The City is improving Victoria Memorial Square, located at 10 Niagara St., near Portland Street. The park is a designated heritage site and is part of the Fort York National Historic Site and the King-Spadina Heritage Conservation District. The park improvement will be developed with the involvement of the local community and stakeholders, with the goal of ensuring that park infrastructure and amenities support the park’s desired uses while respecting and enhancing its unique history.

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  • Winter 2022: Hire a design team
  • Summer 2022 to Late 2023: Community engagement and design development
  • Early 2024 to Fall/Winter 2024: Detailed design and hire a construction team
  • Spring 2025: Construction starts

The timeline is subject to change.

Level of Engagement

This project has been classified as a Collaborate project based on the International Association of Public Participation Public Participation Spectrum. This means we aim to partner with the public, stakeholders and rightsholders in each aspect of the design process, including the development of design options and the identification of a preferred design.

Community Advisory Committee

A Community Advisory Committee (CAC) representing the diverse interests of the community of Victoria Memorial Square park users will be formed and will be engaged throughout the design process.

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This phase of the community engagement process started in April 2022 and included a stakeholder meeting, a resident’s workshop, and a community survey, which helped the project team gain a better understanding of the issues and opportunities associated with the park. As an outcome of this phase, the team has developed a series of draft Drivers of Change, which are the factors driving the need for the park improvements.

Phase Outcome: Draft Drivers of Change

Download the draft Drivers of Change, and review the confirmed Drivers of Change under Phase 1B.

Community Engagement Meetings and Events

September 2022

Online Survey

From August 30 to September 18, 2022, the project team ran a visioning survey to gather insights and ideas from the community about what they would like to see in the square in the future. In total, 753 people responded to the survey.

Download the survey summary.

June 2022

Resident’s Workshop

On June 15, 2022, the project team invited residents living along the perimeter of the park, including businesses and high-rises, to a virtual workshop being held as part of the community engagement process for the project. Nine residents attended, in addition to City staff and the Councillor’s office.

Download the summary report.

April 2022

Stakeholder Meeting

A meeting took place at the park with community stakeholders to discuss park issues. The project’s next steps include hiring a design team and the community engagement process.

This phase of the community engagement process started in February 2022. During this phase, the City worked with residents and stakeholders to confirm the Drivers of Change and define an overall vision for the park improvements, including a series of Design Principles, which will guide the development of design options in Phase 2.

Download the Phase 1B summary report.

Phase Outcome: Confirmed Drivers of Change, Draft Vision Statement and Draft Design Principles

Confirmed Drivers of Change

A rich colonial history

Victoria Memorial Square is a unique park site with a rich cultural heritage that dates back to the founding of the city of York. It is part of the Fort York National Historic Site and the King-Spadina Heritage Conservation District and is the site of Toronto’s first settler cemetery, which includes burials of military personnel and their family members. There is an opportunity to further enhance the heritage of this site while bringing forward new heritage interpretations.

A rich Indigenous history

Victoria Memorial Square is a site steeped in colonial history, but the story does not start there. There is also a rich and ancient Indigenous history to the site that is tied to its adjacency to Taddle Creek and the former Lake Ontario shoreline, in addition to the roles of First Nations in the War of 1812. This presence is not adequately represented in the current space.

A protected commemorative landscape

Despite its heritage significance, the park has become damaged and spoiled by heavy use. In addition, many of the graves are relatively shallow, and are at constant risk of being compromised by dog activity. The park improvements must preserve and protect the site’s historic cemetery and other heritage resources from further deterioration and should reflect respect for the importance of this commemorative landscape.

A growing and evolving neighbourhood

The neighbourhood surrounding the park has seen dramatic increases in population growth in recent years, thanks to new development. There is a need for the park to support changing demographics as well as intensified use in this rapidly-changing area of the city. This will mean making park improvements that allow for a wider range of uses at various times of the day, and that are durable, sustainable and can withstand high traffic usage patterns.

Out-of-balance park uses

As the community has grown around the park, the balance of users has changed. This has led to conflicts between user groups, including dogs and their owners, children and their caregivers and others who use the space as a place to rest or hang out. There is a need for park improvements that enhance the existing park programs through the lenses of inclusivity, safety and accessibility to ensure that all park users are able to enjoy this public space.

Review the draft Drivers of Change under Phase 1A.

Draft Vision Statement

Victoria Memorial Square is a green oasis and cultural gem in a fast-changing neighbourhood. It is valued as both a meeting place and a sanctuary: a cozy place to retreat to; a place to gather, sit and relax.

The park works well for a lot of different people: families picnicking, friends relaxing, people walking their pets, and so many others just passing through. It’s an inclusive, accessible, clean and safe place for everyone.

The park is also a place of discovery that both honours and celebrates its rich heritage, from centuries of use by Indigenous people living in settlements along Garrison Creek and the Lake Ontario shoreline, to its colonial uses as a Military Cemetery, War of 1812 Memorial, and public park. The park’s role in the larger context of the historic Wellington Place plan, and its relationship to nearby Clarence Square via Wellington Street, is reflected in the enhanced park design.

Other, more contemporary memorials are equally celebrated, including the park’s Jane Jacobs benches and tree and bench dedications.

Activities or uses that might damage this cherished cultural heritage or disrupt the park’s delicate balance of users, including off-leash dog walking, are both managed and limited.

Draft Design Principles

  1. Balance the needs of a wide range of users.
  2. Manage and limit off leash dog use within the cemetery and park.
  3. Ensure a healthy and thriving tree canopy and landscape.
  4. Integrate and celebrate Indigenous placekeeping into the heritage narrative and park design.
  5. Preserve and celebrate the colonial heritage including the Military Cemetery and War of 1812 Memorial.
  6. Preserve and celebrate the contemporary heritage of the park including the Jane Jacobs benches, memorial benches and trees.
  7. Recognize and tie the park restoration design to the Wellington Street revitalization and Clarence Square.
  8. Ensure the park is well lit and safe and feature lighting is integrated to amplify the cultural heritage elements.
  9. Integrate heritage interpretation at key entrances and within the park.
  10. Include green space and plantings to create an oasis where people can relax and lounge in a place of respite.
  11. Integrate a variety of seating types to make this a welcoming and accessible space where people can hang out and gather.
  12. Provide park infrastructure that can withstand increased pressure due to growing population and future transit infrastructure and development coming to the area.

Community Engagement Meetings and Events

March 2023

Design Charrette

On March 7, 2023, the project team hosted a design charrette with the ten members of the Community Advisory Committee at Fort York Public Library. The purpose of the charrette was to convene community members to actively generate and explore ideas that are reflective of the feedback received through the broader community engagement that has taken place so far and that could inform the park improvement options moving forward.

Thought Exchange Activity

From February 16 to March 1, 2023, the project team ran an online thought exchange activity where participants were able to share their vision for the park and rate the ideas of others. The thought exchange received 188 thoughts and 8,500 ratings from 270 participants of various ages and backgrounds.

The thoughts were organized into 15 themes. Ranked by the average rating of thoughts within each theme, referred to as the star score, the themes were:

  1. A green oasis (4.4 star score)
  2. A cozy place (4.3 star score)
  3. A place of respite [from noise, concrete, etc.] (4.3 star score)
  4. A welcoming, accessible place (4.3 star score)
  5. A quiet place (4.2 star score)
  6. A meeting place (4.1 star score)
  7. A place to relax/hang out/sit (4 star score)
  8. A safe place (3.9 star score)
  9. A clean/well-maintained place (3.8 star score)
  10. A place for kids/families (3.8 star score)
  11. A place without dogs/dog poop (3.8 star score)
  12. A place of for honouring/remembering/learning (3.7 star score)
  13. A flexible, multi-use, year-round space (3.6 star score)
  14. A place to walk/stroll through (3.6 star score)
  15. A place to bring your dog (2.9 star score)

In this phase, the City and its design consultant developed two draft design options for the park based on the outcomes of Community Engagement Phase 1A and 1B. These design options were presented to the community for feedback, with the input collected used to develop a preferred design for the park.

Download the engagement phase summary report.

Phase Outcome: Preferred Design

The design focus maintains corner-to-corner pathway access with a modified wishbone path configuration, introduces space for activity around the edges of the cemetery, adds a small plaza at the corner of Wellington Street and Portland Street, and includes the following features:

  • New heritage interpretation themes at the corners which explore Indigenous and Colonial histories, and the King West and Wellington Place neighbourhood transformation
  • The 1812 Memorial is relocated to the new plaza at the northeast corner of Wellington Street and Portland Street providing a larger gathering space around it for ceremonies. The tombstone monument will remain in its existing location
  • The cemetery is surrounded by a low stone wall elevating it 450 mm above the adjacent expanded pathway. This height allows for seating around the edge of the burial ground
  • New mounded flowering meadow covering the cemetery with a focus on native planting, particularly Echinacea (traditional medicinal plant) which provide a habitat for pollinators and urban wildlife. The area will be protected by low fence rails to discourage people and their pets from accessing the burial ground
  • The furnishings and materials of the park are themed to match the new Wellington Street vocabulary and Clarence Square, making a strong connection with the axial alignment of Wellington Place
  • New lighting that matches the new Wellington Street fixtures and feature lighting lining the cemetery and highlighting the War of 1812 Memorial and tombstone monument
  • The areas around the cemetery will be resurfaced in a bound stone aggregate providing active program spaces for picnicking, seating, and gathering
  • Block seating is introduced in two areas within the cemetery border
  • New trees in the areas surrounding the cemetery to renew the declining tree canopy
  • The playground is moved to the southeast area of the park and enhanced with new surfacing, seating, and fencing
  • An off-leash area is added in the location  of the existing playground
Site plan showing the key design features and park amenities of the preferred design, as described above and enumerated in the legend below.
Site plan for the preferred design.
  1. Flowering meadow
  2. Unit paving
  3. Chipped stone surface
  4. Elevated cemetery border
  5. Rolling mound
  6. 1812 Memorial
  7. Tomb stone monument
  8. Bench
  9. Picnic table
  10. New trees
  11. Playground
  12. Fence
  13. Parking barrier
  14. Themed entrances
  15. Bike parking
  16. Planting
  17. Café seating
  18. Block seating
  19. Plaza
  20. Off-leash area
  21. Medicinal plants
  22. Wishbone path
  23. Lawn
  24. Jane Jacobs chairs
  25. John’s corner stone
  26. Broad arrow
  27. Cobble stone

Design Option 1

The design focus introduces a light-touch enhancement of the park, corner-to-corner pathway access with the existing wishbone path configuration, and includes the following features:

  • New heritage interpretation themes at the corners which explore Indigenous and Colonial histories, and the King West and Wellington Place neighbourhood transformation
  • The War of 1812 Memorial and Tombstone Monument is maintained in place with gathering areas close by
  • The furnishings and materials of the park are themed to match the new Wellington Street vocabulary and Clarence Square, making a strong connection with the axial alignment of Wellington Place
  • New lighting that matches the new Wellington Street fixtures and feature lighting lining the cemetery and highlighting the War of 1812 Memorial and tombstone monument
  • New mounded flowering meadow covering the cemetery with a focus on native planting, particularly Echinacea (traditional medicinal plant) which provide a habitat for pollinators and urban wildlife. The area will be protected by low fence rails to discourage people and their pets from accessing the burial ground with the exception of the paths crossing over
  • New tree canopy in the lawn/mulch areas around the cemetery to renew the declining tree canopy and to provide seasonal interest and habitat. Fixed picnic tables will be added to these spaces to provide additional seating and gathering options
  • The existing playground will be maintained and enhanced with new surfacing, seating and fencing
Map of the first design option featuring the existing path configuration with two paths moving through the park, an interactive cemetery border, a flowering meadow covering the cemetery, enhanced park entrances, maintained lawn areas around the cemetery, and new park furniture, including benches and picnic tables.
Site plan for Design Option 1.
  1. Flowering meadow
  2. Paved path
  3. Chipped stone path
  4. Interactive cemetery border
  5. Mound
  6. 1812 memorial
  7. Tomb stone monument
  8. Bench
  9. Picnic table
  10. New trees
  11. Playground
  12. Fence
  13. Parking barrier
  14. Themed entrances
  15. Bike parking
Rendered view looking southwest shows the north east entrance to the park, where people are sitting on benches and picnic tables. There is a path leading into the centre of the park, where you can see mounds of flowering meadow covering the cemetery, and a glimpse of the 1812 memorial in the centre of the cemetery. The view is framed by a mature canopy of trees, and additional younger flowering trees.
Rendered view shows the northeast entrance to the park.
Rendered view looking southeast shows people walking on a path through the centre of the cemetery area, surrounded by mounds of flowering meadow. The view is framed by a mature canopy of trees and a couple of smaller flowering trees.
Rendered view of the cemetery area, surrounded by mounds of flowering meadow.

Design Option 2

The design focus removes the southern leg of the wishbone path configuration, adds a small plaza at the corner of Wellington Street and Portland Street, and includes the following features:

  • New heritage interpretation themes at the four corner entrances which explore Indigenous and Colonial histories, and the King West and Wellington Place neighbourhood transformation
  • The 1812 Memorial is relocated to the new plaza at the northeast corner of Wellington Street and Portland Street providing a larger gathering space around it for ceremonies. The tombstone monument will remain in its existing location with the headstones re-mounted on the east face
  • The furnishings and materials of the park partially reference the Wellington Street vocabulary but also reference the new furnishings of St. Andrew’s Playground
  • The existing park lighting will be enhanced and feature lighting will be added
  • The cemetery is surrounded by a low stone wall elevating it 450mm above the adjacent expanded pathway. This height allows for seating around the edge of the burial ground
  • The cemetery is mounded and planted with a low grass meadow to discourage access by people and their pets
  • The areas around the cemetery will be resurfaced in a bound stone aggregate providing active program spaces for picnicking, seating, and gathering
  • New trees in the areas surrounding the cemetery to renew the declining tree canopy to provide seasonal interest and habitat
  • The existing playground will be maintained and enhanced with new surfacing, seating and fencing
Map of the second design option featuring one major walking path through the park, an elevated cemetery border, a grass meadow covering the cemetery, enhanced park entrances, a plaza to the north east corner of the park including the 1812 memorial, areas with a Parisian treatment surrounding the cemetery, and new park furniture, including benches, lounge chairs, and picnic tables.
Site plan for Design Option 2.
  1. Grass meadow
  2. Paved path
  3. Chipped stone path
  4. Elevated cemetery border
  5. Geometrical mound
  6. 1812 memorial
  7. Tomb stone monument
  8. Bench
  9. Picnic table
  10. New trees
  11. Playground
  12. Fence
  13. Parking barrier
  14. Themed entrances
  15. Bike parking
  16. Planting
  17. Lounge seating
  18. Parisian treatment
  19. Plaza
Rendered view looking southwest shows an open plaza at the northeast entrance to the park, including the 1812 memorial. The plaza is framed by benches and planted areas. Looking straight towards the centre of the park, you can see an elevated cemetery edge with mounds of grass meadow covering the cemetery. The view is framed by a mature canopy of trees, and additional younger flowering trees.
Rendered view shows an open plaza at the northeast entrance to the park, including the 1812 Memorial.
Rendered view looking southeast shows people walking on a path through the centre of the cemetery area, surrounded by mounds of grass meadow. The view is framed by a mature canopy of trees and a couple of smaller flowering trees.
Rendered view of the cemetery area, surrounded by mounds of grass meadow.

Community Engagement Meetings and Events

July 2023

Online Survey

From June 12 to July 3, 2023, an online survey collected feedback on the design options for the park improvements. In total, 523 people responded to the survey, with 283 respondents reaching the end.

June 2023

Community Workshops

On June 12, 2023, the project team held two community workshops at the Fort York Visitor Centre to gather community feedback on two draft design options for the park improvements. In addition to the local Councillor and project team, 30 community members participated in the workshops.

Download the presentation.

May 2023

Community Advisory Committee

On May 18, 2023, the project team met with the CAC to review the draft design options for the park improvements and gather its feedback and comments.

In this phase of the community engagement process, the City will share the preferred design option with the community. When the preferred design is confirmed, the project will move into the detailed design phase, where the design team will finalize the preferred design by working through the technical details and drawings for the construction contractor.

The community engagement activities anticipated in this phase include a Community Advisory Committee meeting and an online survey.

The anticipated outcome of this phase is a refined preferred design.

Community Engagement Meetings and Events

January 2024

Online Survey

From December 13, 2023, to January 7, 2024, feedback on the preferred design was collected through an online survey. The survey received over 450 responses.

Download the survey summary.

The park currently includes a monument, playground and drinking fountain as well as several heritage features, open lawn areas and mature trees. The park’s historical significance and unique site constraints will be taken into consideration when planning the design. The park improvements may include:

  • Additional heritage interpretation elements
  • New social gathering spaces
  • Upgrades to existing pathways
  • New site furnishings (i.e. benches, chairs, seat walls and/or picnic tables)
  • Updated historical interpretive signage, including an Indigenous history component, to be integrated with City’s new wayfinding system
  • General site improvements including upgrades to the existing granite border/pathway, playground improvements, and a refresh of existing monuments
  • New planting features and trees
  • New grass
  • Lighting improvements
  • A potential integrated art feature

If a rezoning application is submitted for the property adjacent to Victoria Memorial Square, City staff will explore opportunities to expand the Square in consultation with the community.

Background

The waterways surrounding the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario and what we now know as Toronto, have been occupied by Indigenous communities for thousands of years. Some of the First Nations that have inhabited and continue to inhabit these lands are the Anishinaabe peoples, including the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, the Huron Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee.

In 1783, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe created Toronto’s first European cemetery. Simcoe’s infant daughter, Katherine, succumbed to fever in 1793 and was one of the first to be buried here. The final burial occurred in 1864, when the cemetery was full. The site was subsequently converted into public space known as Victoria Memorial Square and has been maintained by the City of Toronto as a public park since the 1880s.

In the late 2000s, several heritage features were added as part of a park improvement project. Features that exist in the park today include a narrow rectangular granite border on the lawn, which represents the footprint of the cemetery that contains approximately 400 burial sites and 17 of the original grave markers on the east side of the park.