Victoria Park, in the heart of Kitchener (formerly Berlin) is a 59 acre park, beautifully landscaped in the18th century Romantic Landscape style.
Today's Victoria Park lies within Joseph Schneider's original Lot 17 of the German Company Tract. But the land was there long before the American settlers came from Pennsylvania. The swamp was the dominating feature of the land which was a favourite wintering area for the Aboriginal people. The extended family of Tuhbenahneequay (Sarah Jones, 1780-1873) was the last band of the New Credit Mississauguas to winter in the area that would become Victoria Park. Even after Joseph Schneider purchased and settled on the land in 1807, Tuhbenahneequay still wintered near the swamp. A bronze plaque placed in the park commemorates the natives, providing a link between today’s Victoria Park, the Aboriginals and other natives who treasured the site long before the town existed.
In the 1890’s, as the town began to grow, the old Town Park was thought to have limited facilities and located too far out of town. As the Schneider land had remained undeveloped, it was available in 1894 when a new park was under consideration. Before Joseph Schneider’s youngest grandson Samuel Schneider died, he made 45 transfers of land from the original farm. In 1894, 260 rate-payors signed a petition asking the Town Council to adopt the province’s Public Parks Act and to buy some of the Schneider land and the Berlin Athletic Club grounds. By provincial law, this petition compelled council to put the matter to a public vote. When the vote was taken and the Park Act was approved, the citizens felt that the more than 2 to 1 yes vote also implied the approval for the land purchases. When the Park Act was approved, the Town Council needed to appoint six men to a Board of Park Management. This Board would oversee all of the town parks.
In the fall of 1894, H. J. Bowman, the town’s first engineer, prepared a site plan for the new park. Berlin architect, William Hartmuth, upgraded and prepared a more detailed plan. The Park Board contacted George Ricker, a well-known landscape engineer from Buffalo New York for further advice. Mr. Ricker travelled to Berlin and gave the plans his enthusiastic approval with added suggestions of keeping the old Town Park for agricultural exhibitions, acquiring land for a new park and to put in a lake with islands and bridges in the new park. Before the purchases could be completed the Park Board needed to have agreement amongst themselves, but the Board was split down the middle between fixing up the old Town Park or in favour of a new park. In November of 1894 the board agreed to buy the 5 acres of athletic grounds from The Berlin Athletic Association and keep discussions under way with Samuel Schneider for his 28 acres of land. A short time later, a deal was struck with Samuel Schneider and the park would finally became a reality.
With Schneider Creek running through the land, work needed to begin on the development of the park. Tons of earth had to be removed to create the lake and the three surrounding islands. On December 17, 1894 the boundaries of the park were from David to Heins Sts., the Grand Trunk Railway tracks to Schneider Ave. and Roland to David Sts.
The park remained unnamed until December 26, 1895 when the Park Board passed By-law #2 and honoured Her Majesty the Queen by naming the park “Victoria”. Within the park the large island was named “Roos Island” after William Roos and the smaller island was named “Swan”. The upper island was not named until 1910 when the official name became Schneider Island in honour of the original land owner, Joseph Schneider. Both Swan and Schneider islands are nature sanctuaries.
During the parks first winter a dilemma developed, should the lake ice be used for Berliners to skate and play hockey on or be cut and sold for cooling purposes? Both ice skating and ice cutting co-existed grudgingly for many decades. By the late 1920’s the ice cutting enterprise ended and with better developed ice flooding, scraping and clearing techniques, skating and hockey continued. Victoria Park had become the home of one of the best outdoor rinks in the area.
The erecting of buildings and bridges began in the spring of 1896. The 12 foot wide and 86 foot long main bridge to Roos Island was completed. A major refurbishing of the bridge was undertaken in the 1970’s, and the original manufacturer’s medallion can still be seen today. Also in 1896 a boathouse was erected along David St. In 1929 this boathouse was replaced as it was badly deteriorating. In February 1967, a fire consumed part of the roof and upper floors of the building. Renovations began in the spring of that year and further renovations were completed in the 1980’s and 1990’s to make the building accessible. In the center of Roos Island the bandstand was also erected in 1896. It was demolished in 1950 and replaced with a square wooden structure. In 1985 the second bandstand was demolished and a replica of the original bandstand was erected. The comfort station built in 1910, is the oldest original building still standing within the park. In the 1990’s in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the park, plans were under way to create a museum within the comfort station.
The grand opening of the park was to have been held on July 1, 1896 with the Governor-General in attendance. A schedule change prevented the Governor-General from attending and the grand opening took place on August 27, 1896.
In 1897 funds were raised to have a Peace Memorial made and installed in the park. The memorial featured a copper bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I. In 1914, three young men removed the bust of Kaiser Wilhelm from the memorial and the bust ended up in the lake. The bust was recovered from the lake and for the duration of the war it was to be stored in the Germanic Concordia Society’s clubhouse. A few years later the bust was stolen again. The bust has never been recovered and its disappearance has become one of the park mysteries. On loan to Berlin from the old Department of War were two bronze cannons. The cannons were placed on Roos Island in 1896. One cannon was moved and placed directly in front of the Queen Victoria statue in 1910. Technically these cannons are still on loan and could be recalled at any time. Berlin received two other cannons and they were placed at the Courtland Ave. entrance and later moved and set in concrete in the playground area.
After the park was named for Queen Victoria, people began to wonder why there was nothing within the park to honour her namesake. It took many years and many money raising events to raise sufficient funds for a statue to be commissioned. The statue of Queen Victoria was sculpted by Raffaele Zacaquini of Italy. The pedestal base was made by Braun’s Marble Works of Berlin. The base is comprised of 36 slabs of Stanstead granite cemented together and placed on a cement foundation. The die is a solid cube of granite weighing 8 tons and was cemented on the base with lead. On May 29, 1911, the ten foot statue on the 18 foot pedestal was unveiled.
The Victoria Park pavilion was built in the Grand Victorian style and opened on August 15, 1902. On March 24, 1916 an unknown arsonist set the structure on fire. Firefighters were able to save half of the structure, but the Park board decided against rebuilding at that time. So the entire structure was removed and it was not until 1924 when a new pavilion was erected and opened in August of that year. In 1938 the building under went renovations and more renovations were completed in1978 per fire regulations and accessibility guidelines.
The area between today’s south and west grounds is now the playground area of the park. In the early years the area held a deer run and was loosely named a “zoo”. The deer run was installed in the early 1900’s. The first animals were four deer that were bought from the Muskoka area and through donations other animals were added over time. The park received two bear cubs in 1913 and bears lived in the park until the 1940’s. By the 1970’s the other animals were gradually eliminated. Today the park is still home to many varieties of wildlife such as ducks, mallards, gulls, Canadian geese, and other animals.
The first sets of gates into the park were a double set made of limestone. These were installed at the Water St. entrance in 1908. The other entrance gates were built at the Schneider Ave. entrance in 1921 and at the Courtland Ave. entrance in 1924. Entrance gates at Dill and Richmond Sts. were also added. One set of the gates from Water St. were moved and installed at the Park St. entrance in the 1980’s. The Richmond St. gates were demolished in 1970.
The athletic grounds had been in existence since the 1880’s, long before the park existed. By the early 1910’s the athletic park area was a fully fenced in area within the park. There was a grandstand and bleachers and lights were later added for evening events. The baseball field stand and fences were removed in 1966 when a new stadium was built. The old athletic park area is now a large open space which is used for the many events that take place in the park. Also the area now holds the clock tower that was removed from the 1921 City Hall and was rebuilt in 1995 at the Gaukel St. entrance.
A house was built for the Park superintendent in 1917 from reclaimed wood from the burnt pavilion. Under the direction of the park superintendent the first park greenhouse was built. A second greenhouse was added in the 1930’s and a third greenhouse was built later. All of the plant materials for the park were grown in the three greenhouses. In the 1970’s the greenhouses were removed from the park and moved to other city facilities. The park contains many varieties of trees, some of which have been in the park for decades. There are also many bushes, ornamental grasses and the planting beds are changed twice a year, with the spring bulbs first and then the annual plantings. There is an English garden and Rose garden in the park.
Today, Victoria Park is bisected by a major road. This road was just a park driveway in the early years. Over the years several of the parks roadways have been closed to reduce car traffic through the park.
Unofficially from the earliest days, the park lake was used as a pool. Officially the first park public swimming pool was in 1921, when a hole was dug out at the upper end of the park and a floodgate was built into the bridge. The hole was lined with wood and then gravel. Unfortunately, for sanitary reasons the pool closed within 3 years. The still standing wading pool was built by the YMCA in 1952. Between the south and west grounds, a playground area was set up. In 1996-1997 a renewal of the playground was completed.
The fountain bridge that was built in 1965 connects Park St. to the other side of the park. The bubbling action of the fountain helps to aerate the water in the lake during the summer.
Today, Victoria Park continues to have children play; now using the playground equipment as well as people continuing to enjoy the quiet nature of the park. Skating no longer takes place on the lake, but a rink is now used for hockey and skating. After over 100 years, Victoria Park is still a thriving destination for residents and visitors.
The fonds consists of documents from the Board of Park Management, Parks and Recreation Commission and various documents from the Victoria Park 90th and 100the anniversaries. The fonds also consists of photographs, newspaper articles, maps and books.
1: Board of Park Management – 1894-1966. – 2 m of textual records, 12 cm photographs/maps/blueprints/plans.
This series contains minutes, correspondence, subject files, financial records, reports, Board and City by-laws, agendas, resolutions, plans, and photographs of the Board. Many of the documents reference Victoria Park.
An index is available in Appendix A.
2: Parks and Recreation Commission. – 1963-1973. – 1 m textual records.
This series consists of minutes, agendas, reports, City By-Laws, agreements, financial records, plans and scrapbooks with many documents referencing Victoria Park
An index is available in Appendix B.
3: Photographs/Audio. – 1991-1996.– 1m photographs.
This series consists primarily of photographs of Victoria Park, park buildings, bridges and park events.
An index is available in Appendix C.
4: 90th Anniversary. – 1986.-10cm textual records, 12 cm photographs.
This series is comprised of photographs, news releases of the anniversary.
An index is available in Appendix D.
5: 100th Anniversary.-Sept 13-19, 1993.-10 cm textual records, 10 cm photographs.
This series consists primarily of photographs and history and information of the anniversary.
An index is available in Appendix E.
6: Historical Documentation. – 1994 - 30 cm.
This series contains information from newspapers articles, scrap books, park events and history referencing Victoria Park.
An index is available in Appendix F.
7: Maps. – 1994 - 5 cm.
This series contains various maps of the park and one of the master plans.
An index is available in Appendix G.
Series 1: Board of Park Management
Title Date Box
Board of Park Management fonds 1893-1969 See: Board of Park Management fonds
Series 2: Parks and Recreation Commission
Title Date Box
Parks and Recreation Commission fonds 1963-1973 See: Parks and Recreation Commission
Series 3: Photographs/Audio
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Photographs of Events 1969-1972 1-2 10827
Photographs 1983-1994 2-1 10948
Photographs 1960’s 5-10 10937
Flooding and Bridges 1975-1988 5-20 10937
Bridge photograph 1993 5-21 10937
Photographs 1996 7-1 11723
Planting 1990-1993 7-2 11723
Photographs 2000 16-1 11176
Victoria Park Bridge (Christmas) 1990’s 17-1 11147
Photographs 1950’s 18-1 11146
Victoria Park Lake 1950’s 19-1 10925
Photo Album 1970’s 23-1 12284
Photo Album 1970’s 23-2 12284
Photo Album 1990’s 23-3 12284
Photo Album 1990’s 23-4 12284
Victoria Park Pavilion 1970’s 24-1 12289
Photo Album 1990’s 25-1 12290
Photo Album 1990’s 25-2 12290
Photographs 1963-2003 26-1 12119
Photographs 1971-1998 27-1 12118
Photographs 1994-2006 28-1 11912
Photographs 1974-1991 29-1 12120
Athletic Ground 1964 30-1 12458
Photographs 1993-2002 32-1 14314
Photographs 1996 33-1 13711
Video 1990’s 34-1 14544
Video 1998 35-1 14548
Photographs 1995-2004 36-1 13592
Series 4: 90th Anniversary
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Historical Information 1924 4-1 10940
Anniversary articles 1986 4-2 10940
Anniversary Program 1986 5-6 10937
Series 5: 100th Anniversary
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Historical Information 1897-1996 5-13 10937
Historical info and band shell photo 1993 5-14 10937
Anniversary advertising 1996 5-15 10937
Article of Future of Park 1996 5-16 10937
100th Anniversary Negatives 1996 10-1 10919
100th Anniversary Photos 1996 10-2 10919
100th Anniversary Photos 1996 11-1 10171
Anniversary Postcards 1996 20-1 10913
Series 6: Historical Documentation
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Historical Information 1895-1980 1-1 10827
Clock Tower 1995 3-1 10946
Clock Tower reconstruction 1983 3-2 10946
Historical Information 1989 5-1 10937
Park By-laws 1895 5-2 10937
Pictorial history of park 1989 5-3 10937
90th Anniversary information 1990 5-4 10937
Pump and Fountain 1983-1991 5-5 10937
Newspaper articles 1915-1996 5-7 10937
Calendars 2002-2003 58 10937
Park Lighting 1915-1996 5-9 10937
Historical Committee Report 1986-1994 5-11 10937
Victoria Park Historical Society report 1999 5-12 10937
Victoria Park Info 1977-1991 5-17 10937
Comfort Station floor plan 1999 5-18 10937
Articles on flooding and bridges 1975-1988 5-19 10937
Unveiling Queen Victoria statue 1910 5-22 10937
Boathouse articles 1975-1988 6-1 10932
Boathouse timeline 1975-1988 6-2 10932
Scrapbooks 1976-1995 8-1 10922
Scrapbooks 1973-1975 9-1 10920
Letter regarding restoration of 1896 Grand Opening poster 1992 12-1 10170
Grand Opening Posters 1896 13-1 12002
Air Force Memorial 1960’s 21-1 P1 cabinet
Dorothy Russell 2006 22-1 12418
Series 7: Maps
Title Date Volume/Item Box
Park Maps 1986 5-23 10937
Aerial Map of Victoria Park 1970 14-1 AM0006
Victoria Park Map 1960’s 15-1 CSM012
Victoria Park Master Plan 1973-1977 31-1 CH archives