On May 22, 1939, a car carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth rolled slowly down the roadway through this park. Lining each side of the road were 123 maple trees, each representing a Toronto school, each held steady by a veteran of the First World War. Beside each vet stood a child ready to place a shovel full of soil onto each tree’s roots as the royal couple passed by.
That both King George and veterans were involved in this rolling ceremony was no coincidence. To the south of the road is Coronation Park, a memorial created in honour of both George VI’s coronation and Canadian veterans. On May 12, 1937—Coronation Day—nearly 150 trees were planted along curving pathways (now obscured) in another mass planting ceremony.
In the centre of the park still stands the royal oak planted in honour of King George VI. Around it are maple trees planted to symbolize the strength of the Empire and of the Canadians who defended it during the First World War. Beyond that circle, other trees were planted to represent the four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and its units. Additional trees represent those who fought in the Fenian raids (1866-1870), the North-West Rebellion (1885) and the Boer War (1899-1902). At one time, brass plaques were placed at the foot of each tree to indicate the units the tree stood for; few remain.
The park's military history includes HMCS York, which established its headquarters on the eastern edge of the park in the 1940s. And in the 1990s, a new Second World War memorial was unveiled in the park, not far from King George VI’s royal oak.
By Gary Miedema