History of Toronto King Street: St James' Church
The first Church of St. James, at York, was a plain structu...
Yonge Street From Hogg's Hollow To Bond's Lake
Beyond the hollow, Mr. Humberstone's was passed on the west...
King Street From Caroline Street To Berkeley Street
Returning again to King Street: At the corner of Caroline S...
King Street: St James' Church Continued
It is beginning, perhaps, to be thought preposterous that w...
King Street From George Street To Caroline Street
We now retrace our steps to King Street, at its intersectio...
Queen Street From The Don Bridge To Caroline Street
We return once more to the Don Bridge; and from that point ...
From Berkeley Street To The Bridge And Across It
We now propose to pass rapidly down "the road to Quebec" as...
Yonge Street: Onward From Holland Landing To Penetanguishene
To render our narrative complete, we give in a few parting ...
Queen Street Digression At Caroline Street History Of The Early Press
A little to the south of Britain Street, between it and Duc...
King Street: St James' Church Continued
At the southern end of the Church, in which we are supposin...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1815-1827
Soon after the close of the war with the United States in 1...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1828-1863
The Canada's advertisement for the season of 1828 appears i...
Yonge Street From The Bay To Yorkville
The tourist of the present day, who, on one of our great la...
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 1800-1814
On the 15th of May, 1800, Governor Hunter arrives again in ...
Yonge Street: From Bond's Lake To The Holland Landing With Digressions To Newmarket And Sharon
We now speedily passed Drynoch, lying off to the left, on e...
Queen Street From The College Avenue To Brock Street And Spadina Avenue
Pursuing our way now westward from the Avenue leading to th...
King Street Digression Into Duke Street
On passing George Street, as we intimated a moment ago, we ...
The Valley Of The Don
I.--From the Bridge on the Kingston Road to Tyler's.
From The Garrison Back To The Place Of Beginning
We now enter again the modern Fort; passing back through th...
King Street From Church Street To George Street
We were arrested in our progress on King Street by St. James' Church.
Its associations, and those of the District Grammar School and its
play-ground to the north, have detained us long. We now return to the
point reached when our recollections compelled us to digress.
Before proceeding, however, we must record the fact that the break in
the line of building on the north side of the street here, was the means
of checking the tide of fire which was rolling irresistibly westward, in
the great conflagration of 1849. The energies of the local fire-brigade
of the day had never been so taxed as they were on that memorable
occasion, Aid from steam-power was then undreamt-of. Simultaneous
outbursts of flame from numerous widely-separated spots had utterly
disheartened every one, and had caused a general abandonment of effort
to quell the conflagration. Then it was that the open space about St.
James' Church saved much of the town from destruction.
To the west, the whole sky was, as it were, a vast canopy of meteors
streaming from the east. The church itself was consumed, but the flames
advanced no further. A burning shingle was seen to become entangled in
the luffer-boards of the belfry, and slowly to ignite the woodwork
there: from a very minute start at that point, a stream of fire soon
began to rise--soon began to twine itself about the upper stages of the
tower, and to climb nimbly up the steep slope of the spire, from the
summit of which it then shot aloft into the air, speedily enveloping and
overtopping the golden cross that was there.
At the same time the flames made their way downwards within the tower,
till the internal timbers of the roofing over the main body of the
building were reached. There, in the natural order of things, the fire
readily spread; and the whole interior of the church, in the course of
an hour, was transformed, before the eyes of a bewildered multitude
looking powerlessly on, first into a vast "burning fiery furnace," and
then, as the roof collapsed and fell, into a confused chaos of raging
The heavy gilt cross at the apex of the spire came down with a crash,
and planted itself in the pavement of the principal entrance below,
where the steps, as well as the inner-walls of the base of the tower,
were bespattered far and wide with the molten metal of the great bell.
While the work of destruction was going fiercely and irrepressibly on,
the Public Clock in the belfry, Mr. Draper's gift to the town, was heard
to strike the hour as usual, and the quarters thrice--exercising its
functions and having its appointed say, amidst the sympathies, not loud
but deep, of those who watched its doom; bearing its testimony, like a
martyr at the stake, in calm and unimpassioned strain, up to the very
moment of time when the deadly element touched its vitals.
Opposite the southern portal of St. James' Church was to be seen, at a
very early period, the conspicuous trade-sign of a well-known furrier of
York, Mr. Joseph Rogers. It was the figure of an Indian Trapper holding
a gun, and accompanied by a dog, all depicted in their proper colours on
a high, upright tablet set over the doorway of the store below. Besides
being an appropriate symbol of the business carried on, it was always an
interesting reminder of the time, then not so very remote, when all of
York, or Toronto, and its commerce that existed, was the old French
trading-post on the common to the west, and a few native hunters of the
woods congregating with their packs of "beaver" once or twice a-year
about the entrance to its picketted enclosure. Other rather early
dealers in furs in York were Mr. Jared Stocking and Mr. John Bastedo.
In the Gazette for April 25, 1822, we notice a somewhat pretentious
advertisement, headed "Muskrats," which announces that the highest
market price will be given in cash for "good seasonable muskrat skins
and other furs at the store of Robert Coleman, Esquire, Market Place,
Mr. Rogers' descendants continue to occupy the identical site on King
Street indicated above, and the Indian Trapper, renovated, is still to
be seen--a pleasant instance of Canadian persistence and stability.
In Great Britain and Europe generally, the thoroughfares of ancient
towns had, as we know, character and variety given them by the
trade-symbols displayed up and down their misty vistas. Charles the
First gave, by letters patent, express permission to the citizens of
London "to expose and hang in and over the streets, and ways, and alleys
of the said city and suburbs of the same, signs and posts of signs,
affixed to their houses and shops, for the better finding out such
citizens' dwellings, shops, arts, and occupations, without impediment,
molestation or interruption of his heirs or successors." And the
practice was in vogue long before the time of Charles. It preceded the
custom of distinguishing houses by numbers. At periods when the
population generally were unable to read, such rude appeals to the eye
had, of course, their use. But as education spread, and architecture of
a modern style came to be preferred, this mode of indicating "arts and
occupations" grew out of fashion.
Of late, however, the pressure of competition in business has been
driving men back again upon the customs of by-gone illiterate
generations. For the purpose of establishing a distinct individuality in
the public mind the most capricious freaks are played. The streets of
the modern Toronto exhibit, we believe, two leonine specimens of
auro-ligneous zoology, between which the sex is announced to constitute
the difference. The lack of such clear distinction between a pair of
glittering symbols of this genus and species, in our Canadian London,
was the occasion of much grave consideration in 1867, on the part of the
highest authority in our Court of Chancery. Although in that cause
celebre, after a careful physiognomical study by means of photographs
transmitted, it was allowed that there were points of difference
between the two specimens in question, as, for example, that "one looked
older than the other;" that "one, from the sorrowful expression of its
countenance, seemed more resigned to its position than the other"--still
the decree was issued for the removal of one of them from the
scene--very properly the later-carved of the two.
Of the ordinary trade-signs that were to be seen along the thoroughfare
of King Street no particular notice need be taken. The Pestle and
Mortar, the Pole twined round with the black strap, the Crowned Boot,
the Tea-chest, the Axe, the Broad-axe, the Saw, (mill, cross-cut and
circular), the colossal Fowling-piece, the Cooking-stove, the Plough,
the Golden Fleece, the Anvil and Sledge-Hammer, the magnified
Horse-Shoe, each told its own story, as indicating indispensable wares
Passing eastward from the painted effigy of the Indian Trapper, we soon
came in front of the Market Place, which, so long as only a low wooden
building occupied its centre, had an open, airy appearance. We have
already dwelt upon some of the occurrences, and associations connected
with this spot.
On King street, about here, the ordinary trade and traffic of the place
came, after a few years, to be concentrated. Here business and bustle
were every day, more or less, created by the usual wants of the
inhabitants, and by the wants of the country farmers whose waggons in
summer, and sleighs in winter, thronged in from the north, east and
west. And hereabout at one moment or another, every lawful day, would be
surely seen, coming and going, the oddities and street-characters of the
town and neighbourhood. Having devoted some space to the leading and
prominent personages of our drama, it will be only proper to bestow a
few words on the subordinates, the Calibans and Gobbos, the Nyms and
Touchstones, of the piece.
From the various nationalities and races of which the community was a
mixture, these were drawn. There was James O'Hara, for example, a poor
humourous Irishman, a perfect representative of his class in costume,
style and manner, employed as bellman at auctions, and so on. When the
town was visited by the Papyrotomia--travelling cutters-out of
likenesses in black paper (some years ago such things created a
sensation),--a full-length of O'Hara was suspended at the entrance to
the rooms, recognized at once by every eye, even without the aid of the
"Shoot easy" inscribed on a label issuing from the mouth. (In the
Loyalist of Nov. 24, 1827, we have O'Hara's death noted. "Died on
Friday the 16th instant, James O'Hara, long an inhabitant of this Town,
and formerly a soldier in His Majesty's service.")--There was Jock
Murray, the Scotch carter; and after him, William Pettit, the English
one; and the carter who drove the horse with the "spring-halt;" (every
school-lad in the place was familiar with the peculiar twitch upwards of
the near hind leg in the gait of this nag.)
The negro population was small. Every individual of colour was
recognizable at sight. Black Joe and Whistling Jack were two
notabilities; both of them negroes of African birth. In military bands a
negro drummer or cymbal-player was formerly often to be seen. The two
men just named, after obtaining discharge from a regiment here, gained
an honest livelihood by chance employment about the town. Joe, a
well-formed, well-trained figure, was to be seen, still arrayed in some
old cast-off shell-jacket, acting as porter, or engaged about horses;
once already we have had a glimpse of him in the capacity of sheriff's
assistant, administering the lash to wretched culprits in the Market
Place. The other, besides playing other parts, officiated occasionally
as a sweep; but his most memorable accomplishment was a melodious and
powerful style of whistling musical airs, and a faculty for imitating
the bag-pipes to perfection.--For the romantic sound of the name, the
tall, comely negress, Amy Pompadour, should also be mentioned in the
record. But she was of servile descent: at the time at which we write
slavery was only just dying out in Upper Canada, as we shall have
occasion to note hereafter more at large.
Then came the "Jack of Clubs." Lord Thurlow, we are told, once enabled a
stranger to single out in a crowd Dunning, afterwards Lord Ashburton, by
telling him to take notice of the first man he saw bearing a strong
resemblance to the "Jack of Clubs." In the present case it was a worthy
trader in provisions who had acquired among his fellow-townsmen a
sobriquet from a supposed likeness to that sturdy court-card figure. He
was a short, burly Englishman, whose place of business was just opposite
the entrance to the Market. So absolutely did the epithet attach itself
to him, that late-comers to the place failed to learn his real name: all
which was good-humouredly borne for a time; but at last the distinction
became burdensome and irritating, and Mr. Stafford removed in disgust to
A well-known character often to be seen about here, too, was an
unfortunate English farmer of the name of Cowper, of disordered
intellect, whose peculiarity was a desire to station himself in the
middle of the roadway, and from that vantage-ground to harangue any
crowd that might gather, incoherently, but always with a great show of
sly drollery and mirthfulness.
On occasions of militia funeral processions, observant lads and others
were always on the look-out for a certain prosperous cordwainer of the
town of York, Mr. Wilson, who was sure then to be seen marching in the
ranks, with musket reversed, and displaying with great precision and
solemnity the extra-upright carriage and genuine toe-pointed step of the
soldier of the days of George the Second. He had been for sixteen years
in the 41st regiment, and ten years and forty-four days in the 103rd;
and it was with pride and gusto that he exhibited the high proficiency
to which he had in other days attained. The slow pace required by the
Dead March gave the on-looker time to study the antique style of
military movement thus exemplified.
It was at a comparatively late period that Sir John Smythe and Spencer
Lydstone, poets, were notabilities in the streets; the latter, Mr.
Lydstone, recognizable from afar by a scarlet vest, brought out, ever
and anon, a printed broadside, filled with eulogiums or satires on the
inhabitants of the town, regulated by fees or refusals received. The
former, Sir John Smythe, found in the public papers a place for his
productions, which by their syntactical irregularities and freedom from
marks of punctuation, proved their author (as a reviewer of the day once
observed) to be a man supra grammaticam, and one possessed of a genius
above commas. But his great hobby was a railway to the Pacific, in
connection with which he brought out a lithographed map: its peculiarity
was a straight black line conspicuously drawn across the continent from
Fort William to the mouth of the Columbia river.
In a tract of his on the subject of this railway he provides, in the
case of war with the United States, for steam communication between
London in England and China and the East Indies, by "a branch to run on
the north side of the township of Cavan and on the south side of Balsam
Lake." "I propose this," he says, "to run in the rear of Lake Huron and
in the rear of Lake Superior, twenty miles in the interior of the
country of the Lake aforesaid; to unite with the railroad from Lake
Superior to Winnipeg, at the south-west main trading-post of the
North-West Company." The document is signed "Sir John Smythe, Baronet
and Royal Engineer, Canadian Poet, LL.D., and Moral Philosopher."
The concourse of traffickers and idlers in the open space before the old
Market Place were free of tongue; they sometimes talked, in no subdued
tone, of their fellow-townsfolk of all ranks. In a small community every
one was more or less acquainted with every one, with his dealings and
appurtenances, with his man-servant and maid-servant, his horse, his
dog, his waggon, cart or barrow.
Those of the primitive residentiaries, to whom the commonalty had taken
kindly, were honoured in ordinary speech with their militia-titles of
Colonel, Major, Captain, or the civilian prefix of Mister, Honourable
Mister, Squire or Judge, as the case might be; whilst others, not held
to have achieved any special claims to deference, were named, even in
mature years, by their plain, baptismal names, John, Andrew, Duncan,
George, and so on.
And then, there was a third marking-off of a few, against whom, for some
vague reason or another, there had grown up in the popular mind a
certain degree of prejudice. These, by a curtailment or national
corruption of their proper prenomen, would be ordinarily styled Sandy
this, Jock that. In some instances the epithet "old" would irreverently
precede, and persons of considerable eminence might be heard spoken of
as old Tom so-and-so, old Sam such-a-one.
And similarly in respect to the sons and nephews of these worthy
gentlemen. Had the community never been replenished from outside
sources, few of them would, to the latest moment of their lives, have
ever been distinguished except by the plain John, Stephen, Allan,
Christopher, and so on, of their infancy, or by the Bill, Harry, Alec,
Mac, Dolph, Dick, or Bob, acquired in the nursery or school.
But enough has been said, for the present at least, on the humors and
ways of our secondary characters, as exemplified in the crowd
customarily gathered in front of the old Market at York. We shall now
proceed on our prescribed route.
The lane leading northward from the north-west corner of Market Square
used to be known as Stuart's Lane, from the Rev. George Okill Stuart,
once owner of property here. On its west side was a well-known inn, the
Farmers' Arms, kept by Mr. Bloor, who, on retiring from business, took
up his abode at Yorkville, where it has curiously happened that his name
has been attached to a fashionable street, the thoroughfare formerly
known as the Concession Line.
The street running north from the north-east angle of Market Square, now
known as Nelson Street, was originally New Street, a name which was
commemorative of the growth of York westward. The terminal street of the
town on the west, prior to the opening of this New Street, had been
George Street. The name of "New Street" should never have been changed,
even for the heroic one of Nelson. As the years rolled on, it would have
become a quaint misnomer, involving a tale, like the name of "New
College" at Oxford--a College about five hundred years old.
At a point about half-way between New Street and George Street, King
Street was, in 1849, the scene of an election fracas which, in distant
quarters, damaged for a time the good name of the town. While passing in
front of the Coleraine House, an inn on the north side of the street,
and a rendezvous of the unsuccessful party, some persons walking in
procession, in addition to indulging in the usual harmless groans, flung
a missile into the house, when a shot, fired from one of the windows,
killed a man in the concourse below.
Owing to the happy settlement of numerous irritating public questions,
elections are conducted now, in our towns and throughout our Provinces,
in a calm and rational temper for the most part. Only two relics of evil
and ignorant days remain amongst us, stirring bad blood twice a year, on
anniversaries consecrated, or otherwise, to the object. A
generous-hearted nation, transplanted as they have been almost en
masse to a new continent, where prosperity, wealth and honours have
everywhere been their portion, would shew more wisdom in the repudiation
than they do in the recognition and studied conservation, of these
hateful heirlooms of their race.
Next: King Street Digression Into Duke Street
Previous: King Street: Digression Northward At Church Street: The Old District Grammar School