Victoria Memorial Square – The Toronto Park that’s also a Burial Ground

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2020 - Gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square. The park is bordered by Wellington St W, Portland St and Niagara St, just off Bathurst St in the Fashion District
2020 – Gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square. The park is bordered by Wellington St W, Portland St and Niagara St, just off Bathurst St in the Fashion District

Did you know that Victoria Memorial Square is also a cemetery? The park is bordered by Wellington St W, Portland St and Niagara St, just off Bathurst St in the Wellington Place neighbourhood and Fashion District of Toronto.

The Garrison’s First Cemetery

In 1794, soon after founding the Town of York and Fort York, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe opened the earliest-known cemetery established by British authorities. In close proximity to Fort York, the first to be laid to rest in the Garrison Burial Ground was Simcoe’s 15-month-old daughter Katherine. There are hundreds of soldiers and their families still buried beneath the park. The cemetery closed in 1863.

The Grounds Throughout the Centuries

1950 - War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square
1950 – War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 188)

In the years after, the cemetery was vandalized and used as a cattle pasture until the 1880s. The City then moved to preserve the remaining gravestones by moving them to the park’s western edge, levelling uneven graves and laying out walkways.

In 1899, a plaque was installed by the Canadian Club of Toronto explaining the significance of the historical site. In 1907, the monument sculpted by Walter Seymour Allward commemorating those who served and died in the War of 1812 was unveiled. By the mid-20th century, the area around the park was industry, but by the 1990s, it was transforming with new residents and businesses. In 2007, the park underwent rehabilitation. Victoria Memorial Square is a hidden jewel in the City and today remains a burial ground beneath its green space.

Did You Know?

  • The Square was named after Princess Victoria, who later became the Queen of the United Kingdom.
  • Victoria Memorial Square is mirrored by Clarence Park. Wellington Place once linked them before the street became part of Wellington St W.
  • Click for more details on Toronto’s third military cemetery – the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground.

Victoria Memorial Square Photos

1885 - Military burying grounds, today's Victoria Memorial Square
1885 – Military burying grounds, today’s Victoria Memorial Square (Toronto Public Library R-2851)
2023 – In 1907, the monument sculpted by Walter Seymour Allward commemorating those who served and died in the War of 1812 was unveiled at Victoria Memorial Square
2023 – In 1907, the monument sculpted by Walter Seymour Allward commemorating those who served and died in the War of 1812 was unveiled at Victoria Memorial Square
2020 – Looking east towards the War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square and the CN Tower in the background
2020 – Looking east towards the War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square and the CN Tower in the background
2024 –  The heritage plaque reads:

Surviving Gravestones of the Military Burial Ground

“Created in 1794 and in use until 1863, the military cemetery in this park was once dotted with hundreds of markers. By the early 1880s, vandalism, weather and thieves had left only 35 stone, marble and wooden markers in their original locations.

We know important details about those markers from a study of the cemetery completed in 1884. Their inscriptions spoke to the harsh realites of the 19th century, reminding us that not only soldiers, but also their wives and children, were buried there. When the cemetery became a public park in the 1880s, the grave markers were removed from their original locations and arranged on a terrace behind the present playground area. By the mid-1950s all of the wooden markers, and three of those made of stone, had disappeared. The remaining gravestones, most in poor condition, were laid in concrete at the foot of the War of 1812 monument.

In 2010, all 17 of the surviving stones were relocated here for their protection and interpretation. Twelve of them have been identified with certainty.“

Fort York National Historic Site
2024 – The heritage plaque reads:

Surviving Gravestones of the Military Burial Ground “Created in 1794 and in use until 1863, the military cemetery in this park was once dotted with hundreds of markers. By the early 1880s, vandalism, weather and thieves had left only 35 stone, marble and wooden markers in their original locations.

We know important details about those markers from a study of the cemetery completed in 1884. Their inscriptions spoke to the harsh realites of the 19th century, reminding us that not only soldiers, but also their wives and children, were buried there. When the cemetery became a public park in the 1880s, the grave markers were removed from their original locations and arranged on a terrace behind the present playground area. By the mid-1950s all of the wooden markers, and three of those made of stone, had disappeared. The remaining gravestones, most in poor condition, were laid in concrete at the foot of the War of 1812 monument.

In 2010, all 17 of the surviving stones were relocated here for their protection and interpretation. Twelve of them have been identified with certainty.“

Fort York National Historic Site
2024 –  The heritage plaque reads:

Katherine Simcoe d. 1794, 15 months old

“Katherine Simcoe, the seventh child of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and Elizabeth, his wife, was born in 1793 in what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake. She died only 15 months later in the Simcoes’ tent-house at the edge of the wilderness near Fort York. In a letter to a friend in England, Elizabeth wrote of her daughter’s death:

She had been feverish two or three days cutting teeth… on Good Friday she was playing in my room in the morning, in the afternoon was seized with fits, I sat up the whole night the greatest part of which she continued to have spasms and before seven in the morning she was no more… She was the sweetest tempered pretty child imaginable, just beginning to talk and walk and suddenness of the event you may be sure shocked me inexpressibly.

Katherine Simcoe was the first to be buried here – on Easter Monday, 1794. The following year, a small marble gravestone was sent from England and placed on her grave. It read:

Katherine Simcoe
January 16, 1793 – April 19, 1794
Happy in the Lord
Her gravestone had disappeared by the 1850s.”

Fort York National Historic Site
2024 – The heritage plaque reads:

Katherine Simcoe d. 1794, 15 months old

“Katherine Simcoe, the seventh child of Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and Elizabeth, his wife, was born in 1793 in what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake. She died only 15 months later in the Simcoes’ tent-house at the edge of the wilderness near Fort York. In a letter to a friend in England, Elizabeth wrote of her daughter’s death:

She had been feverish two or three days cutting teeth… on Good Friday she was playing in my room in the morning, in the afternoon was seized with fits, I sat up the whole night the greatest part of which she continued to have spasms and before seven in the morning she was no more… She was the sweetest tempered pretty child imaginable, just beginning to talk and walk and suddenness of the event you may be sure shocked me inexpressible.

Katherine Simcoe was the first to be buried here – on Easter Monday, 1794. The following year, a small marble gravestone was sent from England and placed on her grave. It read:

Katherine Simcoe January 16, 1793 – April 19, 1794 Happy in the Lord Her gravestone had disappeared by the 1850s.”
Fort York National Historic Site
2020 - Gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square. The park is bordered by Wellington St W, Portland St and Niagara St, just off Bathurst St in the Fashion District
2020 – Gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square. The park is bordered by Wellington St W, Portland St and Niagara St, just off Bathurst St in the Fashion District
2021 – The inscription reads: 

St John's Square 

"The first military burial ground / in Toronto. Set apart in 1794 by / Lieut. Governor Simcoe / and used for sixty years." 

Erected by the Canadian Club, 1899
2021 – The inscription reads:

St John’s Square

“The first military burial ground / in Toronto. Set apart in 1794 by / Lieut. Governor Simcoe / and used for sixty years.”

Erected by the Canadian Club, 1899
2020 - Gravestone of John Saumarez Colborne, son of Sir John Colborne and oldest surviving gravestone at Victoria Memorial Square
2020 – Gravestone of John Saumarez Colborne, son of Sir John Colborne and oldest surviving gravestone at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 - Gravestone of Mackay John Scobie and Kenneth Scobie at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Gravestone of Mackay John Scobie and Kenneth Scobie at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 - Gravestone of Michael Gilivan at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Gravestone of Michael Gilivan at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 - The inscription reads: Sacred to the Memory of FREDERICK RUDMAN Late Drum Major 81 Regiment who departed this life on the / 24th December 1846 / Aged 30 years
2024 – The inscription reads: Sacred to the Memory of FREDERICK RUDMAN Late Drum Major 81 Regiment who departed this life on the / 24th December 1846 / Aged 30 years
2024 – Gravestone's inscription unknown at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Gravestone’s inscription unknown at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Gravestone of William Jewell at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Gravestone of William Jewell at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Gravestone of Zachariah Mudge at Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Gravestone of Zachariah Mudge at Victoria Memorial Square
2020 - The inscription reads:

Sacred / to the Memory of
JOHN EDWARD

Infant son of / J.E. & M. Sharps
Died Aug. 8th 1843 / Aged 9 months
J. Morris, Toronto
2020 – The inscription reads:

Sacred / to the Memory of
JOHN EDWARD

Infant son of / J.E. & M. Sharps
Died Aug. 8th 1843 / Aged 9 months
J. Morris, Toronto
2021 – Gravestone of F.R. at Victoria Memorial Square
2021 – Gravestone of F.R. at Victoria Memorial Square
2021 – The inscription reads: 

ELIZABETH FRANCES
Daughter of  / Major Charles Lavigne / 71st Reg 
died 27 July 1830 / Aged 4 months
2021 – The inscription reads:

ELIZABETH FRANCES

Daughter of / Major Charles Lavigne / 71st Reg
died 27 July 1830 / Aged 4 months
2021 – Gravestone's inscription unknown at Victoria Memorial Square
2021 – Gravestone’s inscription unknown at Victoria Memorial Square
2021 – The inscription reads:

JOHN SAUMAREZ COLBORNE

Born May 4 1826
Died July 30 1829
2021 – The inscription reads:

JOHN SAUMAREZ COLBORNE
Born May 4 1826
Died July 30 1829
2022 – The inscription reads:

To / the Memory of
BARBARA MARY

Daughter of Reverend  J. Hudson who died / July 17, 1831 Aged 14 / months
2022 – The inscription reads:

To / the Memory of
BARBARA MARY

Daughter of Reverend J. Hudson who died / July 17, 1831 Aged 14 / months
2022 – The inscription reads:

In Memory of

CHARLOTTE

Wife of / John Armitage / ORDce DEPt / who died 8th April 1819 Aged 36 Years

When I can read my title clear, To Mansions in the skies,

I’ll bid farewell to every fear, And wipe my weeping eyes.
2022 – The inscription reads:

In Memory of
CHARLOTTE

Wife of / John Armitage / ORDce DEPt / who died 8th April 1819 Aged 36 Years
When I can read my title clear, To Mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to every fear, And wipe my weeping eyes.
1884/2005 - 1884 plan of the Military Burial Ground is overlaid with a 2005 aerial view of Victoria Memorial Square
1884/2005 – 1884 plan of the Military Burial Ground is overlaid with a 2005 aerial view of Victoria Memorial Square (City of Toronto Archives, MT 00370C)
2024 – The old cemetery is outlined by a row of paving stones that run diagonally to the sidewalk within Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – The old cemetery is outlined by a row of paving stones that run diagonally to the sidewalk within Victoria Memorial Square
2020 - Looking southeast toward the Gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square
2020 – Looking southeast toward the Gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square
2023 – Looking southeast toward the gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square
2023 – Looking southeast toward the gravestones at Victoria Memorial Square
1942 - Playground on the west side of Victoria Memorial Square
1942 – Looking southwest from Wellington St towards the playground on the west side of Victoria Memorial Square (plaque photo from William Sproule Family)
1950 - War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square
1950 – War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 188)
2020 - Looking southwest towards Victoria Memorial Square and the War of 1812 memorial sculpted by Walter Seymour Allward and unveiled in 1907
2020 – Looking southwest towards Victoria Memorial Square and the War of 1812 memorial sculpted by Walter Seymour Allward and unveiled in 1907
Circa 1907 - War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square
Circa 1907 – War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square (Toronto Public Library R-1811)
1977 - War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square and CN Tower in the background
1977 – War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square and CN Tower in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 63, Item 71)
1991 - War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square
1991 – War of 1812 memorial at Victoria Memorial Square (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1465, File 682, Item 12)
2020 - Looking southwest towards Victoria Memorial Square with Gravestones on the left and the War of 1812 memorial on the right
2020 – Looking southwest towards Victoria Memorial Square with Gravestones on the left and the War of 1812 memorial on the right
Between 1972 and 1978 – Looking southwest in Victoria Memorial Park with the War of 1812 memorial in the background
Between 1972 and 1978 – Looking southwest in Victoria Memorial Park with the War of 1812 memorial in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 751, Item 6)
2019 -  The plaque reads:

Victoria Memorial Square   
From Burying Ground to Public Park

"As the neighbourhood around Victoria Square filled in, four of the square's original six acres were lost to private development or used for the extension of Wellington Street. The cemetery itself suffered vandalism and use as a cattle pasture until the 1880s, when the City moved to protect it by converting it into a public park. The surviving grave markers were removed to the park's western edge, the uneven grave sites levelled, and walks laid out. In 1899, a marble tablet explaining the significant of this place was erected by the Canadian Club of Toronto as part of the city's first series of historical markers. The remarkable monument in the centre of the park was completed in 1907.

By the mid-20th century, the area surrounding the park was dominated by industry, and Victoria Square's history was largely forgotten. Beginning in the 1990s, the move of new businesses and residents into this area transformed it yet again. In 2007, a plan was approved to rehabilitate the park and celebrate its past. Today, hundreds of graves remain largely undisturbed beneath the grass of Victoria Memorial Square."

Fort York National Historic Site
2019 – The plaque reads:

Victoria Memorial Square
From Burying Ground to Public Park

“As the neighbourhood around Victoria Square filled in, four of the square’s original six acres were lost to private development or used for the extension of Wellington Street. The cemetery itself suffered vandalism and use as a cattle pasture until the 1880s, when the City moved to protect it by converting it into a public park. The surviving grave markers were removed to the park’s western edge, the uneven grave sites levelled, and walks laid out. In 1899, a marble tablet explaining the significant of this place was erected by the Canadian Club of Toronto as part of the city’s first series of historical markers. The remarkable monument in the centre of the park was completed in 1907.

By the mid-20th century, the area surrounding the park was dominated by industry, and Victoria Square’s history was largely forgotten. Beginning in the 1990s, the move of new businesses and residents into this area transformed it yet again. In 2007, a plan was approved to rehabilitate the park and celebrate its past. Today, hundreds of graves remain largely undisturbed beneath the grass of Victoria Memorial Square.”

Fort York National Historic Site
2019 – The plaque reads: 

Victoria Memorial Square    
Early Years 

"Part of the Fort York National Historic Site, this park shelters the city's earliest known cemetery to be established by British authorities. In 1794, shortly after the founding of the fort and the Town of York, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe ordered this burying ground laid out in a clearing a short distance from the fort. Simcoe's own infant daughter Katherine was the first to be buried here. At least 400 others - many of them soldiers with their wives and children - were laid to rest in the cemetery before it was closed in 1863. 

By then much had changed. In 1837, a plan of subdivision extended the city's street grid westward into the area. The cemetery, oriented by compass to magnetic north (unlike the roads), was enclosed within a new six-acre public square named after Princess Victoria. Victoria Square was mirrored by Clarence Square to the east, and linked to it by an exceptionally wide boulevard called "Wellington Place." Intended to create a prestigious neighbourhood, the subdivision plan called for churches to be built in Victoria Square. However, only the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist was ever constructed." 

Fort York National Historic Site
2019 – The plaque reads:

Victoria Memorial Square
Early Years

“Part of the Fort York National Historic Site, this park shelters the city’s earliest known cemetery to be established by British authorities. In 1794, shortly after the founding of the fort and the Town of York, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe ordered this burying ground laid out in a clearing a short distance from the fort. Simcoe’s own infant daughter Katherine was the first to be buried here. At least 400 others – many of them soldiers with their wives and children – were laid to rest in the cemetery before it was closed in 1863.

By then much had changed. In 1837, a plan of subdivision extended the city’s street grid westward into the area. The cemetery, oriented by compass to magnetic north (unlike the roads), was enclosed within a new six-acre public square named after Princess Victoria. Victoria Square was mirrored by Clarence Square to the east, and linked to it by an exceptionally wide boulevard called “Wellington Place.” Intended to create a prestigious neighbourhood, the subdivision plan called for churches to be built in Victoria Square. However, only the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist was ever constructed.”

Fort York National Historic Site
2020 – The plaque reads:

The Broad Arrow 

"Survey posts bearing a “Broad Arrow” once stood at the four original corners of Victoria Square to mark it as British military property. They were placed there in 1853 by a young Sandford Fleming who surveyed the square as part of the military reserve surrounding Fort York. Later, Fleming went on to fame as Chief Engineer of Canada’s first transcontinental railway, and as inventor of our modern system of time zones.

Fleming’s markings followed a century-old tradition. The Broad Arrow and the initials “B.O.” connected Victoria Square to the Board of Ordnance, a British government body which has used the symbol since the 1600s to mark the supplies, buildings and property it controlled for military purposes.

Though not lost, Fleming’s survey stone in this location has been replaced by a reproduction, below. Other original survey stones may still exist throughout the former military reserve, buried under gardens or sidewalks."

Fort York National Historic Site
2020 – The plaque reads:

The Broad Arrow

“Survey posts bearing a “Broad Arrow” once stood at the four original corners of Victoria Square to mark it as British military property. They were placed there in 1853 by a young Sandford Fleming who surveyed the square as part of the military reserve surrounding Fort York. Later, Fleming went on to fame as Chief Engineer of Canada’s first transcontinental railway, and as inventor of our modern system of time zones.

Fleming’s markings followed a century-old tradition. The Broad Arrow and the initials “B.O.” connected Victoria Square to the Board of Ordnance, a British government body which has used the symbol since the 1600s to mark the supplies, buildings and property it controlled for military purposes.

Though not lost, Fleming’s survey stone in this location has been replaced by a reproduction, below. Other original survey stones may still exist throughout the former military reserve, buried under gardens or sidewalks.”

Fort York National Historic Site
2022 – A plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2022 – A plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – The plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – The plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2022 – A plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2022 – A plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – The plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – The plaque on the War of 1812 memorial Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – The sign reads: Please Remember and Respect "Victoria Memorial Square is a historic site and burial ground. The unmarked graves of over 400 soldiers and their family members lie just below the park grounds. To respect those who have been laid to rest, please keep your pets on-leash and don't let them dig."
2024 – The sign reads: Please Remember and Respect “Victoria Memorial Square is a historic site and burial ground. The unmarked graves of over 400 soldiers and their family members lie just below the park grounds. To respect those who have been laid to rest, please keep your pets on-leash and don’t let them dig.”
2024 - The plaque reads: “In 2002, Jane Jacobs wrote this moving letter about Victoria Memorial Square and the Wellington Place neighbourhood association’s efforts to restore it. With the contributions of Jane’s friends Ken and Eti Greenberg, the generous donation of the Escofet Company based in Barcelona and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the assistance of the City of Toronto Department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, these beautiful chairs designed by Montse Periel and Marius Quintana will provide a welcoming resting spot in her memory.”
2024 – The plaque reads: “In 2002, Jane Jacobs wrote this moving letter about Victoria Memorial Square and the Wellington Place neighbourhood association’s efforts to restore it. With the contributions of Jane’s friends Ken and Eti Greenberg, the generous donation of the Escofet Company based in Barcelona and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the assistance of the City of Toronto Department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation, these beautiful chairs designed by Montse Periel and Marius Quintana will provide a welcoming resting spot in her memory.”
2023 - The heritage plaque reads: 

Church of St. John the Evangelist 
(The Garrison Church) 
1858-1963 

"In 1858, the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist opened on Stewart Street to serve both the local population and the garrison stationed at the old and new forts (Fort York and Stanley Barracks). By the late 19th century, it had become a fashionable parish, and the original frame structure was replaced in 1893 by a brick church on Portland Street. Designed by architect Eden Smith, the "Garrison Church" welcomed first British, then Canadian troops and their families, and met the religious needs of Toronto's militia regiments and veterans' organizations. Gradually, the local residential neighbourhood was displaced by industry, and the dwindling congregation could not meet the costs of maintaining the building. The church was deconsecrated and demolished in 1963. Regimental colours and other military items in the church were transferred to Canadian Forces Camp Borden."

City of Toronto Culture Divison
2023 – The heritage plaque reads:

Church of St. John the Evangelist (The Garrison Church)
1858-1963

“In 1858, the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist opened on Stewart Street to serve both the local population and the garrison stationed at the old and new forts (Fort York and Stanley Barracks). By the late 19th century, it had become a fashionable parish, and the original frame structure was replaced in 1893 by a brick church on Portland Street. Designed by architect Eden Smith, the “Garrison Church” welcomed first British, then Canadian troops and their families, and met the religious needs of Toronto’s militia regiments and veterans’ organizations. Gradually, the local residential neighbourhood was displaced by industry, and the dwindling congregation could not meet the costs of maintaining the building. The church was deconsecrated and demolished in 1963. Regimental colours and other military items in the church were transferred to Canadian Forces Camp Borden.”

City of Toronto Culture Divison
2023 – The cornerstone of the Church of St. John the Evangelist was laid in 1892 and is inscribed with the initials S.J.E. The church was located at 56 Portland St and was demolished in 1963. The cornerstone is located on the north side of Victoria Memorial Square
2023 – The cornerstone of the Church of St. John the Evangelist was laid in 1892 and is inscribed with the initials S.J.E. The church was located at 56 Portland St and was demolished in 1963. The cornerstone is located on the north side of Victoria Memorial Square
1950 - The Church of St. John the Evangelist was located at 56 Portland St, just across from Victoria Memorial Square. It was an Anglican church that began serving the local community and the garrison at Fort York and Stanley Barracks in 1858 on Stewart St. The original frame structure was later replaced by a brick church in 1893, which was captured in a photograph. However, the church was demolished in 1963, and its cornerstone is now located in Victoria Memorial Square
1950 – The Church of St. John the Evangelist was located at 56 Portland St, just across from Victoria Memorial Square. It was an Anglican church that began serving the local community and the garrison at Fort York and Stanley Barracks in 1858 on Stewart St. The original frame structure was later replaced by a brick church in 1893, which was captured in a photograph. However, the church was demolished in 1963, and its cornerstone is now located in Victoria Memorial Square (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 111)
2024 – Looking southwest towards the corner of Portland St and Stewart St. The Church of St. John the Evangelist once stood at the corner, across the street from Victoria Memorial Square
2024 – Looking southwest towards the corner of Portland St and Stewart St. The Church of St. John the Evangelist once stood at the corner, across the street from Victoria Memorial Square
1899 - Goads Map showing the location of the Victoria Memorial Square
1899 – Goads Map showing the location of the Victoria Memorial Square (Toronto Public Library)
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