Signs pop up near Fort York, warning dog owners of shallow graves

by Ieva Lucs, CBC News

The museum manager wants to alert residents to the 19th Century burial ground beneath their feet

fort york signsSigns around Strachan Avenue are warning dog walkers not to let their dogs dig in the 155-year-old military cemetery beneath their feet.

If you've been walking through the Strachan Avenue park recently, just west of Fort York National Historic Site, you may have noticed some curious signs popping up.

"Please don't let your dogs dig in this cemetery," they read. "Burials are often shallow."

The notices were put up by staff at the museum to alert dog owners to what is beneath their feet — approximately 200 graves dating back 155 years. To the far west side of a large area known as the Garrison Common, down between the railway to the north and the Gardiner Expressway to the south, is the Strachan Avenue Military Burying Ground.

strachan avenue military burying groundA view of the memorial area in the Strachan Avenue Military Burial Ground. (Greg Ross/CBC)

Soldiers and their wives and children were laid to rest in that area from 1862 to 1911. There are only records for 97 of the people buried in the cemetery. Most of the burials took place before the British army relinquished the garrison to the Canadian military in 1870. There may also be the remains of American soldiers who fell during the Battle of York in 1813. And lately, David O'Hara, the museum's manager, has noticed holes being dug in the cemetery ground, sometimes a foot deep. The culprits are presumably local dogs.

"We're not your typical park," O'Hara told CBC Toronto. "The entire central part of the Common is like the rest of Fort York — a registered archaeological site."

fort york burial groundA view of the memorial area in the Strachan Avenue Military Burial Ground. (Greg Ross/CBC)

O'Hara says many people have moved to the area over the last few years, and more are coming, which could cause problems for a sensitive area like the 155-year-old cemetery.

A new pedestrian bridge, called Garrison Crossing, will cross the train tracks to the north to make it easier for foot traffic to move from Trinity Bellwoods Park and the Common. As well, the highly anticipated Bentway project is set to open this winter, not to mention all the new condos going up in the area.

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"There's thousands of new units going up around the fort," O'Hara told CBC Toronto. "A space that wasn't heavily used in the past is becoming increasingly used by all sorts of residents for walking their dogs and using it as a central part of the park system down here."

But he says they've been preparing for the influx of residents for quite some time. O'Hara says the fort welcomes new visitors to use the Garrison Common and Strachan cemetery as a thoroughfare. But, he says, they should also treat it with care.

"We want to move people through the space," said O'Hara. "And we want them to feel a sense of ownership when it comes to the fort."

'Service, sacrifice and commitment'

Warrant Officer Glenn Miller, retired after 25 years with the Royal Canadian Artillery, is a registered speaker for The Memory Project, which is an organization that brings schools and community groups together with veterans who volunteer to speak at events.

glenn millerWarrant Officer Glenn Miller. (Submitted)

He says it's important for people to appreciate the fact that the military cemetery is so close to where they live.

"The country has been built on military participation throughout our history," Miller told CBC Toronto. "It's important that people know and understand the contribution that veterans have made, and to respect their service, sacrifice and commitment in helping to build their particular neighbourhood."

Fort York will hold a Remembrance Day ceremony at the memorial that stands on the cemetery site. Miller says people walking through the site that day, or any other, should keep those soldiers buried below in mind as they pass through the park.

"For many Canadians, they've never had the worry of having someone else's tank drive down their neighbourhood," said Miller. "We are fortunate to enjoy that freedom ... at a cost that's quite cheap compared to other countries."

Marc Lescoutre, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada, spoke to CBC Toronto about the issue.

"We would remind Canadians that these are special places, and ask them to remain respectful when visiting monuments war memorial and other sacred landmarks," said Lescoutre.

Ancient Human-Powered Transportation Coming to The Bentway

by Kasia Gladki

the bentway ice rink constructionCurrently pipes for making ice are being installed to create a skating trail for The Bentway under the Gardiner and in front of the Fort York Visitor Centre. Credit: Sean GalbraithIf you’ve been to the fort recently, you will have seen perimeter fencing, trailers, cement pourers, and other construction machinery. This is the foundation of what will become The Bentway and is the work of The Bentway’s construction manager, Peter Keiwit Sons ULC—who are on site every weekday, with over 130 skilled labourers and more than 50 subcontractors, turning our vision into a reality.

There are many things happening on the site each and every day. Substantial excavation work has already taken place and more than 1420 metres of utility piping has been installed, which is the equivalent of ten football fields. Above and below ground electrical conduits are in place that will power lighting fixtures throughout the site. The roof deck of the Gardiner has actually helped to keep things on track, offering a shelter from the wet weather.

With winter skate season coming up, we are especially excited to see the fantastic progress on the skate trail and icehouse. Ice skating has been called the oldest human-powered means of transportation; skate artefacts have been found in Scandinavia and Russia going back 5000 years. Our skating trail is a bit more modern than that. The 220-metre skating trail uses a refrigeration system: 13,746 metres of embedded piping, which is connected to the refrigeration system in the skating shed, carries coolant throughout the trail. When activated the coolant travels through the pipes to take the heat from the surface and distribute it to the refrigeration equipment. This means that ice production is less weather-dependant and visitors will be able to enjoy the trail throughout the winter. The foundation and walls of the icehouse are underway and surface concrete for the trail is being poured right now. If all goes well, we’ll be skating this December!

For more construction updates and to learn about upcoming events and opportunities please sign up for our email newsletter. You can visit our website at or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to subscribe.

Kasia Gladki is manager of communications, The Bentway Conservancy.

Managers Report (Summer 2017)

by David O’Hara, Site Manager

After kicking off the first half of 2017 with an extremely busy calendar of events and programs, including Vimy 100 Toronto, the Indigenous Arts Festival, and much more, we moved into our lively summer season. Throughout the summer we hosted many third-party events, including the Rose Picnic, All Day I Dream of Sunshine Divine music festival, CitySTRONG, Vegan Fest, the closing gala for the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education and more.

Our own events included a celebration of Caribbean steel pan music featuring GTA youth steel bands and the award winning ensembles Pan Fantasy and Afropan performing outdoors on Garrison Common. Held on August 6 as a lead-up to Simcoe Day, this was presented in partnership with the Pan Arts Network and The Bentway, with funding from Canadian Heritage as part of our Canada 150 TO Canada with Love program. On Simcoe Day itself, the Guards from Fort George National Historic Site and Old Fort Erie joined the Fort York Guard in our annual event.

Although Fort York was to host the Change of Command for Canadian Army's 32 Brigade in July, the event unfortunately had to be moved indoors to the Fort York Armoury due to bad weather. Another event of note was a reception hosted earlier in the summer (June 24) at the Fort York Visitor Centre by Mayor Tory for the Toronto Consular Corps Association of Toronto. Guests enjoyed visiting Fort York and the opportunity to hear remarks from both Mayor Tory and Chief Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

In addition to our own Canada Day programming, we were also very pleased to be able to partner with our neighbours at City Place, Concord Adex, on an event and a ten-day pop-up exhibit at their Canada Place presentation centre from June 30 to July 10. This was part of an ongoing partnership which began in 2015, when Concord Adex arranged for a buried 19th-century schooner to be lifted from lakefill and moved to Fort York. The exhibit enabled Museums and Heritage Services to display small archaeological finds related to the vessel, along with a scale model commissioned by Concord Adex and subsequently donated to Fort York. As part of the Canada Place development, Concord Adex has commissioned Canadian author and artist Douglas Coupland to complete a public art installation for the site.

forf york guard at fort erie 2017ComThe Fort York Guard participated in exercises at Fort Erie in mid-August. This picture provides evidence that ‘the fog of war’ is more than a figure of speech. Photo courtesy of Virginia HurleyThe Fort York Guard performed their last day of music and black powder demonstrations on August 28. The recreated Grenadier Company of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry and the Corps of Drums had both a busy and successful summer. The three major heritage presentations (Simcoe Day at Fort York NHS, The Siege of Fort Erie at Old Fort Erie, and The Soldiers' Field Day and Drums Muster Weekend at Fort George) were all great successes. The Fort York Guard also co-operated to a greater degree this season with the military animation staffs from Fort George, Fort Malden, and Fort Erie. A huge thank you to all who participated in the 'Guard Committee'—advising and working with the Guard throughout the year.
Moving into September, the OneWalk to Conquer Cancer saw over 3000 move through Fort York as part of a fundraising event for Princess Margaret Hospital. Sofar Sounds Toronto popped up at the Visitor Centre with a surprise performance by artists Torero, Luyos MC, and T. Dot Bangerz Brass. Sofar Sounds operates in 371 cities worldwide bringing small, intimate concerts to unique and unusual locales. This event was presented jointly by Fort York and The Bentway.

The highlight of our September calendar, which was also part of the City's TO Canada with Love program, was our On Common Ground Festival. Working with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, 39 new citizens were sworn in on the afternoon of September 15 to launch a weekend full of programming. A huge thank you to the ICC's Fort York Volunteer Committee, and Nancy Fung in particular, for all of their efforts in bringing these wonderful ceremonies to Fort York.

On Common Ground also featured the world premiere of Miigis by Red Sky Performance. Melding contemporary Indigenous dance and live music, Miigis explores the catalysts, trade routes, and stories of a journey from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes, and the seven prophecies marked by Miigis. The production was made possible by the federal government's Canada 150 funding and was developed on site at Fort York over the summer. It was an honour and a pleasure for us at Fort York to be able to assist in bringing this wonderful production to life—congratulations to Sandra Laronde and everyone at Red Sky Performance.

On Common Ground Festival Reaffirmation CeremoniesJill Patterson (Canada 150 Project Manager, City of Toronto) and Don Cranston (Chair of the Friends of Fort York and Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry) flank Kim Wheatley (Anishinaabe Cultural Consultant) at the reaffirmation ceremonies that were part of the On Common Ground Festival. Photo courtesy of David O’HaraOn Common Ground also included two citizenship reaffirmation ceremonies that were presided over by Satish Kanwar, vice president of product at Shopify, and Don Cranston, chair of The Friends of Fort York and Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry. Other programming included live music performances by NEFE, Pan Fantasy, The Monkey Bunch, Tich Meredza & Ruben Esguerra, Baque de Bama, Amadou Kienou, Ritmo Flamenco, and T. DotBangerz Brass.

Congratulations to our acting supervisor of special events, Kristine Williamson, and the entire team involved in making On Common Ground such a success. As quoted in the media release by Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, "Activities like the On Common Ground festival, organized as part of Canada 150 and TO Canada with Love, provide exciting activities for the whole family to engage with the rich cultural diversity that is at the heart of who we are as Canadians.”

September came to a close with the Invictus Games; details can be found in the lead article by Bruce Kidd in this same issue. We're also hoping everyone comes down to see the "Vimy Foundation's First World War in Colour" (, a unique and innovative project colourizing 150 images from the First World War. The exhibit will be on display in the Visitor Centre until the end of October.

On the construction front, an update on The Bentway is located on page 10, and information on Garrison Crossing is available at 2017 Garrison Crossing Update.html

The Bentway Update (Spring 2017)

by Julian Sleath

fort york bentway constructionLooking east from the Fort York Visitor Centre. Harry ChoiOver the last couple of months I have been delighted to get to know the project better and to build relationships with our good friends at Fort York and others in the neighbourhood. I have also been busy building The Bentway team and would like to welcome David Carey as director of development and Ilana Altman as director of programming. It is wonderful to see the progress that has been made—we are all excited to turn this wonderful vision into reality.

Construction work is well underway. More than 50% of the earth moving is complete and later this month we will begin construction of our two main building structures—Strachan Gate, our main performance space, adjacent to Strachan Bridge, and the Skating Shed, which will house the skate trail operations, adjacent to the Fort York Visitor Centre. The contract to build the skate trail has been awarded and we are working hard to make sure that construction is on track for our projected opening for the 2017-2018 winter season.

We are excited to share the news that we have been given access to the north section of the car park at 800 Fleet, which we will turn into a green amphitheatre. A number of city departments came together to make this happen and we are immensely grateful to them all. This is a fantastic addition to the range of facilities at The Bentway and a great opportunity for additional outdoor programming.

We are also delighted that “WATERTABLE”, the public artwork by Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak, will be reinstalled in the fall of this year. The original installation—in 2009—provided a new way to look at the underside of the Gardiner Expressway and helped catalyse the thinking behind The Bentway. It inspires us to look at spaces that have traditionally been overlooked from a new perspective. This is our aim at The Bentway and we are very happy to see this work come to life again.

I’d like to encourage you to come and see us in our temporary offices at the Fort York Visitor Centre or reach out to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And please sign up for our email newsletter to get updates on opportunities and events.

Julian Sleath was appointed CEO at The Bentway effective 27 March 2017.