massey, and Eaton (the latter two clans with full mausoleums) are just a handful of names.

The structure of our group walk doesn’t really allow for a lot of ‘site seeing’, but our path does come across at least two notable monuments. The first is ‘The Resting Place of Pioneers’, a tribute to the unnamed persons from the original town of York that were moved here after the closing of Potter’s Field in Yorkville. There’s a similar marker in the Toronto Necropolis as well.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery Pioneers
The second is a ‘can’t miss grave’ if only for the number of signs erected around it. It’s of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the longest serving non-consecutive prime minister in Canadian history and also noted for his spiritualism, dog loving, and discriminatory racial policies.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery William Lyon Mackenzie King       Mount Pleasant Cemetery William Lyon Mackenzie King 2

It’s a short distance past Mackenzie King, we make our exit. It’s a dissatisfying feeling after not seeing more, but I do remind myself that I am a solo explorer most of the time and the cemetery is massive (we only went through a portion of its western half). I’ll have to return again for a more in-depth reprisal.

As a bonus sight, we come out to the Toronto Beltline – a trail that’s the remnants of a short-lived, decommissioned rail path. It’s itself an adventure (or two), which I add to the ‘to do’ list. You have to give credit to Toronto’s non-road network – one can go from Rosedale to the former City of York without traveling down a street.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery Belt Line
The Beltline trail also hosts the second lookout point of the day, this time swapping a water corridor for a transit corridor. The bars framing the subway tracks like prison constraints is somehow a propos for the city.

Toronto Belt Line subway tracks
Rounding through Oriole Park, the urban hike ends at Davisville Station – or a local watering hole anyways.

Scenes From South Rosedale and Ravines

It’s not often I go on my psychogeographic walks in the company of others. Alas, this is my situation – the second time in as many weekends – that I find myself in.

As a resolution to myself, I’ve decided to expand my social network – put myself ‘out there’, so to speak. And so here I find myself: Standing in front of Sherbourne Subway Station along with 30+ strangers to go to a Meetup walk through South Rosedale and its connecting trails.

1. Rosedale

A quick stroll up the street and we find ourselves – at the direction of the Meetup organizer – winding around Rosedale’s streets, which themselves do some winding. Yes, the layout of this upscale neighbourhood bites its thumb to Toronto’s grid(ish) setup. It was designed as an enclave after all and still has that character. It’s easy to feel like an outsider – a tourist, of sorts – while marveling at its (Edwardian, Victorian and otherwise) houses.

2. Rosedale

3. Rosedale

Our path roughly follows Park Drive, Maple Avenue, Glen Road, Dale Avenue, and Castle Frank Road. The naming of (at least some of) Rosedale’s streets follows a very nature-filled theme: Maple and Elm are, of course, types of trees; and, Dale and Glen both mean ‘valley’. Yes, this is an enclave defined by its flora and its geographic contours as much as it is its built heritage.

6. Rosedale        7. Rosedale

8. Rosedale

Passing through Cragleigh Gardens, the former estate turned public park, we round a corner and begin our descent via Milkman’s Lane. A certain coolness greets us at the bottom…along with a happy go lucky doggy who’s decided that playing in a mud puddle is a fun exercise. His owners aren’t part of our group, and I don’t suppose they figure it fun for them!

9. Milkman's Lane

Further up the way, I note some pillars off to the side. They look like gates. Gates to what? I don’t know. If any trail/local history enthusiasts want to lend their knowledge, I’d be curious to know!

EDIT: Hiking The GTA points out that the stone pillars likely led up to 4A Beaumont. Neat

10. Park Drive Reservation Trail

Park Drive Reservation Trail hugs Yellow Creek. It’s definitely how you would picture a creek: Shallow, not so potent. It enters a sewer in at least one spot. Someone near to me asks if it’s a water treatment plant. I say I think it’s too small for that. We’ve got huge one in the east end for that. Then we get into a discussion of the RC Harris Plant. She thinks it was a prison. I say water infrastructure can look that awesome.

11. Park Drive Reservation Trail Yellow Creek

12. Park Drive Reservation Trail

13. Park Drive Reservation Trail CPR Bridge

The trail ends at Mount Pleasant Road. There’s a moment where we contemplate jaywalking. Alas, we do, after the rush of cars ends. It’s an intersection perhaps in need of traffic lights, I’d think.

Our Meetup continues on the Belt Line Trail. This one is a bit more uneven in its terrain. I look up and see houses overlooking the valley. That’s quite a backyard to have.

15. Beltline Trail      17. Beltline Trail Yellow Creek

18. David Balfour Park Trail

At one point a fellow walker asks me where we are. I answer in earnest that I do not know. I know our destination, but deep in the valley my bearings are a bit off. There’s an incline – the biggest of the whole trail.

19. David Balfour Park Trail

At the end of it, we’re back to civilization. Taking a look around, I know where we are. Avoca Avenue! I recognize the railings beside us and the story behind them from a Heritage Toronto walk of Deer Park. They were originally on the Avoca Bridge – the predecessor to the St. Clair viaduct.

From there, we head south to David Balfour Rosehill Reservoir Park, making a circle around it. The reservoir was covered in the 40s, but a H20 molecule marks the park’s history.

20. Rosehill Reservoir

21. Rosehill Reservoir

On St.Clair now, it’s to the subway (or post-Meetup libations for some) we go. Before that though, there’s the Arthur Meighen Federal Building to note. It’s a 1957 construction, but there’s some definite Art Deco influence in its ornamentation.

22. Arthur Meighen Building
Related Links

Hiking The GTA – Milkman’s Lane