Visiting Moss Park, Toronto, Ontario, adjacent to Moss Park Armoury: recalling some historical associations

Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Moss Park, Toronto, Ontario
Moss Park, Toronto, Ontario | Source
Moss Park, Toronto, Ontario
Moss Park, Toronto, Ontario | Source
View of Toronto Armouries ("covered in frost") from University Avenue. Toronto, Canada, 1911
View of Toronto Armouries ("covered in frost") from University Avenue. Toronto, Canada, 1911 | Source
 Allen estate 'Moss Park' on Sherbourne, west side Toronto, Ontario, in 1889
Allen estate 'Moss Park' on Sherbourne, west side Toronto, Ontario, in 1889 | Source
William George Allen, 1888
William George Allen, 1888 | Source

Below the surface, the weight of the past

Moss Park is somewhat of an oasis of greenery close to Toronto's Downtown, lying adjacent to Moss Park Armoury at 130 Queen Street East.

The proximity of Moss Park to Toronto's Downtown — particularly the Financial District — means that at night particularly impressive views of the illuminated cityscape may be obtained from the Park: I have included (right) a photo which illustrates this.

The Park extends to 3.4 hectares.

The Park's name is instructive in various ways: not only does the Park give its name to the Federal Armoury / Manège militaire facility situated close by, it also the name by which a surrounding Toronto neighbourhood is known. The main photo (above) shows Moss Park with the Armoury / Manège militaire seen through the trees in the distance. This building replaced the former Toronto Armouries which were situated on University Avenue (demolished); I have also supplied a photo (right) depicting this former facility.

Historically, the name Moss Park also goes back to the thus named residence of prominent Torontonian Senator George William Allen (1822-1901). I have included (right) a view, dating from 1889 of this former residence on Sherbourne Street. George William Allen was very influential in the affairs of Toronto and Canada, serving as Speaker of the Canadian Senate, and Mayor of Toronto. He was a barrister and banker, who travelled widely, and was identified closely with railroad advocacy, and served also as President of the Upper Canada Bible Society. He was a son of Scottish-born William Allen (1777-1853), who served as first postmaster of York, Ontario (later renamed Toronto) and who became a distinguished merchant. William Allen began work on a Greek Revival residence in 1827, labours which continued over the next decades.

The name 'Moss Park', given to the Allen family residence, was on account of the prevalence of moss in its vicinity! The Allen Estate was eventually acquired by the City of Toronto, and partly broken up for development; the Moss Park residence was demolished.

Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, 1945
Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, 1945 | Source

Recalling also a now vanished former burial ground

Interestingly, close to the southern edge of the Allen Estate, south of Queen Street East, near Sherbourne Street, a former cemetery existed, known as Duchess Street Burial Ground. Burials are thought to have occurred here from 1797 and the last evidence of burial there seems to have been recorded in 1841. Remains from this burial ground were exhumed in 1911 and reinterred at Toronto's Necropolis.

Among those interred at Duchess Street Burial Ground, and later reburied, are known to have been three of the children of Toronto's reforming Mayor William Lyon Mackenzie King (1795-1861). It is noteworthy that on the death of Canada's longest-serving Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950)(1) arrangements had been made for Mr King to be buried at Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery, rather than at any of the places where he had variously lived for many years: Kitchener, Ottawa, Chelsea (Québec), etc. For Mr King, a lifelong bachelor, with a restricted family and social circle, retirement from public office in 1948 proved at a personal level to be a challenging experience. It may be said that in chosing to be buried in Toronto, he was returning to the city where his Mackenzie forebears had lived and were buried. The existence of this little, former Duchess Street Burial Ground close to the southern edge of the former Allen Estate in what is now Moss Park, was almost forgotten until recently (2), though presumably not forgotten by Mr. King.

July 10, 2013

Notes

(1) William Lyon Mackenzie King's years of Prime Ministerial office were 1921-1926, 1926-1930 and 1935-1948.

(2) For further details, see an article by Jane E. MacNamara, http://torontofamilyhistory.org/simcoesgentry/archives/836

Map location of Moss Park, Toronto
Map location of Moss Park, Toronto | Source

Also worth seeing

In Downtown Toronto itself, its many visitor attractions include: Old City Hall, Fort York, Osgoode Hall, Campbell House, the CN Tower, the Ontario Legislative Assembly Building at Queen's Park, Union Station, and many others.

...

How to get there: Porter Airlines, flies to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, and has wide North American connections. Car rental is available at Union Station. Air Canada flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available, but visitors to Downtown Toronto will find many sights to be easily walkable. TTC Streetcars 501 and 502 pass 103 Queen Street East. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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