Queen's Park, Toronto

On July 6, 2010, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II unveiled an Ontario Heritage Trust provincial plaque to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Queen’s Park in Toronto.

The bilingual plaque reads as follows:


    Officially opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) during the Royal Tour of 1860, Queen’s Park is an early example of the public park movement in Canada. Landscaped according to a picturesque design, its sweeping drives curved past maple, oak, elm and white pine, while Taddle Creek ravine and McCaul’s Pond formed the park’s western boundary. Located to the northwest of the city, visitors gained access to the park through two gated, tree-lined avenues, one leading west from Yonge Street (today’s College Street) and the other leading north from Queen Street (today’s University Avenue). The legislative building, opened in 1893, brought a new public purpose to the park and significantly altered the original landscaping of its southern grounds. By then, the city encircled the park.

Unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, July 6, 2010


    Inauguré officiellement par le prince de Galles (futur roi Édouard VII d’Angleterre) lors du voyage royal de 1860, Queen’s Park est l’un des premiers parcs publics au Canada, qui fera bien des émules par la suite. Ce parc à l’aménagement pittoresque déroule ses allées ombragées par le feuillage des érables, des chênes, des ormes et des pins blancs jusqu’au ravin du ruisseau Taddle et à l’étang McCaul, qui s’étendent à sa bordure ouest. Le parc étant à l’époque situé au nord-ouest de la ville, les visiteurs y accèdent par deux avenues privées bordées d’arbres, l’une partant vers l’ouest depuis la rue Yonge (aujourd’hui la rue College) et l’autre vers le nord depuis la rue Queen (aujourd’hui l’avenue University). L’Assemblée législative, inaugurée en 1893, ajoute une nouvelle dimension publique à la vie du parc. La construction de cet édifice remanie profondément l’aménagement paysager des terrains situés au sud. À cette époque, le parc est désormais enclavé dans la ville.

Dévoilée par Sa Majesté la Reine Elizabeth II, le 6 juillet 2010

Historical background

Officially opened to the public “under the name the Queen’s Park” by the Prince of Wales during the Royal Tour of 1860,1 the land occupied by the park already held a long history as an eastern portion of lands that had been purchased for King’s College by 1829.2 Lands along the southern portion of the King’s College property had already been cleared for farming, but farther north stood white pine, maple, elm and oak trees. A principal feature of the college grounds was the Taddle Creek ravine that bisected the park from north to south.3 By the 1850s, the college lands were commonly known as “University Park,” sometimes “College Park” or simply “the university grounds.”

The grand schemes for King’s College ultimately failed; only one building was constructed on the eastern portion of the property. Built in 1842-43, it was primarily used as a residence until 1849. Nevertheless, landscaping around the building, plus the opening of the avenues with the construction of gates at the Queen and Yonge street entrances, began to shape the character of the property that would become Queen’s Park.

In 1853, the Province of the United Canadas passed legislation to expropriate the eastern 27.5 hectares (68 acres) of University Park, including the old King’s College building. The plan was to construct new legislative buildings at this location because Toronto was to become a provincial capital once again. Designs were prepared for a “Vice-regal Park”4 on the property to include a legislative building, a Government House and a botanical garden. The Province, however, was unable to afford the construction of new buildings and, instead, conducted minimal repairs to the old parliament buildings on Front Street in order to ready them for hosting the legislature. The University of Toronto hoped that the failure of the Province’s plans would result in a return of the land in order that it could construct its proposed new building on the site. Instead, the Province continued to hold the land.5 The provincial Board of Works had spent £10,000 on drainage work and the construction of new campus avenues, including the extension of College Avenue westward across Taddle Creek towards Spadina Avenue.6 As a result, the eastern portion of the university grounds gained more definition and character.

Furthermore, instead of constructing a new legislature, the provincial government turned the King’s College building into the Provincial Lunatic Asylum in 1856. Also known as “The University Lunatic Asylum,” its name and presence would cause tensions between the university and the government until its closure. Thus, when Queen’s Park opened in 1860, it had an operating asylum on the eastern edge of its grounds for the first nine years. Afterwards, the building was used briefly as a grammar school and then fell into disrepair until it was torn down in 1886.7

Intertwined with the emerging design of the eastern portion of University Park was a proposed botanical garden. The Senate of the University of Toronto (1850-53) had taken an interest in this project as early as 1851. With the Province’s reformation of the University of Toronto in 1853,8 however, the subsequently reformed Senate failed to continue with those plans. Nevertheless, in 1851, landscape designer William Mundie submitted a plan for a 2.4-hectare (six-acre) garden east of Taddle Creek, and the Senate authorized him to prepare the site in anticipation of planting in spring 1852. Though it does not appear that any further work on the garden continued, the proposed location of the garden likely influenced the placement of avenues along the eastern edge of Taddle Creek.9

In 1856, Taddle Creek became more of a physical divide within University Park than it had been previously. With the eastern portion of the grounds reserved for government purposes, an order-in-council of February 1856 authorized the Senate of the University of Toronto to construct buildings on the western portion of the park. The foundation stone of University College was laid October 4, 1869 — the beginning of the university campus to the west of Taddle Creek.10

Negotiations between the City of Toronto’s Committee on Public Walks and Gardens (established in 1851) and the University of Toronto Senate for the creation of a public park began as early as April 27, 1857, when the Committee on Public Walks and Gardens recommended £25 be spent “making a preliminary survey of the University grounds with a view to define boundaries.” Earlier, the committee reported to city council that “a plan of the contemplated park on the University grounds [had been] prepared by the architect of the university (the firm of Cumberland and Storm).” The committee had approved this plan and recommended that members be authorized to confer with officials from the University of Toronto to finalize the arrangements, “and secure the Park in the University grounds which would add so much to the promotion of the health and enjoyment of the Citizens.”11

On April 29, a second report to council by the Committee on Public Walks and Gardens noted that Cumberland and Storm had been authorized “to prepare a plan of the University Park, showing the proposed boundaries of the Public Park.”12 The report also set forth the agreement made between university and city officials on March 10, 1858. Among its eight points was a promise that the public park, as defined on the Cumberland and Storm plan, plus the Queen Street and Yonge Street avenues, would be “guaranteed as [a] public park forever.” No building of any kind was to be erected in the public park, and the city would be responsible “to make and keep in repair all roads and ornamented grounds within the Public Park … and all fences and gates.” The only exception made was for that part of the property identified as the Botanical Garden. That land was to be reserved for the university should it wish to construct one.13 No such garden was ever constructed. Nevertheless, it would seem that Mundie’s earlier plans for a botanical garden influenced the design of the avenues in Queen’s Park as reflected in the Cumberland and Storm plan, as well as the photos [c. 1860] taken by William Notman from atop the new University College.14

At the end of June, Toronto City Council decided that a joint committee of university and city officials would request the provincial government “to take the necessary steps to carry out the plan of Establishing a Public Park in the University Grounds.”15 The Province did its part. On August 16, 1858, Sir Edmund Walker Head, Governor General of Canada, gave Royal Assent to provincial legislation coordinating a lease of the eastern portion of the university grounds to the City of Toronto for the purposes of a public park. The act allowed the University of Toronto to lease the land for the public park, not to exceed 20.2 hectares (50 acres), for a period of 999 years at a nominal rent.16 On September 13, the university and city officials met to complete the transfer of the lands for the public park.17

Over the next year, city officials appear to have followed the Cumberland and Storm plans for landscaping the public park, as they contracted out work for breaking stone and graveling the paths, erecting a lodge and new gates at the entrance of the Yonge Street avenue, planking and draining that avenue, fencing both the Yonge and Queen street avenues, and building a pedestal for a pair of cannons that would be set in place at the south end of the park, pointing south down the Queen Street avenue.18 At the opening ceremony in September 1860, the Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone for a statue of Queen Victoria that would eventually be installed in 1871.

Park design

Queen’s Park followed a picturesque design.19 As described at the time, the layout of the park was “straightforward and simple.” The existing natural varieties of trees were left in clumps or placed singly along pathways. Beyond the construction of pathways and some garden beds, the parkland was left in a natural state.20

In reference to the question of who designed the park, the April 29, 1858, report of the Committee on Public Walks and Gardens made it clear that the design attributed to William Storm, of Cumberland and Storm, formed the basis of the public park. What remains unclear is how much of Storm’s plan represented proposed developments versus a record of what already existed. It is likely that architects Cumberland and Storm had been chosen to create the design rather than the landscape designer, Mundie, who had first designed the Botanical Garden and proposed a design for the university campus. At the time when university and city officials required a plan on which to base the public park, Mundie was in Hamilton suffering from an illness that would end his life. He died at 47 years of age on April 17, 1858.21

Though the boundary of Queen’s Park was officially set to the east of the Taddle Creek ravine, in the park’s early years the ravine and McCaul’s Pond — created by damming a segment of Taddle Creek in 1859 — truly formed the edge of the park, as there was no formal division between Queen’s Park and University Park at the park’s opening. However, the university began fencing off its grounds from Queen’s Park in the 1870s.22 By 1884, the stagnant waters of McCaul’s Pond and health concerns stemming from sewage seeping into Taddle Creek resulted in the drainage of the former and an underground channeling of the latter.23

When opened, Queen’s Park was located to the north of a city of some 40,000 people, but Toronto would soon grow to the park’s boundaries. Despite this, the picturesque park remained a natural refuge between 1860 and 1886. This was not only due to the city’s commitment to maintain the park, it was also a function of the fact that the University of Toronto controlled the development of most of the land immediately surrounding the public park. For example, by leasing lots for housing that faced onto the south and east edge of the park, the university helped create one of the most fashionable areas of Toronto.24

A public park

Queen’s Park was clearly a forerunner of the late 19th-century public park movement in North America. Parks that opened during this movement were to be retreats and open recreation space. Maintained by city officials, they were a means to improve the health of citizens living in otherwise crowded urban conditions. Beyond the fact that the city’s Committee on Public Walks and Gardens stated “health and enjoyment” in its 1858 report to council as a chief reason for approving the park proposal, there are later indications that residents of Toronto enjoyed Queen’s Park for recreation and refuge. In 1884, C. Pelham Mulvany described Toronto’s parks and public gardens as “The Lungs of the City” and declared, “The Queen’s Park is emphatically the people’s park of Toronto. It is the favourite resort of our city.”25

By the time of Mulvany’s writing, Queen’s Park had become a public park in many other ways. Not only was it a space for family picnics and recreation, but people also employed a Speakers’ Corner to speak their mind or preach the gospel. Orangemen used the park as a rendezvous on their annual parade day. In 1889, a bandshell was constructed where the statue of Edward VII stands today. The park also became a centre for public commemoration with the construction of numerous memorials and statues, the first being the Volunteer’s Memorial, unveiled in 1870 to honour those who fought in the Fenian Raids.26

Queen’s Park became public in an entirely new manner with the construction of a legislative building on 3.8 hectares (9.4 acres) of land, acquired through negotiations between the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto in 1880. Construction began in 1884, with dust and noise upsetting the tranquil park experience. In 1893, the official opening of the new legislative building, with its massive size and dramatic Romanesque Revival architecture, significantly altered the appearance and purpose of the park’s southern portion.27 Yet, even with this massive alteration to the park, C.S. Clark, a reporter for the Toronto Publishing Company, would claim five years later, “The Queen’s Park is essentially the best in the city, and the Queen Street drive is one of its conjunctive attractions.”28 In subsequent decades, further urban growth and the introduction of the automobile would change that drive into University Avenue, and traffic would increase on Queen’s Park Crescent as it connected what were becoming two major east-west arteries, College Street to its south and Bloor Street to its north.

At the time of writing, Queen’s Park remains a stately green space in the middle of Toronto’s downtown core. Its presence provides a fitting backdrop for the main Ontario legislative buildings29 and the many commemorative monuments and statues located throughout its grounds. These include an Ontario Veterans Memorial, the War Memorial of the 48th Highlanders and the Northwest Rebellion Memorial. The statues include portrayals of King George V; Sir John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada; John Sandfield Macdonald, the first Premier of Ontario; John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Ontario; George Brown, one of the Fathers of Confederation; Sir Oliver Mowat, the third Premier of Ontario; and Sir James Pliny Whitney, the sixth Premier of Ontario. An equestrian statue of King Edward VII stands in the northern section of the park. Queen’s Park is an impressive focal point for an important neighbourhood that contains many hospitals, government buildings and embassies, the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art.

On September 11, 1860, Queen’s Park was officially opened by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), during the first royal visit to what is now Canada.30 To mark the occasion, 500 trees were planted along College Street.31 During the Royal Tour of 2010, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled an Ontario provincial plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of Queen’s Park, Toronto.32

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Ross Fair, PhD, in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2010

1 The park was opened on September 11, 1860. Globe, September 12, 1860.

2 Eric Arthur, From Front Street to Queen’s Park (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979), 65-6. The purchase included parts of Park Lots 11, 12 and 13, from Mary Elmsley, the Hon. William Dummer Powell and D’Arcy Boulton respectively, for a total area of 67.2 hectares (166 acres). Along with these properties, two strips of land were purchased from Powell and the Hon. John B. Robinson along the property line between the more southerly portions of Lots 11 and 12. Combined, these two strips (20.1 by 1,026 metres each or 66 by 3,366 feet each) would form the Queen Street avenue (now University Avenue) leading north to the college property. Another strip of land, 20.1 metres (66 feet) wide, was purchased from Mary Elmsley to form an additional avenue leading west from Yonge Street to the college property (now College Street).

3 Adrian Marcus Phillip Emberley, “The Design and Use of Queen’s Park (Toronto) in the Nineteenth Century” (M.A. Thesis, York University, 1994), 7.

4 Architect, Frederick Passmore submitted these designs in 1854. Passmore, Frederick F, 1854, Plan of the Viceregal Park and other grounds in the City of Toronto, the property of the Provincial Government 1854: 1 map, Scale [ca. 1:4,356].

5 Emberley 11-12. Douglas Richardson, A Not Unsightly Building: University College and its History (Oakville, Mosaic Press for University College, 1990), 56; W.A. Langton, ed., Early Days in Upper Canada. Letters of John Langton from the Backwoods of Upper Canada and the Audit Office of the Province of Canada (Toronto: Macmillan, 1926), 282; William Dendy and William Kilbourn, Toronto Observed: Its Architecture, Patrons, and History (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986), 134. See Frederick Passmore “Plan of Vice-Regal Park, Toronto, 1854” in J.R. Wright, Urban Parks in Ontario (Toronto: Province of Ontario, Ministry of Tourism and Recreation, 1983), 59. The proposed buildings and garden are also represented in: Toronto Public Library, “Plan of Part of the City of Toronto Showing the Town Lots on Bellevue for Sale by the Trustees for The Denison Estate,” March 1854.

6 David Bain, “The Queen’s Park and its Avenues: Canada’s First Public Park” Ontario History 95:2 (2003): 213, note 17; Langton, 281; “Annual Reports and Financial Statements Relating to the University of Toronto and Upper Canada College, 1856” in J. George Hodgins ed., Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada from the passing of the Constitutional Act of 1791 to the close of the Reverend Doctor Ryerson’s administration of the Education Department in 1876, Volume 12 (Toronto: Education Department of Ontario, 1905), 290-1.

7 Emberley 8-9; Langton, 282; “Annual Reports and Financial Statements Relating to the University of Toronto and Upper Canada College, 1856” in Hodgins, ed. Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada, Volume 12 (Toronto: Education Department of Ontario, 1905), 290-1.

8 In 1849, King's College was secularized and the new University of Toronto emerged January 1, 1850. After less than two years, the provincial government introduced new legislation that created the University of Toronto as no more than an examining body. Its teaching would be conducted by a non-denominational University College and, as hoped by the new head of the government of the Province of Canada, Francis Hincks (1851-54), church-affiliated colleges as well. The act took effect in early 1853; therefore, the first Senate of the University of Toronto ceased to exist, and a new one was formed according to the school's new mandate. The Hincks government also acquired the eastern part of University Park for new government buildings in 1853. These complexities explain why a "University College" was the first building constructed by the University of Toronto later in the decade.

9 Emberley, 11; David Bain, “William Mundie, landscape gardener,” Journal of Garden History 5:3 (1985): 300; John P.M. Court, “An Erosion of Imagination: Unfulfilled Plans for a University Botanical Gardens and Taddle Creek, 1850 to 1884” Ontario History 95:2 (2003): 171, 175; “Report of the Agricultural Instructor on the Result of the First Year’s Culture of the New Normal School Grounds,” in Hodgins, ed., Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada, Volume 11 (Toronto: Education Department of Ontario, 1904), 21.

10 “Historical and other Facts Connected with the University of Toronto, and its New Home,” in Hodgins, ed., Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada, Volume 14 (Toronto: Education Department of Ontario, 1906), 36-7.

11 City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1081, Item 2082, “Report of Committee on Walks and Gardens, concerning an arrangement with the University of Toronto for the purpose of securing a park on the University grounds,” March 3, 1858.

12 The public park’s original boundaries are shown in red on Cumberland and Storm’s plan (attributed to William Storm). University of Toronto Archives, A1965-0001(20), “Campus Map of area bounded by College, St. George, Bloor and Surrey Place”, 1859; City of Toronto, Fonds 200, Series 1081, Item 2096, “Report of Committee on Walks and Gardens, concerning the proposed park in the university grounds,” April 29, 1858.

13 City of Toronto, Report of Committee on Walks and Gardens, April 29, 1858.

14 Bain, “William Mundie”, 300; Richardson, 54-56.

15 26 April and 28 June, 1858. City of Toronto, Fonds 200, Series 638, File 1, Committee on Public Walks and Gardens minute book, 1851-1859.

16 Bain, “The Queen’s Park”, 193. See “An Act to Authorize the Senate of the University of Toronto To Appropriate Certain Lands for the Purposes of a Park…,” 22nd Vic. Cap. CX, reprinted in Hodgins, ed., Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada, Volume 13 (Toronto: Education Department of Ontario, 1906), 249-50.

17 13 September 1858, City of Toronto, Fonds 200, Series 638, File 1, Committee on Public Walks and Gardens minute book, 1851-1859.

18 See multiple entries from 23 October 1858 to 8 November 1859, City of Toronto, Fonds 200, Series 638, File 1, Committee on Public Walks and Gardens minute book, 1851-1859.

19 Picturesque settings were a key component of Upper Canada’s cultural landscape at the time as they were suggestive of a romantic idealism to see the British rural countryside recreated in the colonies.

20 Emberly, 21-22.

21 Emberley, 23-6; Bain, “William Mundie”, 307; Richardson, 54.

22 Emberley, 34.

23 Court, 175-8.

24 Bain, “The Queen’s Park”, 202.

25 C. Pelham Mulvany, Toronto Past and Present: A Handbook of the City (Toronto: W.E. Caiger, Pub., 1884), 97, 98.

26 Emberley, 36-51; Bain, “The Queen’s Park,” 198-201.

27 Arthur, 67; Emberley, 59.

28 C.S. Clark, Of Toronto the Good: A Social Study; the queen city of Canada as it is (Montreal: The Toronto Publishing Co., 1898), 77.

29 An Ontario Provincial Plaque to commemorate the Queen’s Park main legislative building and the Ontario legislature was unveiled in 1956. It is located on the lawn to the south of the main legislative building, on Queen’s Park Crescent, Toronto.

30 During his two-month tour of Newfoundland, the Maritimes and the then-province of Canada (later Ontario and Québec), the Prince of Wales also opened the Victoria Bridge that linked the Island of Montréal and the south shore of the St Lawrence River, and laid the cornerstone for the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

31 Trees for Toronto: Cultural History of Queen’s Park. Collections and Research. The Royal Ontario Museum.

32 This was the Queen’s 22nd official visit to Canada. The Queen’s first formal visit was in 1957. During the 2010 nine-day tour (June 28 through July 6), she and Prince Philip visited Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo and Winnipeg.