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Fort York Heritage Conservation District

100, Garrison Road, Toronto, Ontario, M5V, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1985/05/21

Western entrance to the Fort; David Spittal, Fort York Collection
Western Gates, Fort York, 2005
Aerial view, looking to the west.; City of Toronto
Fort York, ca. 2003/04
Western entrance to the Fort; Becker Colln, City of Toronto Archives
Western Gates, Fort York, ca. 1900

Other Name(s)

Old Fort York
Historic Fort York
Fort York National Historic Site of Canada
Fort York Heritage Conservation District

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1793/01/01 to 1934/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/09/14

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Established in 1793 with the founding of York (Toronto), Fort York Heritage Conservation District (the Fort) is a large cultural landscape. It is located in downtown Toronto and is comprised of a perimeter system of early 19th century military defences, a number of historic military structures and buildings and open space outside of the Fort walls formerly comprising a portion of the garrison common reserve and fields of fire (glacis). Sited on a strategic triangle of land originally hemmed in by Lake Ontario to the south and Garrison Creek on the east and north, the modern landscape has changed radically since the Fort’s founding.

Toronto City Council listed Fort York on the inaugural City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties in June 1973, and in 1985 the entire Fort York precinct was designated as a heritage conservation district. The district boundaries were expanded in 2004 to include more of the surrounding landscape and the Fort York Armoury, located outside the Fort walls. The district is bounded to the north by the Canadian National Railway lines, to the east by Bathurst Street, to the south by Fort York Boulevard and Fleet Street and to the west by Strachan Avenue, although portions of the district extend past Strachan Avenue and Bathhurst Street on the east and west.

The district, together with the nearby Victoria Memorial Park, has also been recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada as a National Historic Site.

Historic Fort York is owned and operated as a museum by the City of Toronto.

Heritage Value

Fort York Heritage Conservation District (the Fort) is of heritage value due to its association with many local, national and international events, including the birth of Toronto, which occurred when York was designated as the provincial capital and a garrison was established at the present site of the Fort.

It was the most important military and harbour defence in the Toronto area for over 90 years, and is associated with the Old Northwest Frontier Crisis (1787-96) and the Mississauga Crisis (1796-8). The Fort was the site of two major military actions during the war of 1812 and is of international significance as a relatively undisturbed historic battlefield and cemetery. The destruction of Government House, built at the Fort as the centre of executive authority in the province, and the sacking of York led to the retaliatory raid on Washington, the sacking of the U.S. Capital and the burning of the Whitehouse.

The Fort is associated with a number of significant historical organizations and persons from this period, including the Queens Rangers (constructed Fort), Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe (founded York, built Fort), Elizabeth Simcoe, Major General Isaac Brock (improved fortifications), American Brigadier General Zebulon Pike (killed at Battle of York), Col Roger Sheaffe (commander of Fort at Battle of York), Bishop John Strachan and the British military engineer Lt. Colonel Ralph Bruyeres (rebuilt Fort).

In the years that followed, the Fort was strengthened at times of crisis, such as in 1838 following the civil unrest, during the Fenian Raids and during the Anglo-American tensions of the 1860s. In later years, it was an enlistment site for recruits during the Boer War and WWI. The architecturally significant Fort York Armoury, built outside the Fort walls by Marani, Lawson & Morris in 1933, is associated with several Canadian military regiments who saw active service during 20th century conflicts, including the Queens York Rangers, the Toronto Scottish Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Canada.

Beyond its military significance the Fort is of value due to its association with the development of Toronto. The presence of the Garrison at the Fort in the 19th century played a significant economic and cultural role in the City and, due in part to its location, the Fort had a significant effect on the coming of the railways in the 1850s, lake-filling, and on the nature and location of industry and waterfront development. In the 1930s, it became the site of a government sponsored make work capital project typical in Canada during the Great Depression.

The Fort is also of value because of its association with the beginnings of the preservation movement in Toronto and beyond. In 1889 the City requested that the federal government convey to it the Old Fort so that it might be preserved and maintained on account of its association with the City’s early history. In 1907 local heritage associations and citizen groups fought to prevent the construction of streetcar lines through the Fort. The Fort was transferred to the City in 1909 and became the only major urban fortification in Canada to be transferred to a municipality. It was restored (1932/34) as the city’s bicentennial project, opening in 1934 as the earliest municipally operated military heritage attraction in Canada. In 1959 the Fort was saved from destruction when the Gardiner Expressway was re-routed, in the process becoming a rallying point for the preservation movement and an impetus for the founding of the Toronto Historical Board. Numerous heritage organizations and advocates have been affiliated with the Fort, now the oldest surviving collection of buildings in the City, and it possesses a symbolic position in the history of preservation and history of museums in Ontario and Canada.

Sources: City of Toronto Fort York HCD Study Report; By-laws 420-85/541-2004

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements of the Fort York Heritage Conservation District that reflect its heritage values include:
-its setting, adjacent to Garrison Creek and the former shoreline of Lake Ontario
-its continued contextual relationship with the City’s changing urban landscape
-the open space and landscape elements inside and outside the walls of the Fort, including the earthwork defences
-the topography, including remnants of the Garrison Creek Ravine system
-associated archaeological resources inside and outside of the fort walls
-the early 18th century military buildings with the walls of the Fort, which include Block House No. 1 (1813), Block House No. 2 (1813), the East Magazine (1814), the Stone Powder Magazine (1815), the Blue Barracks (1814); reconstructed in 1932 and 2000), the Brick Officers' Quarters and Mess Establishment (1815), the North Soldiers’ Barracks (1814) and the South Soldiers’ Barracks (1814)
-the stone walls, built during the Fort’s reconstruction in 1932-34
-the Garrison Road
-the Strachan Avenue Military Cemetery
-the Fort York Armoury (1933)

Recognition

Jurisdiction

Ontario

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (ON)

Recognition Statute

Ontario Heritage Act

Recognition Type

Heritage Conservation District (Part V)

Recognition Date

1985/05/21

Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1909/01/01 to 1909/01/01
1793/01/01 to 1793/01/01
1934/01/01 to 1934/01/01
1959/01/01 to 1959/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Governing Canada
Military and Defence

Function - Category and Type

Current

Leisure
Museum
Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure

Historic

Defence
Military Defence Installation
Government
Diplomatic Building

Architect / Designer

n/a

Builder

n/a

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Fort York Resource Centre, Fort York, Museums & Heritage Services, City of Toronto; Heritage Preservation Services, Urban Development Services, City of Toronto

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fort York (collection of 10,000+ period, replica and archaeological artifacts)

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier

HPON05-0528

Status

Published

Related Places

n/a

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