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Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges

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Founded in 1854, Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges is a 343-acre (139 ha) cemetery located in the borough of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The entrance and the grounds run along a part of Côte-des-Neiges road and up the slopes of Mount Royal. Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Canada and the third-largest in North America.

History and description

Created on property purchased from Dr. Pierre Beaubien, the new cemetery was a response to growing demand at a time when the old Saint-Antoine Cemetery (near the present Dominion Square) had become too small to serve Montreal’s rapidly increasing population. On May 29, 1855, Mrs. Jane Gilroy, wife of Thomas McCready, then a Montreal municipal councilor, was the first person to be buried in the new cemetery.

Notre-Dame-des-Neiges is the largest cemetery in Canada with more than 55 kilometres of lanes and one million people interred. The Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery site has over 65,000 monuments and 71 family vaults.

The cemetery was originally open only to Roman Catholics;[citation needed] it is now open to any Christian, though it continues to be a Catholic institution and serve a primarily Catholic community. Primarily the interment grounds for French Canadians,[citation needed] as they have almost exclusively been members of the Roman Catholic faith. The cemetery shares the mountain with the predominantly English-speaking and originally Protestant adjacent burial ground, the Mount Royal Cemetery. These two abutting cemeteries on the slopes of Mount Royal contain a total of 1.5 million burials.

"La Pietà Mausoleum" contains a life-sized marble reproduction of Michelangelo's Pietà sculpture (original located in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican). Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1999 and plaqued in 2004.

No burials or cremations took place between May 16, 2007, and September 11, 2007, because of a labour strike. The interments of more than 300 bodies were affected.[8] In addition, its uncut, unkempt grass became a symbol of the labour dispute.

Due to its vast size, locating a specific grave can be difficult. As a result, the cemetery now offers a computerized mapping service that allows visitors to quickly and accurately locate graves. It can be accessed at the cemetery using a touch screen display or via the Internet.

War Graves

The only opening in the fence between the Notre Dame des Neiges and Mount Royal cemeteries is where two adjoining military sections are. Shortly after World War I, to emphasize the comradeship and uniformity of sacrifice of Protestant and Catholic soldiers, the Imperial War Graves Commission insisted on an open passage between the two plots and the Cross of Sacrifice was erected. There are 445 Commonwealth service war grave burials commemorated here, 252 from World War I and 215 from World War II. Those whose graves could not be individually marked are name listed on bronze plaques attached to the Cross of Sacrifice. The Quebec Memorial on the National Field of Honour at Pointe-Claire lists 24 servicemen buried here, whose graves could no longer be marked or maintained, as alternative commemorations.

New mausoleums

Every mausoleum in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery contains multiple crypts, clearly identified, as well as columbaria with glass or marble niches for one or more urns. The first mausoleum, Notre Dame, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was built in 1978. The others were added gradually in the years that followed: John-Paul II (1980), Saint-Francis (1982), Marguerite-Bourgeoys (1983), The Pietà (1985), Saints Peter and Paul (1989), Sainte Clare of Assisi (1994), the two-storey Saint Marguerite d’Youville (1996) and most recently, Esther-Blondin (2007).

Opened in November 2007, the Esther Blondin Mausoleum, named after the founder of the Sisters of Saint Anne, houses 6,000 burial crypts and niches.