Victoria Memorial Square will be an urban jewel, rescued from a wasteland of neglect and forgetfulness. It beautifully ties the city’s earliest roots into a living, caring, revitalized community. The whole city is made richer by this enlightened act of stewardship.
Jane Jacobs, October 4, 2002
Victoria Memorial Square is a community park and a National Historic Site. From 1794 to 1863 it was the cemetery for the garrison of Fort York and contains approximately 500 graves, including that of an infant daughter of Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe. Since the 1880’s it has been operated by the City as a public park.
Victoria memorial square is a hidden gem in a previously neglected part of the City. Until the mid 1990’s, when the City changed the planning rules for “The Kings”, the area was primarily industrial and commercial. Now it is a rapidly growing model of a mixed-use neighbourhood but with very limited park space. What exists is facing unprecedented demand, and urgently needs improvement.
The restoration will include improvements to the park amenities regrading, lighting, pathways, trees and plantings, furniture and playground and a visible public commemoration of the rich history of the cemetery and the central monument with its sculpture by Walter Allward.
WPNA has been working since 2002 with the local City Councillor, City staff and the community to develop a conceptual plan for the park restoration.
The community plan, endorsed by both Jane Jacobs and the Ontario Heritage Trust, has been adopted by the City as the basis for the park’s restoration.
The budget for the project is $1.5 million. The City has established a Reserve Account for the project, into which are being placed allocations from the City’s Capital Budget, contributions from developers pursuant to Section 37 and 45 agreements, and donations from private individuals. Tax receipts are issued where appropriate. WPNA has undertaken to conduct a community fundraising campaign to raise the balance of funding required.
Sufficient funds had been raised by the end of 2003 for an RFP to be issued and a Design Team engaged to complete the detailed restoration design and oversee the construction.
In the Fall of 2004 the site of the cemetery was surveyed and archaeological investigations conducted to confirm the boundaries of the burial area and identify locations and depths of burials in order to avoid them during development. Both remote sensing and below-surface methods were used. Some burials were found to be as shallow as 20cms.
In October, the surviving headstones, set in concrete around the monument in the 1950’s and suffering from weather damage, were cut free and placed in protective storage. They, and the rescued cornerstone from the 1892 Eden Smith-designed Garrison Church, will be reinstalled as part of the new commemorative work.
Work is expected to be completed in the Spring of 2007.