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Pardes Shalom Cemetery offers free walking tour

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Memorial Garden in Pardes Shalom Cemetery

Torontonians can learn all about the landscaping and trees at Pardes Shalom Cemetery during a free walking tour on Oct. 14.

“The founder of the cemetery wanted the cemetery to be not only for the dead obviously, but for the living as well,” said Howard Mammon, executive director of Toronto Hebrew Memorial Parks.

First purchased in 1972, the land was originally a Christmas tree farm and later a gravel pit before becoming a cemetery. It took five years – from 1972 to 1977 – to transform the pit into its current state.

“The topography was changed dramatically. What you see in Pardes Shalom is largely a man-made landscape,” he said. “The landscape architect told me it’s a prime example of the ‘Cemetery Beautiful Movement.’”

The movement began in the late 19th century, he said, and holds that cemeteries should be places of contemplation.

Pardes Shalom’s landscape architect looked at the other cemeteries in Toronto, which at the time seemed very utilitarian, Mammon said. “There was nothing beautiful. He felt the cemetery should be much more than that.”

To beautify the land, workers planted thousands of trees from various species, giving the cemetery a hugely diverse collection.

“There was an attempt to plant different species so there wouldn’t be a monoculture of trees there,” Mammon said.

The tour will highlight the landscaping strategies used for the cemetery and the history of the land, he said. It will also explain the attempts to promote the land’s environmental health and what has been done to maintain the cemetery’s visual integrity.

With 15,000 people buried in Pardes Shalom, most of the grounds are filled with graves. Some of the plots once belonged to synagogues or burial societies, while others were purchased directly from the cemetery.

One of the sections to be featured in the tour is a “Memorial Garden,” located beside a stream at the back of the cemetery, where people can donate plaque to memorialize a loved one who isn’t buried in Pardes Shalom.

“It’s where people can sit and contemplate,” Mammon said.

The tour, which will be led by the cemetery’s arbourist and current landscape architect, is aimed at anybody who has an interest in the environment.

While it’s preferred that participants can walk for the duration of the tour, which is set to last between 60 and 90 minutes, there will be accommodations for those with walking disabilities.

“We are trying to reach out to the community to let them know about this tremendous resource we have,” Mammon said.

“It’s really a community cemetery.”

For more information or to register for the free tour, call 416-635-5595.

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