Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground – Near Historic Fort York

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1922 - The headstone of Corporal John Smeeton at Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York
1922 – The headstone of Corporal John Smeeton at Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 17738a)

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

2020 - Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 – 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.

Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground Photos

2020 - Looking east towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground located in Garrison Common just west of Fort York
2020 – Looking east towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground located in Garrison Common just west of Fort York
1926 – The Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground with Fort York in background
1926 – The Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground with Fort York in background (Toronto Public Library R-2878)
2022 – Looking east towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2022 – Looking east towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 - The headstone of Corporal John Smeeton at Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York
2020 – The headstone of Corporal John Smeeton at Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York
1922 - The headstone of Corporal John Smeeton at Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York
1922 – The headstone of Corporal John Smeeton at Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1548, Series 393, Item 17738a)
2020 – The Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground plaque, reads: 

1860 – 1913

“To the glory of God and sacred memory of all ranks of the forces of the British Empire who died whilst in the service of their country and were interred in this cemetery.”

This tablet was erected by the Toronto chapters of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, A.D. 1922.
2020 – The Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground plaque, reads:

1860 – 1913
“To the glory of God and sacred memory of all ranks of the forces of the British Empire who died whilst in the service of their country and were interred in this cemetery.”

This tablet was erected by the Toronto chapters of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, A.D. 1922.
2020 – The Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York National Historic Site
2020 – The Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common just west of Fort York National Historic Site
2020 - Looking northwest towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common
2020 – Looking northwest towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground in Garrison Common
2020 - Looking southwest towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 – Looking southwest towards the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 - Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 – Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 - Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 – Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 – The  headstone of Private James Walsh at the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 – The headstone of Private James Walsh at the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 - Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
2020 – Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
1926 - Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
1926 – Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground (Toronto Public Library R-2879)
Sketch of Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground
Sketch of Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground (Landmarks of Toronto Volume 1 by J Ross Robertson – 1994)
2020 - This cemetery opened in 1860 and was the third military burial ground in Toronto. It replaced one situated a short distance to the west, which was abandoned after a few burials and the bodies were moved to this location. The last known interment here was in 1911. 

This Memorial area was created in 1970 by the Toronto Historical Board, to preserve the remaining headstones and to commemorate all those who lie here. 

The following is an extract from Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, Vol. 1, 1894: 

"There are about two hundred graves distinguishable by the mounds of earth. In the whole cemetery there are only twenty-eight stones or wooden slabs standing to tell who lies beneath. A few broken stories have fallen: most of them are indecipherable, 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. But one grave bears token that its occupant is still cherished in memory. The grave is that of Sergeant-Major F.W. Gathercole, of the Canadian School of Infantry, who died at the new fort, Toronto, February 13, 1883, aged forty-two years. A neat marble slab, simple but quite as pretentious as any in the cemetery, bears the inscription that it was erected by his comrades in affectionate remembrance. About the grave the grass and thistles have been cleared away, and four pots of geraniums in bloom had been placed on it. The stone marking the resting place of assistant Commissary-General, John Moirs McLean Sutherland, is broken and down. Everything about the grounds bears evidence that they are seldom visited. The proportion of soldiers drowned among the twenty-eight whose names are decipherable is large. They are John Manley Rattle, Deputy Assistant Commissary-General, J. Ramsey Akers, Ensign in the 16th Regiment, James Walsh, Private in the 30th Regiment, and Corporal John Smeeton, of the 13th Hussars. Several graves are those of the wives and children of soldiers. The headstones range in date, from 1860 down to that of Private E. A. Heath, of the Canadian School of Infantry, who died in 1885, being the most recent. Among the graves is one of Walter Toronto Lewis, the one-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Lewis, who died in 1868. The 13th Hussars has the greatest number of burials. At two graves are tiny marble slabs, not over five inches wide and a foot high, bearing simply the inscriptions: "G. M. and G. F. S." they are evidently remembered, for loving hands had recently propped up the broken and fallen memorials with pieces of wood. Most of the stones bear inscriptions to the effect that they were erected by comrades. But little attempt at decoration has been made on the slabs. Here and there is a flag, a pair of crossed swords, a wreath, a cross, a crown, and other usual emblems of this character, all very simply executed. Among the dead who lie here are: Trumpeter James McMahon, 13th Hassars; Rachel, wife of Sergeant-Major William Ross, of the 4th Artillery; Isabella Thompson, Private George Miller, 13th Hussars, and Colour-Sergeant John Hanney, 47th Regiment." 

Fort York National Historic Site
2020 – This cemetery opened in 1860 and was the third military burial ground in Toronto. It replaced one situated a short distance to the west, which was abandoned after a few burials and the bodies were moved to this location. The last known interment here was in 1911. This Memorial area was created in 1970 by the Toronto Historical Board to preserve the remaining headstones and to commemorate all those who lie here…
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