From sacred space to commercial place : a landscape interpretation of Mount Pleasant Cemetery

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Thompson, Sara Kathleen
Cemetery , Commercialism , Commodifying deathscapes
The rural cemetery was a European creation first introduced in the nineteenth century. Relocated outside the commercial city sector the cemetery was promoted as a diversion to the confusion and complexity of urban life. Applying picturesque ideas to traditional burial grounds rural cemeteries became symbolic landscapes for the city and country. The aesthetic nature of its design became an inspiration and eventual model for North American cemeteries. As a cultural institution, the cemetery is constantly in flux. Centuries of interaction between society and the cemetery have resulted in substantial changes that have shaped the present landscape. Although traditionally in public-trust, cemeteries have become largely privatized, operated, managed and developed as businesses for-profit. The commercially-driven practices of these institutions have had significant impacts on the present cemetery landscape. Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery is a good example of a cemetery experiencing this extensive commercial restructuring. A review of pertinent literature outlined recent transformations within the cemetery landscape citing concerns over the emerging private-enterprise cemetery and its impacts on the burial landscape. My fieldwork examined site-transformations specific to Mount Pleasant through an in-depth analysis of the present cemetery landscape. Concepts of commercialization, commodification and heritage tourism framed my analysis of the architecture, landscaped environment and new developments in light of the rising ‘cemetery business’. My findings revealed that by expanding into a multi-purpose cemetery Mount Pleasant is learning to do business in the twenty-first century. Increasingly run as a private enterprise Mount Pleasant Cemetery remains a historical landmark in crisis, unsure how to remain competitive in the commercial industry of the present, while preserving the integrity and traditions of the past.
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