History of Toronto Queen Street From George Street To Yonge Street
--MEMORIES OF THE OLD COURT HOUSE.
When we pass George S...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1793-99
The first formal survey of the harbour of Toronto was made ...
From Berkeley Street To The Bridge And Across It
We now propose to pass rapidly down "the road to Quebec" as...
King Street From Yonge Street To Church Street
Where Yonge Street crosses King Street, forming at the pres...
From The Garrison Back To The Place Of Beginning
We now enter again the modern Fort; passing back through th...
King Street: St James' Church Continued
At the southern end of the Church, in which we are supposin...
King Street: St James' Church
The first Church of St. James, at York, was a plain structu...
King Street: St James' Church Continued
It is beginning, perhaps, to be thought preposterous that w...
King Street From Church Street To George Street
We were arrested in our progress on King Street by St. Jame...
King Street: Digression Southwards At Church Street: Market Lane
Across Church Street from Clinkunbroomer's were the wooden ...
King Street From George Street To Caroline Street
We now retrace our steps to King Street, at its intersectio...
The Harbour Its Marine 1800-1814
On the 15th of May, 1800, Governor Hunter arrives again in ...
From Brock Street To The Old French Fort
Returning again to the front. The portion of the Common tha...
Queen Street From Brock Street And Spadina Avenue To The Humber
Immediately after the grounds and property of Mr. Dunn, on ...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1815-1827
Soon after the close of the war with the United States in 1...
Yonge Street From Hogg's Hollow To Bond's Lake
Beyond the hollow, Mr. Humberstone's was passed on the west...
Queen Street From The Don Bridge To Caroline Street
We return once more to the Don Bridge; and from that point ...
Yonge Street From Yorkville To Hogg's Hollow
Of long standing is the group of buildings on the right aft...
Queen Street Digression At Caroline Street History Of The Early Press
A little to the south of Britain Street, between it and Duc...
In 1869, the survivors of the early occupants of York, Uppe...
Front Street From The Market Place To Brock Street
The corner we approach after passing the Market Square, was occupied by
an inn with a sign-board sustained on a high post inserted at the outer
edge of the foot-path, in country roadside fashion. This was Hamilton's,
or the White Swan. It was here, we believe, or in an adjoining house,
that a travelling citizen of the United States, in possession of a
collection of stuffed birds and similar objects, endeavoured at an early
period to establish a kind of Natural History Museum. To the collection
here was once rashly added figures, in wax, of General Jackson and some
other United States notabilities, all in grand costume. Several of these
were one night abstracted from the Museum by some over-patriotic youths,
and suspended by the neck from the limbs of one of the large trees that
over-looked the harbour.
Just beyond was the Steamboat Hotel, long known as Ulick Howard's,
remarkable for the spirited delineation of a steam-packet of vast
dimensions, extending the whole length of the building, just over the
upper verandah of the hotel. In 1828, Mr. Howard is offering to let his
hotel, in the following terms:--"Steamboat Hotel, York, U. C.--The
proprietor of this elegant establishment, now unrivalled in this part of
the country, being desirous of retiring from Public Business, on account
of ill-health in his family, will let the same for a term of years to be
agreed on, either with or without the furniture. The Establishment is
now too well-known to require comment. N. B. Security will be required
for the payment of the Rent, and the fulfilment of the contract in every
respect. Apply to the subscriber on the premises. U. Howard, York, Oct
A little further on was the Ontario House, a hotel built in a style
common then at the Falls of Niagara and in the United States. A row of
lofty pillars, well-grown pines in fact, stripped and smoothly planed,
reached from the ground to the eaves, and supported two tiers of
galleries, which, running behind the columns, did not interrupt their
Close by the Ontario House, Market Street from the west entered Front
Street at an acute angle. In the gore between the two streets, a
building sprang up, which, in conforming to its site, assumed the shape
of a coffin. The foot of this ominous structure was the office where
travellers booked themselves for various parts in the stages that from
time to time started from York. It took four days to reach Niagara in
1816. We are informed by a contemporary advertisement now before us,
that "on the 20th of September next , a stage will commence
running between York and Niagara: it will leave York every Monday, and
arrive at Niagara on Thursday; and leave Queenston every Friday. The
baggage is to be considered at the risk of the owner, and the fare to be
paid in advance." In 1824, the mails were conveyed the same distance,
via Ancaster, in three days. In a post-office advertisement for
tenders, signed "William Allan, P. M.," we have the statement: "The
mails are made up here [York] on the afternoon of Monday and Thursday,
and must be delivered at Niagara on the Wednesday and Saturday
following; and within the same period in returning." In 1835, Mr.
William Weller was the proprietor of a line of stages between Toronto
and Hamilton, known as the "Telegraph Line." In an advertisement before
us, he engages to take passengers "through by daylight, on the Lake
Road, during the winter season."
Communication with England was at this period a tedious process. So late
as 1836, Mrs. Jameson thus writes in her Journal at Toronto (i. 182):
"It is now seven weeks since the date of the last letters from my dear
far-distant home. The Archdeacon," she adds, "told me, by way of
comfort, that when he came to settle in this country, there was only one
mail-post from England in the course of a whole year, and it was called,
as if in mockery, the Express." To this "Express" we have a reference in
a post-office advertisement to be seen in a Quebec Gazette of 1792: "A
mail for the Upper Countries, comprehending Niagara and Detroit, will be
closed," it says, "at this office, on Monday, the 30th inst., at 4
o'clock in the evening, to be forwarded from Montreal by the annual
winter Express, on Thursday, the 3rd of Feb. next." From the same paper
we learn that on the 10th of November, the latest date from Philadelphia
and New York was Oct. 8th: also, that a weekly conveyance had lately
been established between Montreal and Burlington, Vermont. In the
Gazette of Jan. 13, 1808, we have the following: "For the information
of the Public.--York, 12th Jan., 1808.--The first mail from Lower Canada
is arrived, and letters are ready to be delivered by W. Allan,
Compare all this with advertisements in Toronto daily papers now, from
agencies in the town, of "Through Lines" weekly, to California,
Vancouver's, China and Japan, connecting with Lines to Australia and New
On the beach below the Steamboat Hotel was, at a late period, a market
for the sale of fish. It was from this spot that Bartlett, in his
"Canadian Scenery," made one of the sketches intended to convey to the
English eye an impression of the town. In the foreground are groups of
conventional, and altogether too picturesque, fishwives and squaws: in
the distance is the junction of Hospital Street and Front Street, with
the tapering building between. On the right are the galleries of what
had been the Steamboat Hotel; it here bears another name.
Bartlett's second sketch is from the end of a long wharf or jetty to the
west. The large building in front, with a covered passage through it for
vehicles, is the warehouse or freight depot of Mr. William Cooper, long
the owner of this favourite landing place. Westwards, the pillared front
of the Ontario house is to be seen. Both of these views already look
quaint, and possess a value as preserving a shadow of much that no
Where Mr. Cooper's Wharf joined the shore there was a ship-building
yard. We have a recollection of a launch that strangely took place here
on a Sunday. An attempt to get the ship into the water on the preceding
day had failed. Delay would have occasioned an awkward settling of the
ponderous mass. We shall have occasion hereafter to speak of the early
shipping of the harbour.
The lot extending northward from the Ontario House corner to King street
was the property of Attorney-General Macdonell, who, while in attendance
on General Brock as Provincial aide-de-camp, was slain in the engagement
on Queenston Heights. His death created the vacancy to which, at an
unusually early age, succeeded Mr. John Beverley Robinson, afterwards
the distinguished Chief Justice of Upper Canada. Mr. Macdonell's remains
are deposited with those of his military chief under the column on
Queenston Heights. He bequeathed the property to which our attention has
been directed, to a youthful nephew, Mr. James Macdonell, on certain
conditions, one of which was that he should be educated in the tenets of
the Anglican Church, notwithstanding the Roman Catholic persuasion of
the rest of the family.
The track for wheels that here descended to the water's edge from the
north, Church Street subsequently, was long considered a road remote
from the business part of the town, like the road leading southward from
Charing-cross, as shewn in Ralph Aggas' early map of London. A row of
frame buildings on its eastern side, in the direction of King Street,
perched high on cedar posts over excavations generally filled with
water, remained in an unfinished state until the whole began to be out
of the perpendicular and to become gray with the action of the weather.
It was evidently a premature undertaking; the folly of an over-sanguine
speculator. Yonge street beyond, where it approached the shore of the
harbour, was unfrequented. In spring and autumn it was a notorious
slough. In 1830, a small sum would have purchased any of the building
lots on either side of Yonge Street, between Front Street and Market
Between Church Street and Yonge Street, now, we pass a short street
uniting Front Street with Wellington Street. Like Salisbury, Cecil,
Craven and other short but famous streets off the Strand, it retains the
name of the distinguished person whose property it traversed in the
first instance. It is called Scott Street, from Chief Justice Thomas
Scott, whose residence and grounds were here.
Mr. Scott was one of the venerable group of early personages of whom we
shall have occasion to speak. He was a man of fine culture, and is
spoken of affectionately by those who knew him. His stature was below
the average. A heavy, overhanging forehead intensified the thoughtful
expression of his countenance, which belonged to the class suggested by
the current portraits of the United States jurist, Kent. We sometimes,
to this day, fall in with books from his library, bearing his familiar
Mr. Scott was the first chairman and president of the "Loyal and
Patriotic Society of Upper Canada," organized at York in 1812. His name
consequently appears often in the Report of that Association, printed by
William Gray in Montreal in 1817. The objects of the Society were "to
afford relief and aid to disabled militiamen and their families: to
reward merit, excite emulation, and commemorate glorious exploits, by
bestowing medals and other honorary marks of public approbation and
distinction for extraordinary instances of personal courage and fidelity
in defence of the Province." The preface to the Report mentions that
"the sister-colony of Nova Scotia, excited by the barbarous
conflagration of the town of Newark and the devastation on that
frontier, had, by a legislative act, contributed largely to the relief
of this Province."
In an appeal to the British public, signed by Chief Justice Scott, it is
stated that "the subscription of the town of York amounted in a few days
to eight hundred and seventy-five pounds five shillings, Provincial
currency, dollars at five shillings each, to be paid annually during the
war; and that at Kingston to upwards of four hundred pounds."
Medals were struck in London by order of the Loyal and Patriotic Society
of Upper Canada; but they were never distributed. The difficulty of
deciding who were to receive them was found to be too great. They were
defaced and broken up in York, with such rigour that not a solitary
specimen is known to exist. Rumours of one lurking somewhere, continue
to this day, to tantalize local numismatists. What became of the bullion
of which they were composed used to be one of the favourite vexed
questions among the old people of York. Its value doubtless was added to
the surplus that remained of the funds of the Society, which, after the
year 1817, were devoted to benevolent objects. To the building fund of
the York General Hospital, we believe, a considerable donation was made.
The medal, we are told, was two and one-half inches in diameter. On the
obverse, within a wreath of laurel, were the words "FOR MERIT." On this
side was also the legend: "PRESENTED BY A GRATEFUL COUNTRY." On the
reverse was the following elaborate device: A strait between two lakes:
on the North side a beaver (emblem of peaceful industry), the ancient
cognizance of Canada: in the background an English Lion slumbering. On
the South side of the Strait, the American eagle planing in the air, as
if checked from seizing the Beaver by the presence of the Lion. Legend
on this side: "UPPER CANADA PRESERVED."
Scott Street conducts to the site, on the north side of Hospital Street,
westward of the home of Mr. James Baby, and, eastward, to that of Mr.
Peter Macdougall, two notable citizens of York.
A notice of Mr. Baby occurs in Sibbald's Canadian Magazine for March,
1833. The following is an extract: "James Baby was born at Detroit in
1762. His family was one of the most ancient in the colony; and it was
noble. His father had removed from Lower Canada to the neighbourhood of
Detroit before the conquest of Quebec, where, in addition to the
cultivation of lands, he was connected with the fur-trade, at that time,
and for many years after, the great staple of the country. James was
educated at the Roman Catholic Seminary of Quebec, and returned to the
paternal roof soon after the peace of 1783. The family had ever been
distinguished (and indeed all the higher French families) for their
adherence to the British crown; and to this, more than to any other
cause, are we to attribute the conduct of the Province of Quebec during
the American War. Being a great favourite with his father, James was
permitted to make an excursion to Europe, before engaging steadily in
business; and after spending some time, especially in England, rejoined
his family. * * * There was a primitive simplicity in Mr. Baby's
character, which, added to his polished manners and benignity of
disposition, threw a moral beauty around him which is very seldom
In the history of the Indian chief Pontiac, who, in 1763, aimed at
extirpating the English, the name of Mr. Baby's father repeatedly
occurs. The Canadian habitans of the neighbourhood of Detroit, being
of French origin, were unmolested by the Indians; but a rumour had
reached the great Ottawa chief, while the memorable siege of Detroit was
in progress, that the Canadians had accepted a bribe from the English to
induce them to attack the Indians. "Pontiac," we read in Parkman's
History, p. 227, "had been an old friend of Baby; and one evening, at an
early period of the siege, he entered his house, and, seating himself by
the fire, looked for some time steadily at the embers. At length,
raising his head, he said he had heard that the English had offered the
Canadian a bushel of silver for the scalp of his friend. Baby declared
that the story was false, and protested that he never would betray him.
Pontiac for a moment keenly studied his features. 'My brother has
spoken the truth,' he said, 'and I will show that I believe him.' He
remained in the house through the evening, and, at its close, wrapped
himself in his blanket and lay down upon a bench, where he slept in full
confidence till morning." Note that the name Baby is to be pronounced
Mr. Macdougall was a gentleman of Scottish descent, but, like his
compatriots in the neighbourhood of Murray Bay, so thoroughly
Lower-Canadianized as to be imperfectly acquainted with the English
language to the last. He was a successful merchant of the town of York,
and filled a place in the old local conversational talk, in which he was
sometimes spoken of as "Wholesale, Retail, Pete McDoug,"--an expression
adopted by himself on some occasion. He is said once to have been much
perplexed by the item "ditto" occurring in a bill of lading furnished of
goods under way; he could not remember having given orders for any such
article. He was a shrewd business man. An impression prevailed in
certain quarters that his profits were now and then extravagant. While
he was living at Niagara, some burglars from Youngstown broke into his
warehouse; and after helping themselves to whatever they pleased, they
left a written memorandum accounting for their not having taken with
them certain other articles: it was "because they were marked too high."
That he was accustomed to affix a somewhat arbitrary value to his
merchandise, seems to be shown by another story that was told of him. He
was said, one day, when trade in general was very dull, to have boasted
that he had that very morning made L400 by a single operation. On being
questioned, it appeared that it had been simply a sudden enlargement of
the figure marked on all his stock to the extent of L400.
One other story of him is this: On hearing a brother dealer lament that
by a certain speculation he should, after all, make only 5 per cent., he
expressed his surprise, adding that he himself would be satisfied with
3, or even 2, (taking the figures 2, 3, &c., to mean 2 hundred, 3
hundred, &c.)--We shall hear of Mr. Macdougall again in connection with
the marine of the harbour.
Of Yonge Street itself, at which we now arrive, we propose to speak at
large hereafter. Just westward from Yonge Street was the abode,
surrounded by pleasant grounds and trees, of Mr. Macaulay, at a later
period Sir James Macaulay, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, a man
beloved and honoured for his sterling excellence in every relation. A
full-length portrait of him is preserved in Osgoode Hall. His peculiar
profile, not discernable in that painting, is recalled by the engraving
of Capt. Starky, which some readers will remember in Hone's Every-Day
Advancing a little further, we came in front of one of the earliest
examples, in these parts, of an English-looking rustic cottage, with
verandah and sloping lawn. This was occupied for a time by Major
Hillier, of the 74th regiment, aide-de-camp and military secretary to
Sir Peregrine Maitland. The well-developed native thorn-tree, to the
north of the site of this cottage, on the property of Mr. Andrew Mercer,
is a relic of the woods that once ornamented this locality.
Next came the residence of Mr. Justice Boulton, a spacious family
domicile of wood, painted white, situated in an extensive area, and
placed far back from the road. The Judge was an English gentleman of
spare Wellington physique; like many of his descendants, a lover of
horses and a spirited rider; a man of wit, too, and humour, fond of
listening to and narrating anecdotes of the ben trovato class. The
successor to this family home was Holland House, a structure of a
baronial cast, round which one might expect to find the remains of a
moat; a reproduction, in some points, as in name, of the building in the
suburbs of London, in which was born the Judge's immediate heir, Mr. H.
J. Boulton, successively Solicitor-General for Upper Canada, and Chief
Justice of Newfoundland.
When Holland House passed out of the hands of its original possessor, it
became the property of Mr. Alexander Manning, an Alderman of Toronto.
It was at Holland House that the Earl and Countess of Dufferin kept high
festival during a brief sojourn in the capital of Ontario, in 1872.
Suggested by public addresses received in infinite variety, within
Holland House was written or thought out that remarkable cycle of
rescripts and replies which rendered the vice-regal visit to Toronto so
memorable,--a cycle of rescripts and replies exceedingly wide in its
scope, but in which each requisite topic was touched with consummate
skill, and in such a way as to show in each direction genuine human
sympathy and heartiness of feeling, and a sincere desire to cheer and
strengthen the endeavour after the Good, the Beautiful and the True, in
Whilst making his visit to Quebec, before coming to Toronto, Lord
Dufferin, acting doubtless on a chivalrous and poetical impulse, took up
his abode in the Citadel, notwithstanding the absence of worthy
arrangements for his accommodation there.
Will not this bold and original step on the part of Lord Dufferin lead
hereafter to the conversion of the Fortress that crowns Cape Diamond
into a Rheinstein for the St. Lawrence--into an appropriately designed
castellated habitation, to be reserved as an occasional retreat,
nobly-seated and grandly historic, for the Viceroys of Canada?
We now passed the grounds and house of Chief-Justice Powell. In this
place we shall only record our recollection of the profound sensation
created far and wide by the loss of the Chief-Justice's daughter in the
packet ship Albion, wrecked off the Head of Kinsale, on the 22nd of
April, 1822. A voyage to the mother country at that period was still a
serious undertaking. We copy a contemporaneous extract from the Cork
Southern Reporter:--"The Albion, whose loss at Garrettstown Bay we
first mentioned in our paper of Tuesday, was one of the finest class of
ships between Liverpool and New York, and was 500 tons burden. We have
since learned some further particulars, by which it appears that her
loss was attended with circumstances of a peculiarly afflicting nature.
She had lived out the tremendous gale of the entire day on Sunday, and
Captain Williams consoled the passengers, at eight o'clock in the
evening, with the hope of being able to reach Liverpool on the day but
one after, which cheering expectation induced almost all of the
passengers, particularly the females, to retire to rest. In some short
time, however, a violent squall came on, which in a moment carried away
the masts, and, there being no possibility of disengaging them from the
rigging, encumbered the hull so that she became unmanageable, and
drifted at the mercy of the waves, till the light-house of the Old Head
was discovered, the wreck still nearing in; when the Captain told the
sad news to the passengers, that there was no longer any hope; and, soon
after she struck. From thenceforward all was distress and confusion. The
vessel soon went to pieces, and, of the crew and passengers, only six of
the former and nine of the latter were saved." The names of the
passengers are added, as follows: "Mr. Benyon, a London gentleman; Mr.
N. Ross, of Troy, near New York; Mr. Conyers, and his brother-in-law,
Major Gough, 68th regiment; Mr. and Mrs. Clarke, Americans; Madame
Gardinier and son, a boy about eight years of age; Col. Prevost; Mr.
Dwight, of Boston; Mrs. Mary Pye, of New York; Miss Powell, daughter of
the Honourable William Dummer Powell, Chief-Justice of Upper Canada;
Rev. Mr. Hill, Jamaica, coming home by the way of the United States;
Professor Fisher, of New Haven, Connecticut; Mr. Gurnee, New York; Mr.
Proctor, New York; Mr. Dupont, and five other Frenchmen; Mrs. Mary
Brewster; Mr. Hirst, Mr. Morrison, and Stephen Chase."
The Weekly Register of York, of June 13, 1822, the number that
contains the announcement of the wreck of the Albion packet, has also
the following paragraph: "Our Attorney-General arrived in London about
the 22nd of March, and up to the 11th of April had daily interviews of
great length with ministers. It gives us real pleasure to announce,"--so
continues the editorial of the Weekly Register--"that his mission is
likely to be attended with the most complete success, and that our
relations with the Lower Provinces will be put on a firm and
advantageous footing. We have no doubt that Mr. Robinson will deserve
the general thanks of the country." A family party from York had
embarked in the packet of the preceding month, and were, as this
paragraph intimates, safe in London on the 22nd of March. The disastrous
fate of the lady above named was thus rendered the more distressing to
friends and relatives, as she was present in New York when that packet
sailed, but for some obscure reason, she did not desire to embark
therein along with her more fortunate fellow townsfolk.
After the house and grounds of Chief-Justice Powell came the property of
Dr. Strachan, of whom much hereafter. In view of the probable future
requirements of his position in a growing town and growing country, Dr.
Strachan built, in 1818, a residence here of capacious dimensions and
good design, with extensive and very complete appurtenances. A brother
of the Doctor's, Mr. James Strachan, an intelligent bookseller of
Aberdeen, visited York in 1819, soon after the first occupation of the
new house by its owners. The two brothers, John and James, had not seen
each other since 1799, when John, a young man just twenty-one, was
setting out for Canada, to undertake a tutorship in a family at
Kingston; setting out with scant money outfit, but provided with what
was of more value, a sound constitution, a clear head, and a good strong
understanding trained in Scottish schools and colleges, and by familiar
intercourse with shrewd Scottish folk.
As James entered the gates leading into the new mansion, and cast a
comprehensive glance at the fine facade of the building before him and
over its pleasant and handsome surroundings, he suddenly paused; and
indulging in a stroke of sly humour, addressed his brother with the
words, spoken in grave confidential undertone,--"I hope it's a' come by
On his return to Scotland, Mr. James Strachan published "A Visit to the
Province of Upper Canada in 1819," an interesting book, now scarce and
desired by Canadian collectors. The bulk of the information contained in
this volume was confessedly derived from Dr. Strachan.
The bricks used in the construction of the house here in 1818 were
manufactured on the spot. One or two earlier brick buildings at York
were composed of materials brought from Kingston or Montreal; recalling
the parallel fact that the first bricks used for building in New York
were imported from Holland; just as in the present day, (though now, of
course, for a different reason,) houses are occasionally constructed at
Quebec with white brick manufactured in England.
We next arrived at a large open space, much broken up by a
rivulet--"Russell's Creek,"--that meandered most recklessly through it.
This piece of ground was long known as Simcoe Place, and was set apart
in the later plan for the extension of York westward, as a Public
Square. Overlooking this area from the north-west, at the present day,
is one of the elms of the original forest--an unnoticeable sapling at
the period referred to, but now a tree of stately dimensions and of very
graceful form, resembling that of the Greek letter Psi. It will be a
matter of regret when the necessities of the case shall render the
removal of this relic indispensable.
At the corner to the south of this conspicuous tree, was an inn long
known as the Greenland Fishery. Its sign bore on one side, quite
passably done, an Arctic or Greenland scene; and on the other, vessels
and boats engaged in the capture of the whale. A travelling sailor,
familiar with whalers, and additionally a man of some artistic taste and
skill, paid his reckoning in labour, by executing for the landlord, Mr.
Wright, these spirited paintings, which proved an attraction to the
John Street, which passes north, by the Greenland Fishery, bears one of
the Christian names of the first Governor of Upper Canada. Graves
Street, on the east side of the adjoining Square, bore his second
Christian name; but Graves Street has, in recent times, been transformed
into Simcoe Street.
When the Houses of Parliament, now to be seen stretching across Simcoe
Place, were first built, a part of the design was a central pediment
supported by four stone columns. This would have relieved and given
dignity to the long front. The stone platform before the principal
entrance was constructed with a flight of steps leading thereto; but the
rather graceful portico which it was intended to sustain, was never
added. The monoliths for the pillars were duly cut out at a quarry near
Hamilton. They long remained lying there, in an unfinished state. In the
lithographic view of the Parliament Buildings, published by J. Young,
their architect, in 1836, the pediment of the original design is given
as though it existed.
Along the edge of the water, below the properties, spaces and objects
which we have been engaged in noticing, once ran a shingly beach of a
width sufficient to admit of the passage of vehicles. A succession of
dry seasons must then have kept the waters low. In 1815, however, the
waters of the Lake appear to have been unusually high. An almanac of
that year, published by John Cameron, at York, offers, seriously as it
would seem, the subjoined explanation of the phenomenon: "The comet
which passed to the northward three years since," the writer suggests,
"has sensibly affected our seasons: they have become colder; the snows
fall deeper; and from lesser exhalation, and other causes, the Lakes
rise much higher than usual."
The Commissariat store-houses were situated here, just beyond the broken
ground of Simcoe Place; long white structures of wood, with the shutters
of the windows always closed; built on a level with the bay, yet having
an entrance in the rear by a narrow gangway from the cliff above, on
which, close by, was the guard-house, a small building, painted of a dun
colour, with a roof of one slope, inclining to the south, and an arched
stoup or verandah open to the north. Here a sentry was ever to be seen,
pacing up and down. A light bridge over a deep water-course led up to
Over other depressions or ravines, close by here, were long to be seen
some platforms or floored areas of stout plank. These were said to be
spaces occupied by different portions of the renowned canvas-house of
the first Governor, a structure manufactured in London and imported.
The convenience of its plan, and the hospitality for which it afforded
room, were favourite topics among the early people of the country. We
have it in Bouchette's British North America a reference to this
famous canvas house. "In the spring (i. e. of 1793)," that writer
says, "the Lieutenant-Governor moved to the site of the new capital
(York), attended by the regiment of the Queen's Rangers, and commenced
at once the realization of his favourite project. His Excellency
inhabited, during the summer, and through the winter, a canvas-house,
which he imported expressly for the occasion; but, frail as was its
substance, it was rendered exceedingly comfortable, and soon became as
distinguished for the social and urbane hospitality of its venerable and
gracious host, as for the peculiarity of its structure," vol. i. 80.
After this allusion to the home Canadian life of the first Governor, the
following remarks of de Liancourt, on the same subject, will not appear
out of place:--"In his private life," the Duke says, "Gov. Simcoe is
simple, plain and obliging. He inhabits [the reference now is to Newark
or Niagara] a small, miserable wooden house, which formerly was occupied
by the Commissaries, who resided here on account of the navigation of
the Lake. His guard consist of four soldiers, who every morning come
from the fort [across the river], and return thither in the evening. He
lives in a noble and hospitable manner, without pride; his mind is
enlightened, his character mild and obliging; he discourses with much
good sense on all subjects; but his favourite topics are his projects,
and war, which seem to be the objects of his leading passions. He is
acquainted with the military history of all countries: no hillock
catches his eye without exciting in his mind the idea of a fort which
might be constructed on the spot; and with the construction of this fort
he associates the plan of operations for a campaign, especially of that
which is to lead him to Philadelphia. [Gen. Simcoe appears to have been
strongly of the opinion that the United States were not going to be a
permanency.] On hearing his professions of an earnest desire of peace,
you cannot but suppose, either that his reason must hold an absolute
sway over his passion, or that he deceives himself." Travels, i. 241.
Other traits, which doubtless at this time gave a charm to the home-life
of the accomplished Governor, may be gathered from a passage in the
correspondence, at a later period, of Polwhele, the historian of
Cornwall, who says, in a letter addressed to the General himself, dated
Manaccan, Nov. 5th, 1803:--"I have been sorely disappointed, once or
twice, in missing you, whilst you were inspecting Cornwall. It was not
long after your visit at my friend Mr. Hoblyn's, but I slept also at
Nanswhydden. Had I met you there, the Noctes Atticae, the Coenae
Deorum, would have been renewed, if peradventure the chess-board
intervened not; for rooks and pawns, I think, would have frightened away
the Muses, familiar as rooks and pawns might have been to the suitors of
Penelope." Polwhele, 544.
The canvas-house above spoken of, had been the property of Capt. Cook
the circumnavigator. On its being offered for sale in London, Gov.
Simcoe, seeing its possible usefulness to himself as a moveable
government-house purchased it.
Some way to the east of the Commissariat store-houses was the site of
the Naval Building Yard, where an unfinished ship-of-war and the
materials collected for the construction of others, were destroyed, when
the United States forces took possession of York in 1813.
It appears that Col. Joseph Bouchette had just been pointing out to the
Government the exposed condition of the public property here. In a note
at p. 89 of his British North America that officer remarks: "The
defenceless situation of York, the mode of its capture, and the
destruction of the large ship then on the stocks, were but too
prophetically demonstrated in my report to headquarters in Lower Canada,
on my return from a responsible mission to the capital of the Upper
Province, in the early part of April. Indeed the communication of the
result of my reconnoitering operations, and the intelligence of the
successful invasion of York, and the firing of the new ship by the
enemy, were received almost simultaneously."
The Governor-in-Chief, Sir George Prevost, was blamed for having
permitted a frigate to be laid down in an unprotected position. There
was a "striking impropriety," as the Third Letter of Veritas, a
celebrated correspondent of the Montreal Herald in 1815, points out,
"in building at York, without providing the means of security there, as
the works of defence, projected by General Brock, (when he contemplated,
before the war, the removal of the naval depot from Kingston to York, by
reason of the proximity of the former to the States in water by the
ice), were discontinued by orders from below, [from Sir George Prevost,
that is], and never resumed. The position intended to have been
fortified by General Brock, near York, was," Veritas continues,
"capable of being made very strong, had his plan been executed; but as
it was not, nor any other plan of defence adopted, a ship-yard without
protection became an allurement to the enemy, as was felt to the cost of
the inhabitants of York."
In the year 1832, the interior of the Commissariat-store, decorated with
flags, was the scene of the first charitable bazaar held in these parts.
It was for the relief of distress occasioned by a recent visitation of
cholera. The enterprise appears to have been remarkably successful. We
have a notice of it in Sibbald's Canadian Magazine of January, 1833,
in the following terms: "All the fashionable and well-disposed attended;
the band of the gallant 79th played, at each table stood a lady; and in
a very short time all the articles were sold to gentlemen,--who will
keep 'as the apple of their eye' the things made and presented by such
hands." The sum collected on the occasion, it is added, was three
hundred and eleven pounds.
Where Windsor Street now appears--with its grand iron gates at either
end, inviting or forbidding the entrance of the stranger to the prim,
quaint, self-contained little village of villas inside--formerly stood
the abode of Mr. John Beikie, whose tall, upright, staidly-moving form,
generally enveloped in a long snuff-coloured overcoat, was one of the
dramatis personae of York. He had been, at an early period, sheriff of
the Home District; at a later time his signature was familiar to every
eye, attached in the Gazette to notices put forth by the Executive
Council of the day, of which rather aristocratic body he was the Clerk.
Passing westward, we had on the right the spacious home of Mr.
Crookshank, a benevolent and excellent man, sometime Receiver-General of
the Province, of whom we shall again have occasion to speak; and on the
left, on a promontory suddenly jutting out into the harbour, "Captain
Bonnycastle's cottage," with garden and picturesque grove attached; all
Ordnance property in reality, and once occupied by Col. Coffin. The
whole has now been literally eaten away by the ruthless tooth of the
steam excavator. On the beach to the west of this promontory was a much
frequented bathing-place. Captain Bonnycastle, just named, was
afterwards Sir Richard, and the author of "Canada as it was, is, and may
be," and "Canada and the Canadians in 1846."
The name "Peter," attached to the street which flanks on the west the
ancient homestead and extensive outbuildings of Mr. Crookshank, is a
memento of the president or administrator, Peter Russell. It led
directly up to Petersfield, Mr. Russell's park lot on Queen Street.
We come here to the western boundary of the so-called New Town--the
limit of the first important extension of York westward. The limit,
eastward, of the New Town, was a thoroughfare known in the former day as
Toronto Street, which was one street east of Yonge Street, represented
now by Victoria Street. At the period when the plan was designed for
this grand western and north-western suburb of York, Yonge Street was
not opened southward farther than Lot [Queen] Street. The roadway there
suddenly veered to the eastward, and then, after a short interval,
passed down Toronto Street, a roadway a little to the west of the
existing Victoria Street.
The tradition in Boston used to be, that some of the streets there
followed the line of accidental cow-paths formed in the olden time in
the uncleared bush; and no doubt other old American towns, like ancient
European towns generally, exhibit, in the direction of their
thoroughfares, occasionally, traces of casual circumstances in the
history of the first settlers on their respective sites. The practice at
later periods has been to make all ways run as nearly as possible in
right lines. In one or two "jogs" or irregularities, observable in the
streets of the Toronto of to-day, we have memorials of early waggon
tracks which ran where they most conveniently could. The slight
meandering of Front Street in its course from the garrison to the site
of the first Parliament Buildings, and of Britain Street, (an obscure
passage between George Street and Caroline Street), may be thus
explained; as also the fact that the southern end of the present
Victoria Street does not connect immediately with the present Toronto
Street. This last-mentioned irregularity is a relic of the time when the
great road from the north, namely, Yonge Street, on reaching Queen
Street, slanted off to the eastward across vacant lots and open ground,
making by the nearest and most convenient route for the market and the
heart of the town.
After the laying-out in lots of the region comprehended in the first
great expansion of York, of which we have spoken, inquiries were
instituted by the authorities as to the improvements made by the
holders of each. In the chart accompanying the report of Mr. Stegman,
the surveyor appointed to make the examination, the lots are coloured
according to the condition of each, and appended are the following
curious particulars, which smack somewhat of the ever-memorable
town-plot of Eden, to which Martin Chuzzlewit was induced to repair, and
which offered a lively picture of an infant metropolis in the rough. (We
must represent to ourselves a chequered diagram; some of the squares
white or blank; some tinted blue; some shaded black; the whole entitled
"Sketch of the Part of the Town of York west of Toronto
Street.")--"Explanation: The blank lots are cleared, agreeable to the
notice issued from His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, bearing date
September the fourth, 1800. The lots shaded blue are chiefly cut, but
the brush not burnt; and those marked with the letter A, the brush only
cut. The lots shaded black, no work done. The survey made by order of
the Surveyor-General's office, bearing date April the 23rd, 1801." A
more precise examination appears to have been demanded. The explanations
appended to the second plan, which has squares shaded brown, in addition
to those coloured blue and black, are: "1st. The blank lots are cleared.
2nd. The lots shaded black, no work done. 3rd. The lots shaded brown,
the brush cut and burnt. 4th. The lots shaded blue, the brush cut and
not burnt. N.B. The lots 1 and 2 on the north side of Newgate Street
[the site subsequently of the dwelling-house of Jesse Ketchum, of whom
hereafter], are mostly clear of the large timber, and some brush cut
also, but not burnt; therefore omitted in the first report. This
second examination done by order of the Honourable John Elmsley, Esq."
The second extension of York westward included the Government Common.
The staking out of streets here was a comparatively late event. Brock
Street, to which we have now approached, had its name, of course, from
the General officer slain at Queenston, and its extra width from the
example set in the Avenue to the north, into which it merges after
crossing Queen Street.
A little to the west of Brock Street was the old military
burying-ground, a clearing in the thick brushwood of the locality: of an
oblong shape, its four picketed sides directed exactly towards the four
cardinal points. The setting off of the neighbouring streets and lots at
a different angle, caused the boundary lines of this plot to run askew
to every other straight line in the vicinity. Over how many a now
forgotten and even obliterated grave have the customary farewell volleys
here been fired!--those final honours to the soldier, always so
touching; intended doubtless, in the old barbaric way, to be an
incentive to endurance in the sound and well; and consolatory in
anticipation to the sick and dying.
In the mould of this old cemetery, what a mingling from distant
quarters! Hearts finally at rest here, fluttered in their last beats,
far away, at times, to old familiar scenes "beloved in vain" long ago;
to villages, hedgerows, lanes, fields, in green England and Ireland, in
rugged Scotland and Wales. Many a widow, standing at an open grave here,
holding the hand of orphan boy or girl, has "wept her soldier dead," not
slain in the battle-field, indeed, but fallen, nevertheless, in the
discharge of duty, before one or other of the subtle assailants that,
even in times of peace, not unfrequently bring the career of the
military man to a premature close. Among the remains deposited in this
ancient burial-plot are those of a child of the first Governor of Upper
Canada, a fact commemorated on the exterior of the mortuary chapel over
his own grave in Devonshire, by a tablet on which are the words:
"Katharine, born in Upper Canada, 16th Jan., 1793; died and was buried
at York Town, in that Province, in 1794."
Close to the military burial-ground was once enacted a scene which might
have occurred at the obsequies of a Tartar chief in the days of old.
Capt. Battersby, sent out to take command of a Provincial corps, was the
owner of several fine horses, to which he was greatly attached. On his
being ordered home, after the war of 1812, friends and others began to
make offers for the purchase of the animals; but no; he would enter into
no treaty with any one on that score. What his decision was became
apparent the day before his departure from York. He then had his poor
dumb favourites led out by some soldiers to the vicinity of the
burying-ground; and there he caused each of them to be deliberately shot
dead. He did not care to entrust to the tender mercies of strangers, in
the future, those faithful creatures that had served him so well, and
had borne him whithersoever he listed, so willingly and bravely. The
carcasses were interred on the spot where the shooting had taken place.
Returning now again to Brock Street, and placing ourselves at the middle
point of its great width--immediately before us to the north, on the
ridge which bounds the view in the distance, we discern a white object.
This is Spadina House, from which the avenue into which Brock Street
passes, takes its name. The word Spadina itself is an Indian term
tastefully modified, descriptive of a sudden rise of land like that on
which the house in the distance stands. Spadina was the residence of Dr.
W. W. Baldwin, to whom reference has already been made. A liberal in his
political views, he nevertheless was strongly influenced by the feudal
feeling which was a second nature with most persons in the British
Islands some years ago. His purpose was to establish in Canada a family,
whose head was to be maintained in opulence by the proceeds of an
entailed estate. There was to be forever a Baldwin of Spadina.
It is singular that the first inheritor of the newly-established
patrimony should have been the statesman whose lot it was to carry
through the Legislature of Canada the abolition of the rights of
primogeniture. The son grasped more readily than the father what the
genius of the North American continent will endure, and what it will
Spadina Avenue was laid out by Dr. Baldwin on a scale that would have
satisfied the designers of St. Petersburg or Washington. Its width is
one hundred and twenty feet. Its length from the water's edge to the
base of Spadina Hill would be nearly three miles. Garnished on both
sides by a double row of full grown chestnut trees, it would vie in
magnificence, when seen from an eminence, with the Long Walk at Windsor.
Eastward of Spadina House, on the same elevation of land, was Davenport,
the picturesque and chateau-like home of Col. Wells, formerly of the
43rd regiment, built at an early period. Col. Wells was a fine example
of the English officer, whom we so often see retiring from the camp
gracefully and happily into domestic life. A faithful portrait of him
exists, in which he wears the gold medal of Badajoz. His sons, natural
artists, and arbiters of taste, inherited, along with their aesthetic
gifts, also lithe and handsome persons. One of them, now, like his
father, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the army, was highly distinguished in
the Crimea; and on revisiting Toronto after the peace with Russia, was
publicly presented with a sword of honour. The view of the Lake and
intervening forest, as seen from Davenport and Spadina, before the
cultivation of the alluvial plain below, was always fine. (On his
retirement from the army, the second Col. Wells took up his abode at
Next: From Brock Street To The Old French Fort
Previous: Palace Street To The Market Place