Ep. 32: The Grounds of Queen's Park


Thursday, June 6, 2024

14 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament! 


David: Guess what Erin?


Erin: What, David?


David: No, you have to actually guess.


Erin: Well, what am I trying to guess? Do I get any hints?


David: Hmm I suppose I can give you a hint. What’s your favourite part of every episode?


Erin: The fun fact count?


David: Not quite… It’s at the beginning instead of the end.


Erin: Oh, you mean my amazing games?


David: Exactly! Well, I thought I would turn the tables this month and challenge you to a round of true or false to see how you like being on the other side!


Erin: Ooh wonderful! I love trivia games! 


David: … of course you do…


Erin: Oh, go on then. Hit me with some tricky true or false! 


David: I thought you’d be more scared. So, I guess I’ll have to make it extra tricky for you!


Erin: Bring it on David! 


David: Here we go. True or false: the White Trillium is a favourite food of the white-tailed deer.


Erin: Hmm you know, I think I’m going to have to go with true on this one mostly because I know that trilliums like to grow in shady forests and that’s where deer live too so I’ll go with true! 


David: You would be correct! 


Erin: Hurray! My first victory!


David: Don’t get too excited yet. I have a couple more tries to stump you.


Erin: I’m ready David! 


David: Okay. The average height of an Eastern White Pine Tree is about 20 metres or approximately 65 feet: true or false?


Erin: I don’t think that sounds tall enough. So, I’m going to have to say false on that one David.


David: Correct again Erin!


Erin: Yes! Crushed it.


David: You certainly did. Ready for the last and trickiest question?


Erin: You know it, David! 


David: Alright. True or false: you can eat the small red berries that come from the hackberry tree.


Erin: I think you finally stumped me, David. I have no idea what a hackberry tree is!


David: Yes! I’ve done it! Now you know how it feels! 


Erin: I guess I do…


David: So, if you had to take a guess, what would it be?


Erin: I think I’m going to say it’s false. You should not eat the berries.


David: Victory is mine! It’s actually true!!


Erin: Well at least you’re not being a sore winner about this whole experience…


David: Haha! I win! 


Erin: You certainly do David! Although your game gave me a great idea for the episode today! 


David: That was sort of the point Erin.


Erin: I know, but still. Great game.


David: Why thank you.


Erin: Today we thought it would be neat to take a walk, as it were, outside of the building we spend so much time talking about. And learn all about the grounds of Queen’s Park. 


David: Exactly Erin. Why is the building where it is today? What makes this site so special? 


Erin: Hold your horses, David. We’ll get to all of that. But let’s start at the very beginning. Before the building was even an idea.


David: After the ice age, many lakes and rivers crisscrossed what we now call Canada and Ontario. In particular, the area of what is now Toronto was home to many creeks and rivers that flowed into the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Ontario.


Erin: Because of these water sources, there was an abundance of wildlife and eventually people that called the area home.


David: About 5,000 years ago, small bands of related families began to settle in familiar hunting territories. These Indigenous communities generally divided their time between a spring and summer settlement and a fall and winter settlement. 


Erin: The spring and summer settlements were usually located near rivers to take advantage of spawning fish. While the fall and winter settlements tended to be smaller camps in the forest where they could harvest plants and nuts and hunt.


David: The area just adjacent to Queen’s Park is home to Taddle Creek, a river that flows down to Lake Ontario and that was the site of a summer settlement for many Indigenous groups. 


Erin: Not only were these summer settlements used for fishing, but they were also important for canoe routes and trade. Trade not only between the various groups but eventually with the Europeans who arrived in the area too.


David: After the highly disputed Toronto Purchase [also known as Treaty 13], when the Mississaugas ceded the area around what is now Toronto to the British Crown, the British established the town of York in 1793. It was later designated the capital of Upper Canada. Today, we know York as the city of Toronto.


Erin: As the city continued to grow, Taddle Creek started to get in the way of building new streets and houses. As a result, it was eventually buried underground.


David: Taddle Creek was in fact buried in stages. Beginning in the east as early as 1860 and finishing in the west by 1886. Fun fact: If you walk along Philosopher’s Walk at the University of Toronto, you are walking directly above a large section of the still-buried Taddle Creek.


Erin: Today, the river still runs underneath the city of Toronto although no real portion is visible above-ground anymore.


David: But Taddle Creek still plays an important part in our story today, even if we can’t see it.


Erin: You’re right David. The riverbed and earlier movement of glaciers during the ice age created a natural rise in the land right where our Legislative Building now sits. 


David: In fact, the site of the building was chosen because of this natural feature in the landscape. It was thought that the slight rise would be the perfect spot to help maximize natural light, while simultaneously having the advantage of making the building look taller. 


Erin: Not only that, but the close proximity to the creek meant that the ground was also very rich in nutrients and the perfect place for a park or green space inside the growing city of Toronto. Fun fact: Queen’s Park was the first municipally operated park to be created in British North America.


David: It was on a rainy day in September 1860 when Edward, the Prince of Wales at the time, laid the foundation stone of a future monument to his mother, Queen Victoria, and officially opened Queen’s Park in her name for the first time.


Erin: Before that, the park, and the access points to it had been acquired by King’s College – now the University of Toronto - during the 1820s. These access roads, today known as College Street and University Avenue, were meant to be private rights of way to the future college site. That meant that the people of 19th century Toronto could only access the area through gated entrances that would close at night, blocking public access.


David: With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century along the lakeshore, green spaces started to become scarcer. Especially with the city continuing to grow at a more rapid pace. That meant that the college lands became a popular spot for people to escape to nature to ride their horse, go for a carriage ride or take a stroll. There were even cricket grounds and a racecourse nearby that only added to the popularity of the area.


Erin: The area that became Queen’s Park was especially beautiful thanks to some landscaping that had been done to prepare the site for the college. As a result, it was home to beautiful trees and plants, and eventually, another popular feature - a beautiful cast-iron fountain. Fun fact: the fountain was made by the J.H. Bartlett Company, located on Colborne Street in Toronto, and cost $560 at the time.


David: Installed in the 1870s and located at the south entrance to the park, the fountain featured four cascading scalloped tiers. Seemingly held up by swans or another similarly majestic bird, it truly was a sight to behold especially with the two canons flanking it on either side. Fun fact: the canons were gifts from Queen Victoria to the city following the Crimean War.


Erin: While there seems to be relatively little planning in the original layout of the park, it has been remarked by historians that Queen’s Park developed its own unique character as the people’s park. 


David: Not only that, but with the placement of the canons, Queen’s Park also started to become one of the city’s main locations for memorials and monuments. A tradition that continues to this day. 


Erin: There had been a plan during the mid-1850s to add even more landscaping to the park and to create a formal botanical garden just a bit northwest of the current Parliament Buildings. Although that plan seems to have been abandoned over time, especially with the growth of the University of Toronto.


David: Speaking of gardens, the natural landscape did end up helping to ensure that the land of Queen’s Park was an optimum place to continue to plant them, if not formal botanical gardens, then more modern specialized ones.


Erin: Like the native species garden that we see today for example. This garden located on the south lawn of the Parliament Building, is home to different trees, flowers and shrubs that are all native to Ontario. 


David: Among some of the plantings found there are the hackberry tree, eastern white cedars, and native perennial flowers.


Erin: Ha! The hackberry tree! Just like in your game!


David: Exactly right Erin. The hackberry tree is native to southern Ontario and Quebec and reaches all the way down to South Carolina in the United States. It’s a fast-growing tree that can withstand smog and other urban conditions very well. Sometimes it is confused with an elm or sugarberry tree.


Erin: The things you learn David! 


David: I’m happy to help Erin.


Erin: Well, another garden that is currently found on our grounds contains a plant that I’m a little more familiar with: the white trillium.


David: Too true Erin. This garden is home to a few white trilliums, a wildflower that blooms in late April and early May in woodlots throughout the province.


Erin: Fun fact: the white trillium is also Ontario’s official floral emblem, officially adopted in 1937. It was recommended by a special committee of botanists to the Ontario Horticultural Association.


David: The trillium has three distinct leaves and petals and should not be picked due to its delicate root system.


Erin: You know David, there’s another of Ontario’s official symbols in front of the building too.


David: You’re right Erin. In 1984, the Eastern White Pine became the official tree of Ontario, and we have a few of them planted on the front lawn in Queen’s Park as well. Fun fact: One of the trees was actually planted by Queen Elizabeth II during a royal visit in 1984.


Erin: Found throughout the province, the Eastern White Pine was an important source of income and trade during Ontario’s early days and represents the province’s vast forests. It’s known as the Tree of Great Peace by the Haudenosaunee people. 


David: Did you know that these trees are the tallest in Ontario and can live over 250 years?


Erin: They are pretty impressive David. I’ve seen my fair share of them in more northern parts of the province too where they look even more majestic next to a lake or river.


David: I couldn’t agree more Erin.


Erin: Now, not all of the trees and gardens on the grounds are that old. In fact, as recently as the early 2000s, there have been some notable additions to our grounds. 


David: You’re right Erin. A monument dedicated to recognizing Ontario’s Veterans was installed in 2006. It is made up of a granite wall which features scenes from Canada’s military history along with a red maple tree just behind it. 


Erin: The annual falling of its bright red leaves in autumn symbolizes the sacrifices of those who served, and continue to serve, in the Canadian Armed Forces.


David: Other memorial plaques and commemorative gardens dot the grounds as well, like a collection of gardens on the west side dedicated to commemorating the various jubilees of the late Queen Elizabeth II.


Erin: Other more recent additions to the grounds have become a major attraction here at the building especially in recent years.


David: I believe you’re talking about the Sakura trees Erin.


Erin: You’re right David! 


David: The three flowering Sakura [or cherry blossom] trees at Queen's Park were a gift from the Japanese Consulate in Toronto. They were planted on June 1, 2005, and are a symbol of friendship and goodwill between Ontario and Japan.


Erin: Although there are many varieties of Sakura trees, the ones that we have at Queen’s Park are Yoshino Cherry trees. That means that the blossoms have five petals and are almost white with just a touch of pink.


David: Typically, Sakura trees begin to bloom in April or May and are often heralded as one of the first signs that spring is on its way.


Erin: I love the Sakura trees that we have at Queen’s Park. They’re always such a welcome sight in the spring to let you know that summer is right around the corner!


David: I agree Erin. And apparently, so do the hundreds of people who come to take in the sight of the blossoms and continue to gather on the grounds of Queen’s Park, even today.


Erin: You know David, I think that’s probably a perfect place to end today’s episode. With hope for the future and really beautiful flowers.


David: I agree Erin. 


Erin: And I even remembered today about the fun fact count!


David: Maybe I should quiz you more often then if it’s going to lead to more enjoyable episodes like today’s!


Erin: Never say never David! But getting back to the fun fact count, I’m pretty sure that today our count was a grand total of 6 fun facts! 


David: Not too shabby at all.


Erin: Agreed. And thanks for listening to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament. But we’ve got to go. I think I hear the bells.


David: Until next time! I think I’m going to go for a stroll…


Erin: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing. For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter and Instagram@onparleducation. Et en français : @parloneducation. Thanks again and see you next time.