Monday, 5 August 2013

Monday Moanings - August 5, 2013

No moaning today - a summer holiday Monday is upon us!

Time for a little history:

John Graves Simcoe
from a painting by
George Theodore Berthon 
The August Civic Holiday, the first Monday in August, is known in these parts as Simcoe Day in tribute to the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (largely what is now the province of Ontario), John Graves Simcoe (1752 - 1806). A British Army officer and member of the Queen's Rangers, his tenure as lieutenant governor lasted just five years, (1791 - 1996) but in that time he racked up an admirable number of achievements. English through and through, Simcoe set about to uphold the supremacy of just about all things British, which on the whole was not a bad thing. He introduced English Common Law, trial by jury, the Court of Queen's Bench, and free hold land tenure. His adamant opposition to slavery shone through with legislation that banned the purchase and importation of slaves in 1793. By 1810 there were no slaves in Upper Canada, a full twenty-four years before slavery was officially abolished in the whole of British Empire (1834). Well done John!

Simcoe was also charged with the responsibility of establishing a capital, a seat of government and justice in the province. He stopped only briefly in Kingston, already a hub of trade and industry and headed further west to Niagara (Butlersburg) which he quickly renamed Newark and we now know as Niagara on the Lake. The first few sessions of the legislature were held there, but of course the area was way too vulnerable to attack from the Americans so Simcoe set his sights even further southwest to a location at the forks of  the La Tranche River, a river he renamed The Thames (I mentioned this guy was English, right?), near where London, Ontario is today. Unfortunately Simcoe's boss, Guy Carleton was unimpressed and strongly suggested (in the army that means 'ordered'), that Simcoe take a look at some land to the east, between two rivers (the Humber and the Don) that boasted a great harbour. There was already a small garrison there, Fort Toronto. So in August 1793, Simcoe upped sticks and moved east, renamed the garrison Fort York and the surrounding settlement, York (I told you he was English!). Forty-one years later the citizens of York successfully petitioned the government to have the name changed back to Toronto (1834). The Simcoe family seemed to have liked the place even though it claimed their daughter Katherine in the Spring of 1794. She's buried in the shadow of the King West condos, somewhere underneath Victoria Square. John, his wife Elizabeth Gwillim and son Francis built a summer home, Castle Frank, on the west side of the Don River.

In July of 1796 the family sailed out of York on the Onondaga bound for England. Simcoe left behind a tidy little community of one storey frame buildings, the beginnings of a great north-south street, Yonge Street and an east-west route, Dundas Street.

Today I celebrate the great city of my birth, the little hamlet that grew, Toronto. Thank you John Graves Simcoe for being a good soldier and following orders!

My Toronto is:

The Flat Iron Building

The Toronto Labyrinth
The Distillery District


ROM Rotunda ceiling mosaic (Murano glass)

The Royal Winter Fair
New Year's Day Espresso at Hot House Cafe, Front Street

And so much more.

Thank you to Rick McGinnis for much of the history. Toronto photos ©April Hoeller

1 comment:

  1. ...aaand in our part of the country, we have intimate knowledge of the names of Lady Simcoe's wee dogs. The 3 townships, in the County of Simcoe, that i am familiar with are TAY, FLOS and my home township....TINY.
    thanks for the lesson :)