The People’s park
Queen’s Park, Toronto, was officially opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in September 1860, and was a forerunner of the late-19thcentury public park movement in North America.
Parks created at this time were meant to provide people with respite from crowded urban conditions. Toronto’s Committee on Public Walks and Gardens gave “health and enjoyment” as its chief reason for approving the Queen’s Park proposal. Later, in 1884, historian C. Pelham Mulvany described Toronto’s parks and public gardens as “The Lungs of the City” and Queen’s Park as “… the people’s park of Toronto. It is the favourite resort of our city.”
The land now occupied by Queen’s Park was purchased by King’s College in 1829. The southern portion had been cleared for farming, but stands of white pine, maple, elm and oak trees populated the northern section. Taddle Creek ravine bisected the park from north to south, and the property was known as University or College Park.
In 1853, the Province of the United Canadas expropriated the eastern portion of University Park with a plan to construct new legislative buildings there, in anticipation of Toronto becoming the provincial capital once again. Although the province was unable to afford the new construction, it continued to hold the land.
In 1856, the University of Toronto senate was authorized to construct buildings on the western section of University Park. Negotiations began in 1857 between the city and the senate for the creation of a public park on the eastern section, and the architectural firm Cumberland & Storm was authorized to prepare a park plan. The city and the university committed that the lands would be “guaranteed as [a] public park forever.”
Queen’s Park followed a “picturesque” design, popular in Upper Canada at the time because of its romantic, idealized depiction of the British countryside. In Queen’s Park, the existing natural varieties of trees were left in clumps or placed along pathways. Beyond the construction of pathways and some garden beds, the parkland was left in a natural state. Visitors entered through two gated, tree-lined avenues, one leading west from what today is College Street and the other leading north from present-day University Avenue. At the opening ceremony in September 1860, the Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone for a statue of Queen Victoria that was eventually installed in 1871. Five hundred trees were planted along College Street to mark the occasion.
Originally, Queen’s Park was northwest of the city, but Toronto soon grew to the park’s boundaries and beyond. Despite this, the park remained a natural refuge, due to the city’s commitment to maintaining it and the university’s control over development of most of the surrounding land. Today, Queen’s Park remains a stately green space in Toronto’s core, and provides a fitting backdrop for Ontario’s legislative buildings and the monuments and statues located on the grounds.
During the Royal Tour of 2010, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a provincial plaque commemorating the 150th anniversary of Queen’s Park, Toronto.