Get to know the heart of Downtown London!

Whether you’ve gone to one of the many festivals, or walked past the illuminated evergreen trees in the winter, you’ve likely experienced London’s beloved Victoria Park. The 18-acre park is a downtown London gem for its various events and lush green space.

Below is a timeline of the park’s history if you’d like to learn more about how Victoria Park came to be.

Special thanks in advance to the folks at the London Public Library‘s London Room. Their London Free Press Archives collection helped with plenty of research for this article.

1835-1874: Pre-Victoria Park Days

The downtown landmark served a few different purposes before it first became a park. The book “Fragments From the Forks: London, Ontario’s Legacy” by Daniel J. Brock mentions other roles the park took.

The British Garrison and Cricket grounds occupied the site during the Upper Canada Rebellion from 1835 to 1850.

Between 1854 and 1859, an integrated school called the Colonial Church Society School used the land that eventually became Victoria Park.

The park’s southern portion, then called Cricket Square, hosted the first Forest City Baseball Club game on August 23, 1867.

1874-1950: Victoria Park develops

The green space officially became Victoria Park in 1874, named after Queen Victoria. When needed, the park was used for military purposes.

After that, several of the monuments were placed in the park, beginning with the three cannons used in the Crimean War. In 1912, the Boer War Memorial Statue was built.

Following Victoria Park’s first ice rink in 1913, Londoners took up ice skating every winter.

In 1914, the infamous black Eastern Gray Squirrels were brought over.

A Cenotaph replica was built in 1934, and the Sherman “Holy Roller” tank, used in the Second World War, was presented in 1950 before its arrival in 1956. The first bandshell was built in 1950.

The Holy Roller Tank at Victoria Park in London, Ontario
The Sherman tank is one of the many monuments around Victoria Park.

It’s hard to imagine the park without the monuments or the squirrels. Each add their own unique touch to our downtown oasis.

1958: A start of a winter tradition

The Lighting of the Lights, part of Winter Wonderland, warmly welcomes the holiday season and makes winter a little bit brighter. Walking through the park with all of the illuminated trees makes the holidays even more magical.

A black and white photograph of a bandshell mural designed for Winter Wonderland in Victoria Park in London, Ontario. There is a picture of a horse and sleigh carrying two people during a winter night. Two bells, a striped ribbon, and Christmas Star are in the top right corner of the mural. There is a sign in front of the church that says "On the way home from a country church on Christmas Eve in Latvia" and "Seasons Greetings to each and everyone of you, London Latvians
The 1958 Winter Wonderland in Victoria Park. The London Free Press Collection of Photographic Negatives, Archives and Special Collections, Western University [Dec 5 1958]
According to the book “Fragments From the Forks,” the illuminating tradition began on December 5 1958.

1973-1990: More Victoria Park traditions begin

What would Victoria Park be without its summer festivals? The bustling, music-filled season brings plenty of culture and community to the city’s core.

Musicians play at the Home County Music and Art Festival as the crowd watches in Victoria Park in London, Ontario.
Home County is the oldest running festival in Victoria Park

Known as the oldest running festival in London, the Home County Music and Art Festival was first organized in 1973. A year later, Valdy, Dixie Flyers, and Willy P. Bennet performed at the festival.

Stop by Home County for a relaxing and creativity filled weekend, whether that includes finding a new art piece or sitting in the park listening to music.

Along with great music, the festivals feature lots of tasty dining options.

London’s annual Rib-Fest first fed Londoners in 1985 during the Civic Holiday Weekend. The festival’s menu has expanded to include craft beer and even vegan burgers.

1990-2012: New bandshell, new memorial, and new beginnings

In 1990, Victoria Park got a revamped bandshell. The bandshell serves plenty of events throughout the year, from community runs to movie nights to New Year’s Eve.

In 1994, the park placed a memorial monument for those who lost their lives in the École Polytechnique Massacre, which happened in Montreal on December 6, 1989.

Also in 1994, the park hosted the first Sunfest. The annual event embodies everything about festival season with plenty of music, dancing, and sunshine.

Pride London festivities also bring cheer to the park, and have been since 2012. Previous venues for the Pride London Festival include the parking lot of the John Labatt Centre, now called Budweiser Gardens and the Western Fair District.

People marching through the 2018 Pride Parade in London, Ontario.
A little rain didn’t stop the fun at the Pride London Parade in 2018!

Don’t forget to watch the Histories of London: Parks and Festivals Mini-Documentary.

If you have any memories of Victoria Park, please share them in the comments section!

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