History of Toronto Queen Street From George Street To Yonge Street
--MEMORIES OF THE OLD COURT HOUSE.
When we pass George S...
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...
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
It is beginning, perhaps, to be thought preposterous that w...
Queen Street From Brock Street And Spadina Avenue To The Humber
Immediately after the grounds and property of Mr. Dunn, on ...
Yonge Street From The Bay To Yorkville
The tourist of the present day, who, on one of our great la...
Front Street From The Market Place To Brock Street
The corner we approach after passing the Market Square, was...
Queen Street From The Don Bridge To Caroline Street
We return once more to the Don Bridge; and from that point ...
King Street From Yonge Street To Church Street
Where Yonge Street crosses King Street, forming at the pres...
Yonge Street: Onward From Holland Landing To Penetanguishene
To render our narrative complete, we give in a few parting ...
Queen Street From Yonge Street To College Avenue Digression Southward At Bay Street Osgoode Hall Digression Northward At The Av
Leaving now the site of our ancient Court House, the spot a...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1793-99
The first formal survey of the harbour of Toronto was made ...
King Street From Caroline Street To Berkeley Street
Returning again to King Street: At the corner of Caroline S...
In 1869, the survivors of the early occupants of York, Uppe...
Yonge Street From Yorkville To Hogg's Hollow
Of long standing is the group of buildings on the right aft...
King Street From George Street To Caroline Street
We now retrace our steps to King Street, at its intersectio...
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
The first Church of St. James, at York, was a plain structu...
Palace Street To The Market Place
In Rome, at the present day, the parts that are the most at...
From Brock Street To The Old French Fort
Returning again to the front. The portion of the Common tha...
King Street From Yonge Street To Church Street
Where Yonge Street crosses King Street, forming at the present day an
unusually noble carrefour, as the French would say, or rectangular
intersection of thoroughfares as we are obliged to word it, there was,
for a considerable time, but one solitary house--at the north-east
angle; a longish, one-storey, respectable wooden structure, painted
white, with paling in front, and large willow trees: it was the home of
Mr. Dermis, formerly superintendent of the Dock-yard at Kingston. He was
one of the United Empire Loyalist refugees, and received a grant of land
on the Humber, near the site of the modern village of Weston. His son,
Mr. Joseph Dennis, owned and commanded a vessel on Lake Ontario in 1812.
When the war with the United States broke out, he and his ship were
attached to the Provincial Marine. His vessel was captured, and himself
made a prisoner of war, in which condition he remained for fifteen
months. He afterwards commanded the Princess Charlotte, an early
steamboat on Lake Ontario.
To the eastward of Mr. Dennis' house, on the same side, at an early
period, was an obscure frame building of the most ordinary kind, whose
existence is recorded simply for having been temporarily the District
Grammar School, before the erection of the spacious building on the
Grammar School lot.
On the opposite side, still passing on towards the east, was the Jail.
This was a squat unpainted wooden building, with hipped roof, concealed
from persons passing in the street by a tall cedar stockade, such as
those which we see surrounding a Hudson's Bay post or a military
wood-yard. At the outer entrance hung a billet of wood suspended by a
chain, communicating with a bell within; and occasionally Mr. Parker,
the custodian of the place, was summoned, through its instrumentality,
by persons not there on legitimate business. We have a recollection of a
clever youth, an immediate descendant of the great commentator on
British Law, and afterwards himself distinguished at the Upper Canadian
bar, who was severely handled by Mr. Parker's son, on being caught in
the act of pulling at this billet, with the secret intention of running
away after the exploit.
The English Criminal Code, as it was at the beginning of the century,
having been introduced with all its enormities, public hangings were
frequent at an early period in the new Province. A shocking scene is
described as taking place at an execution in front of the old Jail at
York. The condemned refuses to mount the scaffold. On this, the
moral-suasion efforts of the sheriff amount to the ridiculous, were not
the occasion so seriously tragic. In aid of the sheriff, the officiating
chaplain steps more than once up the plank set from the cart to the
scaffold, to show the facility of the act, and to induce the man to
mount in like manner; the condemned demurs, and openly remarks on the
obvious difference in the two cases. At last the noose is adjusted to
the neck of the wretched culprit, where he stands. The cart is
withdrawn, and a deliberate strangling ensues.
In a certain existing account of steps taken in 1811 to remedy the
dilapidated and comfortless condition of the Jail, we get a glimpse of
York, commercially and otherwise, at that date. In April, 1811, the
sheriff, Beikie, reports to the magistrates at Quarter Sessions "that
the sills of the east cells of the Jail of the Home District are
completely rotten; that the ceilings in the debtors' rooms are
insufficient; and that he cannot think himself safe, should necessity
oblige him to confine any persons in said cells or debtors' rooms."
An order is given in May to make the necessary repairs; but certain
spike-nails are wanted of a kind not to be had at the local dealers in
hardware. The chairman is consequently directed to "apply to His
Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, that he will be pleased to direct
that the spike-nails be furnished from the King's stores, as there are
not any of the description required to be purchased at York." A
memorandum follows to the effect that on the communication of this
necessity to His Excellency, "the Lieutenant-Governor ordered that the
Clerk of the Peace do apply for the spike-nails officially in the name
of the Court: which he did," the memorandum adds, "on the 8th of May,
1811, and received an answer on the day following, that an order had
been issued that day for 1500 spike-nails, for the repair of the Home
District Jail: the nails," it is subjoined, "were received by carpenter
Leach in the month of July following."
Again: in December, 1811, Mr. Sheriff Beikie sets forth to the
magistrates in Session, that "the prisoners in the cells of the Jail of
the Home District suffer much from cold and damp, there being no method
of communicating heat from the chimneys, nor any bedsteads to raise the
straw from the floors, which lie nearly, if not altogether, on the
ground." He accordingly suggests that "a small stove in the lobby of
each range of cells, together with some rugs or blankets, will add much
to the comfort of the unhappy persons confined." The magistrates
authorize the supply of the required necessaries, and the order is
marked "instant." (The month, we are to notice, was December.)
At a late period, there were placed about the town a set of posts having
relation to the Jail. They were distinguished from the ordinary rough
posts, customary then at regular intervals along the sidewalks, by being
of turned wood, with spherical tops, the lower part painted a pale blue:
the upper, white. These were the "limits"--the certi denique
fines--beyond which, detenus for debt were not allowed to extend
Leaving the picketted enclosure of the Prison, we soon arrived at an
open piece of ground on the opposite (north) side of the
street,--afterwards known as the "Court House Square." One of the many
rivulets or water-courses that traversed the site of York passed through
it, flowing in a deep serpentine ravine, a spot to be remembered by the
youth of the day as affording, in the winter, facilities for skating and
sliding, and audacious exploits on "leather ice." In this open space, a
Jail and Court House of a pretentious character, but of poor
architectural style, were erected in 1824. The two buildings, which were
of two storeys, and exactly alike, were placed side by side, a few yards
back from the road. Their gables were to the south, in which direction
were also the chief entrances. The material was red brick. Pilasters of
cut stone ran up the principal fronts, and up the exposed or outer
sides of each edifice. At these sides, as also on the inner and
unornamented sides, were lesser gables, but marked by the portion of the
wall that rose in front of them, not to a point, but finishing square in
two diminishing stages, and sustaining chimneys.
It was intended originally that lanterns should have surmounted and
given additional elevation to both buildings, but these were discarded,
together with tin as the material of the roofing, with a view to cutting
down the cost, and thereby enabling the builder to make the pilasters of
cut stone instead of "Roman cement." John Hayden was the contractor. The
cost, as reduced, was to be L3,800 for the two edifices.
We extract from the Canadian Review for July, 1824, published by H. H.
Cunningham, Montreal, an account of the commencement of the new
buildings: "On Saturday, the 24th instant, [April, 1824,] his Excellency
the Lieutenant-Governor, attended by his staff, was met by the
Honourable the Members of the Executive Council, the Judges of the Court
of King's Bench, and the Gentlemen of the Bar, with the Magistrates and
principal inhabitants of York, in procession, for the purpose of laying
the foundation-stone of the new Jail and Court House about to be erected
in this Town.--A sovereign and half-sovereign of gold, and several coins
of silver and copper, of the present reign, together with some
newspapers and other memorials of the present day, were deposited in a
cavity of the stone, over which a plate of copper, bearing an
appropriate inscription, was placed; and after his Excellency had given
the first blow, with a hammer handed to him for the purpose, the
ceremony concluded with several hearty cheers from all who were
present.--If the question were of any real importance," the writer adds,
"we might have the curiosity to inquire why the deposit was made in the
south-east, rather than in the north-east corner of the building?"--a
query that indicates, as we suppose, a deviation from orthodox masonic
In one of the lithographic views published in 1836 by Mr. J. Young, the
Jail and Court House, now spoken of, are shewn. Among the objects
inserted to give life to the scene, the artist has placed in the
foreground a country waggon with oxen yoked to it, in primitive
fashion.--Near the front entrance of the Jail, stood, to the terror of
evil-doers, down to modern times, a ponderous specimen of the "parish
stocks" of the old country, in good condition.
After 1825, the open area in front of the Jail and Court House became
the "Public Place" of the town. Crowds filled it at elections and other
occasions of excitement. We have here witnessed several scenes
characteristic of the times in which they occurred. We here once saw a
public orator run away with, in the midst of his harangue. This was Mr.
Jesse Ketchum, who was making use of a farmer's waggon as his rostrum or
platform, when the vehicle was suddenly laid hold of, and wheeled
rapidly down King Street, the speaker maintaining his equilibrium in the
meanwhile with difficulty. Mr. Ketchum was one of the most benevolent
and beneficent of men. We shall have occasion to refer to him hereafter.
It was on the same occasion, we believe, that we saw Mr. W. L. McKenzie
assailed by the missiles which mobs usually adopt. From this spot we had
previously seen the same personage, after one of his re-elections, borne
aloft in triumph, on a kind of pyramidal car, and wearing round his neck
and across his breast a massive gold chain and medal (both made of
molten sovereigns), the gift of his admirers and constituents: in the
procession, at the same time, was a printing-press, working as it was
conveyed along in a low sleigh, and throwing off handbills, which were
tossed, right and left, to the accompanying crowd in the street.
The existing generation of Canadians, with the lights which they now
possess, see pretty clearly, that the agitator just named, and his
party, were not, in the abstract, by any means so bad as they seemed:
that, in fact, the ideas which they sought to propagate are the only
ones practicable in the successful government of modern men.
Is there a reader nowadays that sees anything very startling in the
enunciation of the following principles?--"The control of the whole
revenue to be in the people's representatives; the Legislative Council
to be elective; the representation in the House of Assembly to be as
equally proportioned to the population as possible; the Executive
Government to incur a real responsibility; the law of primogeniture to
be abolished; impartiality in the selection of juries to be secured; the
Judiciary to be independent; the military to be in strict subordination
to the civil authorities; equal rights to the several members of the
community; every vestige of Church-and-State union to be done away; the
lands and all the revenues of the country to be under the control of the
country; and education to be widely, carefully and impartially
diffused; to these may be added the choice of our own Governor."
These were the political principles sought to be established in the
Governments of Canada by the party referred to, as set forth in the
terms just given (almost verbatim) in Patrick Swift's Almanac, a well
known popular, annual brochure of Mr. McKenzie's. It seems singular
now, in the retrospect, that doctrines such as these should have created
But there is this to be said: it does not appear that there were, at the
time, in the ranks of the party in power, any persons of very superior
intellectual gifts or of a wide range of culture or historical
knowledge: so that it was not likely that, on that side, there would be
a ready relinquishment of political traditions, of inherited ideas,
which their possessors had never dreamt of rationally analyzing, and
which they deemed it all but treason to call in question.
And moreover it is to be remembered that the chief propagandist of the
doctrines of reform, although very intelligent and ready of speech, did
not himself possess the dignity and repose of character which give
weight to the utterances of public men. Hence, with the persons who
really stood in need of instruction and enlightenment, his words had an
irritating, rather than a conciliatory and convincing effect. This was a
fault which it was not in his power to remedy. For his microscopic
vision and restless temperament, while they fitted him to be a very
clever local reformer, a very clever local editor, unfitted him for the
grand role of a national statesman, or heroic conductor of a
Accordingly, although the principles advocated by him finally obtained
the ascendancy, posterity only regards him as the Wilkes, the Cobbett,
or the Hunt of his day, in the annals of his adopted country. In the
interval between the outbreak or feint at outbreak in 1838, and 1850,
the whole Canadian community made a great advance in general
intelligence, and statesmen of a genuine quality began to appear in our
Prior to the period of which we have just been speaking, a name much in
the mouths of our early settlers was that of Robert Gourlay. What we
have to say in respect to him, in our retrospect of the past, will
perhaps be in place here.
Nothing could be more laudable than Mr. Gourlay's intentions at the
outset. He desired to publish a statistical account of Canada, with a
view to the promotion of emigration. To inform himself of the actual
condition of the young colony, he addressed a series of questions to
persons of experience and intelligence in every township of Upper
Canada. These questions are now lying before us; they extend to the
number of thirty-one. There are none of them that a modern reader would
pronounce ill-judged or irrelevant.
But here again it is easy to see that personal character and temperament
marred the usefulness of a clever man. His inordinate self-esteem and
pugnaciousness, insufficiently controlled, speedily rendered him
offensive, especially in a community constituted as that was in the
midst of which he had suddenly lighted; and drove, naturally and of
necessity, his opponents to extreme measures in self-defence, and
himself to extreme doctrines by way of retaliation: thus he became
overwhelmed with troubles from which the tact of a wiser man would have
saved him. But for Gourlay, as the event proved, a latent insanity was
It is curious to observe that, in 1818, Gourlay, in his heat against the
official party, whose headquarters were at York, threatened that town
with extinction; at all events, with the obliteration of its name, and
the transmutation thereof into that of Toronto. In a letter to the
Niagara Spectator, he says:--"The tumult excited stiffens every nerve
and redoubles the proofs of necessity for action. If the higher classes
are against me, I shall recruit among my brother farmers, seven in eight
of whom will support the cause of truth. If one year does not make
Little York surrender to us, then we'll batter it for two; and should it
still hold out, we have ammunition for a much longer siege. We shall
raise the wind against it from Amherstburgh and Quebec--from Edinburgh,
Dublin and London. It must be levelled to the very earth, and even its
name be forgotten in Toronto."
But to return for a moment to Mr. McKenzie. On the steps of the Court
House, which we are to suppose ourselves now passing, we once saw him
under circumstances that were deeply touching. Sentence of death had
been pronounced on a young man once employed in his printing-office. He
had been vigorously exerting himself to obtain from the Executive a
mitigation of the extreme penalty. The day and even the hour for the
execution had arrived; and no message of reprieve had been transmitted
from the Lieutenant-Governor. As he came out of the Sheriff's room,
after receiving the final announcement that there could be no further
delay, the white collars on each side of his face were wet through and
through with the tears that were gushing from his eyes and pouring down
his cheeks! He was just realizing the fact that nothing further could be
done; and in a few moments afterwards the execution actually took place.
We approach comparatively late times when we speak of the cavalcade
which passed in grand state the spot now under review, when Messrs. Dunn
and Buchanan were returned as members for the town. In the pageant on
that occasion there was conspicuous a train of railway carriages, drawn
of course, by horse power, with the inscription on the sides of the
carriages--"Do you not wish you may get it?"--the allusion being to the
Grand Trunk, which, was then only a thing in posse.
And still referring to processions associated in our memory with Court
House Square, the recollection of another comes up, which once or twice
a year used formerly to pass down King Street on a Sunday. The
townspeople were familiar enough with the march of the troops of the
garrison to and from Church, to the sound of military music, on Sundays.
But on the occasions now referred to, the public eye was drawn to a
spectacle professedly of an opposite character:--to the procession of
the "Children of Peace," so-called.
These were a local off-shoot of the Society of Friends, the followers of
Mr. David Willson, who had his headquarters at Sharon, in Whitchurch,
where he had built a "Temple," a large wooden structure, painted white,
and resembling a high-piled house of cards. Periodically he deemed it
proper to make a demonstration in town. His disciples and friends,
dressed in their best, mounted their waggons and solemnly passed down
Yonge Street, and then on through some frequented thoroughfare of York
to a place previously announced, where the prophet would preach. His
topic was usually "Public Affairs: their Total Depravity."
The text of all of Willson's homilies might, in effect, be the following
mystic sentence, extracted from the popular periodical, already
quoted--Patrick Swift's Almanac: "The backwoodsman, while he lays the
axe to the root of the oak in the forests of Canada, should never forget
that a base basswood is growing in this his native land, which, if not
speedily girdled, will throw its dark shadows over the country, and
blast his best exertions. Look up, reader, and you will see the
branches--the Robinson branch, the Powell branch, the Jones branch, the
Strachan branch, the Boulton twig, &c. The farmer toils, the merchant
toils, the labourer toils, and the Family Compact reap the fruit of
their exertions." (Almanac for 1834.)
Into all the points here suggested Mr. Willson would enter with great
zest. When waxing warm in his discourse, he would sometimes, without
interrupting the flow of his words, suddenly throw off his coat and
suspend it on a nail or pin in the wall, waving about with freedom,
during the residue of his oration, a pair of sturdy arms, arrayed, not
indeed in the dainty lawn of a bishop, but in stout, well-bleached
American Factory. His address was divided into sections, between which
"hymns of his own composing" were sung by a company of females dressed
in white, sitting on one side, accompanied by a band of musical
instruments on the other.
Considerable crowds assembled on these occasions: and once a panic arose
as preaching was going on in the public room of Lawrence's hotel: the
joists of the floor were heard to crack; a rush was made to the door,
and several leaped out of the windows.--A small brick school-house on
Berkeley Street was also a place where Willson sometimes sought to get
the ear of the general public.--Captain Bonnycastle, in "Canada as it
Was, Is, and May Be," i. 285, thus discourses of David Willson, in a
strain somewhat too severe and satirical; but his words serve to show
opinions which widely prevailed at the time he wrote: "At a short
distance from Newmarket," the Captain says, "which is about three miles
to the right of Yonge Street, near its termination at the Holland
Landing, on a river of that name running into Lake Simcoe, is a
settlement of religious enthusiasts, who have chosen the most fertile
part of Upper Canada, the country near and for miles round Newmarket,
for the seat of their earthly tabernacle. Here numbers of deluded people
have placed themselves under the temporal and spiritual charge of a high
priest, who calls himself David. His real name is David Willson. The
Temple (as the building appropriated to the celebration of their rites
is called,) is served by this man, who affects a primitive dress, and
has a train of virgin-ministrants clothed in white. He travels about
occasionally to preach at towns and villages, in a waggon, followed by
others, covered with white tilt-cloths; but what his peculiar tenets are
beyond that of dancing and singing, and imitating David the King, I
really cannot tell, for it is altogether too farcical to last long: but
Mr. David seems to understand clearly, as far as the temporal concerns
of his infatuated followers go, that the old-fashioned signification of
meum and tuum are religiously centered in his own sanctum. It was
natural that such a field should produce tares in abundance."
The following notice of the "Children of Peace" occurs in Patrick
Swift's Almanac for 1834, penned, probably, with an eye to votes in the
neighbourhood of Sharon, or Hope, as the place is here called. "This
society," the Almanac reports, "numbers about 280 members in Hope, east
of Newmarket. They have also stated places of preaching, at the Old
Court House, York, on Yonge Street, and at Markham. Their principal
speaker is David Willson, assisted by Murdoch McLeod, Samuel Hughes, and
others. Their music, vocal and instrumental, is excellent, and their
preachers seek no pay from the Governor out of the taxes."
On week-days, Willson was often to be seen, like any other industrious
yeoman, driving into town his own waggon, loaded with the produce of his
farm; dressed in home-spun, as the "borel folk" of Yonge Street
generally were: in the axis of one eye there was a slight
divergency.--The expression "Family Compact" occurring above, borrowed
from French and Spanish History, appears also in the General Report of
Grievances, in 1835, where this sentence is to be read: "The whole
system [of conducting Government without a responsible Executive] has so
long continued virtually in the same hands, that it is little better
than a family compact." p. 43. (In our proposed perambulation of Yonge
Street we shall have occasion to speak again of David Willson.)
After the Court House Square came the large area attached to St. James'
Church, to the memories connected with which we shall presently devote
some space; as also to those connected with the region to the north,
formerly the play-ground of the District Grammar School, and afterwards
transformed into March Street and its purlieus.
At the corner on the south side of King Street, just opposite the Court
House, was the clock-and-watch-repairing establishment of Mr. Charles
Clinkenbroomer. To our youthful fancy, the general click and tick
usually to be heard in an old-fashioned watchmaker's place of business,
was in some sort expressed by the name Clinkunbroomer. But in old local
lists we observe the orthography of this name to have been
Klinkenbrunner, which conveys another idea. Mr. Clinkenbroomer's
father, we believe, was attached to the army of General Wolfe, at the
taking of Quebec.
In the early annals of York numerous Teutonic names are observable.
Among jurymen and others, at an early period, we meet with Nicholas
Klinkenbrunner, Gerhard Kuch, John Vanzantee, Barnabas Vanderburgh,
Lodowick Weidemann, Francis Freder, Peter Hultz, Jacob Wintersteen, John
Shunk, Leonard Klink, and so on.
So early as 1795 Liancourt speaks of a migration hither of German
settlers from the other side of the Lake. He says a number of German
settlers collected at Hamburg, an agent had brought out to settle on
"Captain Williamson's Demesne" in the State of New York. After
subsisting for some time there at the expense of Capt. Williamson, (who,
it was stated, was really the representative of one of the Pulteneys in
England), they decamped in a body to the north side of the Lake, and
especially to York and its neighbourhood, at the instigation of one
Berczy, and "gained over, if we may believe common fame," Liancourt
says, "by the English;" gained over, rather, it is likely, by the
prospect of acquiring freehold property for nothing, instead of holding
under a patroon or American feudal lord.
Probably it was to the accounts of Capt. Williamson's proceedings, given
by these refugees, that a message from Gov. Simcoe to that gentleman, in
1794, was due. Capt. Williamson, who appears to have acquired a supposed
personal interest in a large portion of the State of New York, was
opening settlements on the inlets on the south side of Lake Ontario,
known as Ierondequat and Sodus Bay.
"Last year," Liancourt informs us, "General Simcoe, Governor of Upper
Canada, who considered the Forts of Niagara and Oswego, . . . as English
property, together with the banks of Lake Ontario, sent an English
officer to the Captain, with an injunction, not to persist in his design
of forming the settlements." To which message, "the Captain," we are then
told, "returned a plain and spirited answer, yet nevertheless conducted
himself with a prudence conformable to the circumstances. All these
difficulties, however," it is added, "are now removed by the prospect of
the continuance of peace, and still more so by the treaty newly
concluded." (Of Mr. Berczy, and the German Settlement proper, we shall
discourse at large in our section on Yonge Street.)
Next: King Street: Digression Southwards At Church Street: Market Lane
Previous: King Street From John Street To Yonge Street