BURYING THE DEAD
Shortly after establishing Fort York, John Graves Simcoe arranged for a "garrison burial ground" to be cleared out of "the thick brushwood" a short distance from the garrison. Sadly, the first person known to have been buried in the cemetery was Simcoe's own young daughter, Katherine, in 1794. Many infants and young children, as well as adults, were buried in the military cemetery. Some fatalities resulted from accidents such as drowning, while others were caused by diseases, including such epidemic threats as cholera, which ravaged Toronto in 1832 and 1834, and sent hundreds of Torontonians to their graves with each visitation.
PLAN OF YORK THE CAPITAL OF UPPER CANADA ON THE BAY OF TORONTO IN LAKE ONTARIO, 1804
(ELIZABETH FRANCIS HALE)
Library and Archives Canada, C-34334
Two decades after the establishment of Fort York, the threat of foreign invasion became real when the United States declared war in 1812 and attacked Toronto on 27 April 1813. The ensuing battle resulted in 157 British and 320 American casualties, and the occupation of the Town of York (now Toronto) for five days.
Many of those killed in battle were buried where they fell or in nearby mass graves. Some American officers were taken to Sackett's Harbour, New York across Lake Ontario for burial. While it is likely that a number of soldiers from this battle were laid to rest in the garrison cemetery at that time, a lack of documentation makes it impossible to know for sure.
After American troops withdrew from York, the town became an important hospital centre for the army, especially while heavy fighting on the Niagara Peninsula continued. Those who survived the arduous three-day journey from Niagara to York often died in hospital and were buried in the military cemetary. The Anglican rector of York, John Strachan, sometimes officiated over the funerals of as many as eight men each day.
In later years, human remains were discovered around the historic neighbourhood of the military reserve, including those of Captain Neal McNeale, who died in the 1813 battle of York. McNeale's remains surfaced near the lakeshore in 1829 and subsequently received a military funeral and burial in the garrison cemetery.
OLD CEMETERY TOMBSTONES, 1880s (JOHN ROSS ROBERTSON)
John Ross Robertson, Landmarks of Toronto, Vol.1, 1894
The cemetery at Victoria Square has been subject to theft, vandalism, neglect, and the elements to such an extent that today only 17 gravemarkers and an identification stone still exist. Most are in very poor condition. Fortunately, surviving 19th-century accounts provide information about a large number of the burials.
These records helped to identify the weathered fragments of a stone tablet marking the deaths of John and Kenneth Scobie, both of whom died during the cholera scourges of the 1830s, and were buried by their brother, Hugh. Grieving parents often sought spiritual comfort following the loss of young children, as suggested in the surviving transcription of the epitaph for three-year-old Sarah E. Dunn: "Sleep on dear child and take thy rest/ God called thee home he thought it best."
Not only are beloved family members interred in Victoria Square, but also the cherished horses that belonged to Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Battersby. Before he returned to England Colonel Battersby ordered his horses to be shot and buried beside the cemetery rather than risk selling them to an unkind master.
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