Why this patch of cemetery land may not become the city's newest park after all

The city is poised to walk away from a deal that would have established Toronto's newest park on nine hectares of donated land next to a cemetery.

Land isn't the cemetery's to give, citizens' group argues

This part of York Cemetery in North York, was to be donated to the city for use as a public park. But an ongoing lawsuit has all but scuttled that plan. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

The city could soon walk away from a deal that would have established Toronto's newest park on nine hectares of donated land next to a cemetery.

The land, which is located in a ravine with a creek running through it, is in an unused portion of York Cemetery, near Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue.

But a citizens' group, and Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, are arguing the land doesn't belong to the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries (MPGC). And they've gone to court to prove it.

Margot Boyd heads the group Friends of Toronto's Public Cemeteries. Her group's lawsuit claims the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries properties are actually public lands. (Yan Jun Li/CBC News)

"I think it's a lovely piece of land,  I think it's precious,  I think it's important to keep our green space," Friends of Toronto's Public Cemeteries president Margot Boyd said Wednesday. "And that's why we're doing this legal action."

In fact, the suit argues the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries doesn't own any of the land it currently administers, which includes 10 cemeteries from one end of the GTA to the other. The suit maintains that all those cemetery lands are owned by the public and should be administered by the province.

The MPGC offered the park land to the city two years ago, because most of it is too steep to be used for interments, according to the group's vice president of marketing, Rick Cowan.

City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) is siding with the group that's arguing in court that the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries does not actually own the lands it administers. She's participating as a private citizen. (Mike Smee/CBC News)

The deal was expected to be concluded in time for Canada Day last year, and the country's 150th birthday celebrations.

But in a report to next week's meeting of the city's government management committee, staff are urging council to put the brakes on the deal, "given the uncertainty posed by the litigation  and the possible risk of being added as a third party."

If there's no settlement by the end of March, the report says council should walk away from the table.

Gene Kligerman says he's used the property recreationally for about 10 years. (Yan Jun Li/CBC News)

"I suppose disheartening is a good word," Cowan said. "We honestly believe that this is the right thing to do and there have been some roadblocks put in front of us that don't make a lot of sense to us.

"But nonetheless. we will work through these proceedings to ensure we can hopefully bring this to a successful conclusion."

Neither Wong-Tam nor government management committee chair Paul Ainslie would speak with CBC Toronto about the collapsing park deal, because of the ongoing court case.

Mount Pleasant Cemetery, above, is one of 10 cemeteries that are owned by the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries - although that claim is being challenged in court by a group called Friends of Toronto's Public Cemeteries. (Yan Jun Li/CBC News)

But in a statement, Ainslie said: "The City appreciated the offer to donate but does not want to become involved in a matter that is before the courts."

That's a hard pill to swallow for Gene Kligerman, who, along with others in the community, has been using the property for years.

He said he'd hoped the area could become an official city park to ensure it was protected.

"It's heavily used by a lot of people — people with dogs, people biking, people hiking," he said. "It would be a shame to lose it."


Michael Smee

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Michael Smee has worked in print, radio, TV and online journalism for many years. You can reach him at