Did you know there’s a cemetery near Fort York? The Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground is located at the far west side of the park known as Garrison Common – between the railway to the north and the Gardiner Expressway to the south.
Toronto’s First Two Military Cemeteries
Toronto’s first military burial ground (1794 to 1863) is at what’s known today as Victoria Memorial Square at Wellington, Portland and Niagara Sts. When that was full, the second cemetery was located on today’s Exhibition Place grounds, near the Dufferin Gate. Only a few burials had taken place there as the ground was too wet and unsuitable for a cemetery. It was in use for four months.
Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
Established in 1863, military authorities chose the area in Garrison Common as the new burial ground, Toronto’s third. Coffins from the second cemetery were moved here, including that of Private James Walsh, whose gravestone is at the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground today.
In a book written by J Ross Roberston titled Landmarks of Toronto, Volume 1 (1894), a few excerpts include:
- There are about 200 graves distinguishable by the mounds of earth.
- Only 28 stones or wooden slabs stand to tell who lies beneath.
- A few broken stones have fallen; most are undecipherable, and the rest are nameless.
- All the headstones are of the simplest and plainest character.
- There is not a monument or shaft in the yard.
- On a few graves are simple wooden crosses without any inscription.
- Here and there is a square picketed enclosure about a grave, the fence in a very dilapidated condition and overgrown with grass, thistles and ivy.
All ranks of soldiers and veterans, along with their families, are interred at the cemetery. Many died from natural causes, including consumption, asthma, aneurysms and drowning.
It’s believed that there are about 150-200 graves; however there are only records for 97 burials. No complete register has been found. Catholics were interred in the south half, while Protestants were in the north. Many of the burials were often shallow. The last known interment occurred in 1911.
The cemetery was neglected into the early 1900s. In 1921, the City of Toronto and the Toronto Chapters of the Imperial Order, Daughters of the Empire (IODE), restored the cemetery. A bronze plaque was unveiled by the City in 1922, honouring the soldiers and the work of the IODE.
Since 1952, a Remembrance Day Service has been held each year at the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground. In 1970, the surviving headstones were mounted to the west side of the cemetery’s brick wall. For more information, visit the Fort York website.
Click for more details on Toronto’s first military cemetery – Victoria Memorial Square.