Description of Historic Place
Victoria Park is bounded by Central Avenue, Clarence Street, Dufferin Avenue and Wellington Street in the downtown area of the City of London. Established in 1878, the property consists of 62,500 square metres of landscaped park. The area contains archaeological evidence which indicated that there was a British military occupation between 1838 and 1869.
The property was designated by the City of London, in 1999, for its heritage value, under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law L.S.P.-3311-283).
Victoria Park has two layers of historical occupation. Originally a site used by the British Military in the nineteenth century after which it became a civic park. It contains significant historical archaeological resources, the potential for pre-contact archaeological resources and continues to serve as an important public gathering place for Londoners.
Based on an isolated artifact find, together with the natural topography, the proximity to the Carling Creek and River and the presence of pine stands to the east of the park, the site may have once had prehistoric aboriginal occupation. However, the earliest historical occupation of Victoria Park was by the British military, beginning in 1838. British military occupation consisted of framed infantry barracks and associated support buildings. The site of the barracks, which burned down in approximately 1869, is the largest and best preserved historic archaeological site in the City of London, covering the northern two-thirds of the park. The barracks formed an integral part of the British Military Reserve that was established in London following the Rebellion of 1837. It also served as a refugee camp for escaped slaves from the United States in the 1850s.
Following the dissolution of the barracks in 1874, the City came into possession of the land and in 1878, William Saunders, a successful local citizen and agronomist, presented City Council with plans for the park. The park was designed by American landscape architect, Charles H. Miller. Miller gained prominence in the late 19th century as the chief gardener for the Bureau of Horticulture, for the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, in Philadelphia. He is also noted for preparing the landscape and site plan for the Ontario Agriculture College, in Guelph, in 1882. The original design for Victoria Park was reminiscent of English parkland with drives, tree lined walks, fountains, floral areas and a bandstand, of which there are limited remains.
Several monuments have become an integral part of the park, including the Boer War Soldiers Monument, which was added in 1912, to a location near three Crimean War cannons, donated by Sir John Carling. On its southeast corner, The Cenotaph, the focus of the annual Remembrance Day Service, is a replica of the one designed by Sir Edward Luytens at Whitehall. Other military monuments include the “Holy Roller” tank, commemorating the First Hussars Regiment's role in the Normandy Campaign, of World War II, and the Veterans Memorial Garden and Carillon, donated by the Dutch Canadian community, in 2006, in recognition of Canada's war effort for the liberation of Holland, in WWII. The London Women's Movement Memorial was placed in the park, in 1994. In 1950 a bandshell was built, and subsequently rebuilt, in 1989, and hosts many community events, throughout the year.
Victoria Park is one of the City's most celebrated designed landscapes from the 19th century. Over the course of its history as a park, it has been utilized as a pleasure ground, a venue for horticultural and artistic expression, a recreational facility and a civic space for special events.
Sources: City of London, By-law L.S.P.-3311-283; Victoria Park Inventory and Condition Report: Historic and Contemporary.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of Victoria Park include its:
- archaeological remains of the Framed Infantry Barracks
- entrance gates displaying the name “Victoria Park”
- potential archaeological deposits, both historic and prehistoric
- remaining elements of the English parkland layout, including drives, tree lined walks, fountains, floral areas and bandstand
- 1912 Boer War Soldiers Monument
- 1934 Cenotaph;
- three military cannons
- Holly Roller Tank
- Veterans Memorial Gardens and Carillon
- London Women's Movement Memorial
- bandshell with viewing space in front
- bronze interpretive plaque detailing the British Military Garrison