Early Settlers & Influential People
St. John’s cemetery has grown over the years from the original three acres and now covers about 35 acres, fronting on Kingston Road and Woodbine Avenue. Some of the area’s earliest settlers and influential people are buried in these peaceful grounds among the stately old trees.
The first interment in the cemetery in 1854 was William Dawes, a farmer and storekeeper, aged 76 years. His plot is unmarked, but known.
The oldest stone predates the opening of the cemetery. The marker for Mary Hastings is dated 1846. Mrs. Hastings was one of the Ashbridge family, among the earliest settlers of Toronto. She was moved to St. John’s cemetery when it opened from her original resting place in a family cemetery close to Ashbridge’s Bay.
Joseph Williams and his wife Jane, among the earliest settlers in the Beaches, are remembered with an impressive headstone. Williams bought 20 acres on the waterfront in 1853 and opened Kew Gardens park in 1879. The park is still there, and so is the romantic cottage built by Joseph’s son Kew and completely refurbished last year.
Dr. William Young, "friend of the needy", who died during the flu epidemic in 1918, is buried in St. John’s cemetery. A fountain in Kew Gardens pays elegant tribute to this beloved Doctor.
Rowland Harris, a city engineer who died in 1945, is known and admired for the monumental water filtration plant on the eastern edge of the Beaches which bears his name. This "palace of purification" built in 1937 was mocked by early critics who believed its vast marble hallways and art deco styling were too ostentatious for a water plant. A marvel of engineering - it supplied half the city’s water needs - the original plant included extra piping for future expansion. It figures prominently today as an architectural treasure (it’s been declared a heritage site), in literature (see Michael Ondaatje’s In The Skin Of A Lion), on TV (The Pretender ) and in film (In The Mouth Of Madness).
Ted Reeve, the famous sportsman and writer, is interred at St. John’s, along with his parents and wife. Ted Reeve was elected to the national lacrosse, football, and media halls of fame. He played football for the Toronto Beaches Club which won the Grey Cup in 1927 and 1930 (check this) After a long career coaching, he became one of the most respected sports writers in Canada. A community arena near Main and Gerrard Street bears his name.
Victor Francis Sunderland was a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic. His vivid published accounts in 1912 formed the basis for several scenes and incidents used in the James Cameron movie. Mr. Sunderland eventually settled in Toronto, where he died in 1973. He is interred in the family plot of his wife’s family, the Gardners.
Among the more touching of St. John’s markers, is the lighthouse installed in memory of Janet Holmes, who died in 1928, by her husband George. The metal and glass lighthouse was lit by George most evenings until his death in 1964. The inscription includes the words "Light of My Life". This marker has attracted many visitors to the cemetery over the years.