Forgotten Shadows on Evans Ave.

Several blocks west of the UNF’s Trident Hall on Evans Ave. in Toronto, at the corner of Evans and Horner Avenues, lies a large grassy, well maintained field enclosed by a chain link fence. It seems a little out of place, in this fairly built up, primarily industrial area. There is a gate off of Evans Avenue, and it is only when you get close to it that you see a sign over the gate that says “Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery”.

One could be forgiven in not recognizing the site as a cemetery, since there are no above-ground monuments or gravestones. It is only when you get inside and wander over the grounds, that you see modest little stone markers imbedded into the ground, outlining 59 double rows of mostly unmarked graves. According to official records some 1524 people were buried here between 1890 and 1974. Only 154 of the plots contain stone markers identifying the names and dates of who is buried there.

Although I have driven past this site many times, I had paid no notice of it. It was only last week that I discovered what it was. A friend of mine, Stefania Chupak, telephoned me and told me cryptically to let her know the next time I was at Evans Avenue, as she wanted to meet me and show me something interesting nearby that she had discovered by accident. As it turned out, I was there a few days later and she took me to the site.

What had piqued her interest initially and subsequently mine, was that, in walking around the site, one can’t help but notice that a large number of the names on the few grave stone markers that exist are Ukrainian. I did some digging into the archives and discovered a fair bit of information about this cemetery, which over the years has been known by many names including Mimico Potters Field, Mimico Asylum Burying Grounds, Evans Avenue Cemetery and most recently the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital Cemetery. The cemetery occupants include not only former patients of the hospital but also indigents and homeless who died with no family or assets to enable a proper burial.

Although the official records seldom provide the nationality of the deceased buried here, it is obvious from the names that a significant number were Ukrainian. One finds names such as Dushenko, Kolomayec, Kostenko, Monastersky, Mucha, Mychaluk, Sirka, Stashko, Wasilinchuk, and many others. In going through the list, I found at least sixty six names that were likely of Ukrainian origins. The majority of these had been buried here between 1900 and 1950. Tellingly, almost all were men, with only five of the sixty six being women. I say tellingly, because in the first few waves of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, men outnumbered women by a large margin. Aside from young single men seeking their fortune or at least a better life in Canada, there were also married men who came to Canada alone, hoping to make enough money to send for their families later. For many, that later on never came.

Whether it was mental illness or poverty that eventually led them to being buried here, it is a sad state of affairs that they lie here like forgotten shadows, unknown, unrecognized and un-commemorated. Who was Bill Babiuk who died at the age of 32 and was buried here in 1917? Who was Paul Kotik who died at age 46 and was buried here in 1942? Who was Mary Kostenko of unknown age who was buried here in 1937? What were their stories, and why was there no one to grieve over them, either then or now?

Each year it is Ukrainian tradition that at the beginning of summer in the week surrounding Trinity Sunday, cemeteries are visited on Zeleny Sviata (Green Festival Week) and memorial ceremonies are held for the departed souls. I doubt whether this cemetery on Evans Avenue has ever seen such ceremonies. My friend Stefania suggested, and I would concur wholeheartedly, that now that we know that there are Ukrainian souls resting in this place, we should make efforts to arrange that, for next year’s Zeleny Sviata, these forgotten souls should no longer remain forgotten. We will contact local Ukrainian priests and all who may be interested to come and pay respects to those whom fate decreed should find their final resting place in this little corner of Toronto.

In the meantime, I will continue to research the origins of those who wound up here. No doubt, there are many interesting, though no doubt tragic stories, behind these names.