Tag Archives: Victoria Memorial Square
A neighbourhood from the past looks to the future
Paula Kulig – Yourhome.ca
In Victoria Memorial Square, a park just west of Toronto’s downtown that was recently restored and revitalized, the Union Jack proudly flies. While the British flag might seem out of place in a modern, diverse city, it’s right at home in a park named in 1837 for Princess Victoria, heir apparent to the British crown.
The two-acre park — which contains a military burial ground that operated from 1794 to 1863, and is part of the Fort York National Historic Site — has become the focal point of Wellington Place, one of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods bounded by King St., Spadina Ave., Front St. and Bathurst St.
In the early years, there were signs that the city’s wealthy were interested in building their mansions in the area. But that stopped in the 1850s when railroad companies began to set up shop on land south of Front St., and industry and commerce moved in. Factories came to dominate the area and little housing was built. Over time, the park became rundown.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when the area’s transformation to a mixed-use neighbourhood began, that the long-neglected park was noticed and residents got to work convincing the city that its rejuvenation was necessary. A fundraising campaign began and a landscape architect was hired by the Wellington Place Neighbourhood Association to help make the residents’ vision a reality.
“Victoria Memorial Square will be an urban jewel, rescued from a wasteland of neglect and forgetfulness,” the late urban activist Jane Jacobs said in 2002. “It beautifully ties the city’s earliest roots into a living, caring, revitalized community. The whole city is made richer by this enlightened act of stewardship.”
The project took about seven years to complete, but the result is a place that both allows residents of the nearby midrise condos to soak up some sunshine on a park bench and honours the final resting place of those who came before.
A granite walkway through the grass marks off the cemetery’s borders, while at the park’s eastern end at Portland St., 17 original gravestones have been installed as part of a “memorial wall.” Keeping watch over the square is “The Old Soldier,” a bronze statue created by renowned sculptor Walter Allward and unveiled in 1907 as a monument to the War of 1812.
Although history is everywhere in the area, time has marched on, and today the factories are home to a different kind of industry — such as advertising, architecture and other creative endeavours — while some have been turned into housing. At the same time, other condominium developments have been built from scratch, and the activity shows no signs of slowing down.
According to Urbanation, which tracks Toronto’s condo market, 14 condo projects with 1,279 units have been built in Wellington Place in at least the past decade, while 11 projects with 1,710 suites are currently either being marketed or under construction. A further six developments with 1,483 units are at the proposal stage.
With its proximity to downtown office towers and all forms of entertainment — from theatre and sports to nightclubs and restaurants — there was a likelihood that, if left unchecked, highrise condos would take over the historic neighbourhood. But that hasn’t happened, in large part due to the efforts of the neighbourhood association.
The association formed in 1999, just after the first residential building went up in the area since the 1880s — a six-storey condo at 20 Niagara St. that overlooks Victoria Memorial Square. It’s worked with the city to try to ensure that new development fits with the area’s character and that buildings don’t go beyond the mid-rise level.
The association has also set its sights on remaking Wellington St. between Portland and Spadina. It envisions what it calls the Wellington Street Linear Park, with ample green space on either side of the street, which has an unusually wide 40-metre right-of-way. The city has accepted the idea.
As more condos were built and residents moved in, amenities that go with urban living have been added to the community and just beyond its borders. All kinds of stores and services are within walking distance on King and Queen Sts., including a new Loblaws grocery store at Queen and Portland that’s due to open next month.
Undisturbed by the flurry of activity is Draper St., which runs from Wellington to Front, just east of Portland. The narrow street, which has been designated a Heritage Conservation District, holds enchanting semi-detached cottages and row houses built in the 1880s, many for labourers working for the railroads.
Just west of Draper, running south from Front, a pedestrian bridge is being built that will span the railroad tracks and connect the neighbourhood to Toronto’s waterfront. The bridge is expected to be completed by 2012, providing a link to this historically important corner of the city that continues to remake itself.
Contact the Jeffrey Team for more information – 416-388-1960
Laurin & Natalie Jeffrey are Toronto Realtors with Century 21 Regal Realty.
They did not write these articles, they just reproduce them here for people
who are interested in Toronto real estate. They do not work for any builders.
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