Toronto’s Mount Pleasant cemetery tour for music lovers

A four-stop walk on beautiful grounds to prove your love for Canadian music.

Mount Pleasant cemetery in Toronto, with its manicured lawns, magnificent trees and proximity to the main subway line is a popular destination. For the intellectually curious visitor, here are some music-history stops.

The location is split in half by the Mt. Pleasant Road, running South to North, parallel to Yonge Street to the East. References to West/East part of the cemetery are made with Mt Pleasant street as a center. Use the maps at the end of this post to easily identify the milestones.

1. Alexander Muir – composer of The Maple Leaf Forever

The composer of what was, for many years, the unofficial English Canada anthem, was a Scottish immigrant that called Toronto home. Alexander Muir rests on the West side of the cemetery. The song started as a patriotic poem, written for a contest in October 1867 (the year that Canada became a confederation, on July 1st), Muir taking second place. He was 37 years old (he lived to age 76). As no one offered music for the poem (it was the custom at the time to make your poem available to composers), Muir went on and wrote the music himself.

Here is Alexander Muir on Wikipedia, and the history of the song on Canadian Encyclopedia. Read here about the Orange reference on his gravestone.

2. Hart Massey – the builder of Massey Hall

In February 1884, Charles Massey (36 years old) – a skilled organist and pianist, and also a partner of his father Hart (60) in the prosperous family business – died suddenly from typhoid. Broken hearted, Hart decided to honour his lost son’s memory by building a concert hall, which opened ten years later. Two years after inauguration, the old man passed away (aged 72) and he now rests in the Massey mausoleum, in the West half of the cemetery.

A concert at the Massey Hall is a must for any music lover visiting Toronto. I saw Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock playing Rhapsody in Blue and Steve Hackett among others. Read more about its history here. Hart Massey’s wiki is here.

3. John Rutsey – the original Rush drummer

Legendary Canadian rock band Rush was founded by a group of teens in Willowdale, which is part of Toronto now. School colleagues John Rutsey (see his wiki) and Alex Lifeson founded a band where the guy doing bass & vocals left after the first concert, being replaced by Geddy Lee. John left Rush after their first album came out. His last performance with Rush was two days after his 22nd birthday, in July 1974.

He passsed away in his sleep in May 2008, aged 55, and his funeral stone is in the Garden of Remembrance, on the East side of the cemetery.

4. Glenn Gould – the great Canadian classical pianist

Quite well hidden on the East side of the cemetery, on the North side of the roundabout, Glenn Gould‘s resting place is one of the popular destinations in Mount Pleasant. He was a Midtown resident, living at 110 St. Clair West not far from the cemetery, and passed away following a stroke two days after his 50th birthday in 1982.


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