History of Toronto The Harbour: Its Marine 1815-1827
Soon after the close of the war with the United States in 1...
King Street From John Street To Yonge Street
After our long stroll westward, we had purposed returning t...
King Street: Digression Northward At Church Street: The Old District Grammar School
Immediately north of the church plot, and separated from it...
Yonge Street From Yorkville To Hogg's Hollow
Of long standing is the group of buildings on the right aft...
Palace Street To The Market Place
In Rome, at the present day, the parts that are the most at...
Queen Street From Brock Street And Spadina Avenue To The Humber
Immediately after the grounds and property of Mr. Dunn, on ...
King Street From Caroline Street To Berkeley Street
Returning again to King Street: At the corner of Caroline S...
Queen Street From The Don Bridge To Caroline Street
We return once more to the Don Bridge; and from that point ...
From The Garrison Back To The Place Of Beginning
We now enter again the modern Fort; passing back through th...
King Street Digression Into Duke Street
On passing George Street, as we intimated a moment ago, we ...
The Harbour: Its Marine 1828-1863
The Canada's advertisement for the season of 1828 appears i...
King Street: St James' Church
The first Church of St. James, at York, was a plain structu...
Yonge Street: Onward From Holland Landing To Penetanguishene
To render our narrative complete, we give in a few parting ...
King Street From George Street To Caroline Street
We now retrace our steps to King Street, at its intersectio...
From Brock Street To The Old French Fort
Returning again to the front. The portion of the Common tha...
Yonge Street From The Bay To Yorkville
The tourist of the present day, who, on one of our great la...
King Street From Yonge Street To Church Street
Where Yonge Street crosses King Street, forming at the pres...
The Harbour Its Marine 1800-1814
On the 15th of May, 1800, Governor Hunter arrives again in ...
King Street: St James' Church Continued
It is beginning, perhaps, to be thought preposterous that w...
King Street: Digression Southwards At Church Street: Market Lane
Across Church Street from Clinkunbroomer's were the wooden ...
The Valley Of The Don
I.--From the Bridge on the Kingston Road to Tyler's.
Retracing our steps; placing ourselves again on the bridge, and, turning
northwards, we see on the right, near by, a field or rough space, which
has undergone excavation, looking as though the brick-maker or potter
had been at work on it: and we may observe that large quantity of the
displaced material has been spread out over a portion of the marshy
tract enclosed here by a bend of the river westward. What we see is a
relic of an effort made long ago, by Mr. Washburn, a barrister of York,
to whom reference has been made before, to bring this piece of land into
cultivation. In its natural state the property was all but useless, from
the steepness of the hill-side on the one hand, and from the ever wet
condition of the central portion of the flat below on the other. By
grading down the hill and filling in the marsh, and establishing a
gentle slope from the margin of the stream to the level of the top of
the bank on the right, it was easy to see that a large piece of solid
land in an eligible position might be secured. The undertaking, however,
was abandoned before the work was finished, the expense probably being
found heavy, and the prospect of a return for the outlay remote.
At a later period Mr. O'Neill, with greater success and completeness,
cut down the steep ridges of the bank at Don Mount, a short distance up,
and filled in the marsh below. These experiments show how the valley of
the Don, along the eastern outskirts of the town, will ultimately be
turned to account, when the necessities of the population demand the
outlay. At present such improvements are discouraged by the length of
time required to cover large surfaces of new clay with vegetable mould.
But in future years it will be for mills and factories, and not for
suburban and villa purposes, that the parts referred to will be held
These marshes along the sides of the Don, from the point where its
current ceases to be perceptible, appear to be remains of the river as
it was at an epoch long ago. The rim or levee that now, on the right and
left, confines and defines the meanderings of the stream in the midst of
the marshes, has been formed by the alluvial matter deposited in the
annual overflowings. The bed of the stream has probably in the same
manner been by degrees slightly raised. The solid tow-path, as it were,
thus created on each side of the river-channel, affords at present a
great convenience to the angler and fowler. It forms, moreover, as shown
by the experiments above alluded to, a capital breastwork, towards which
the engineer may advance, when cutting down the adjoining hills, and
disposing of their material on the drowned land below.
Once more imagining ourselves on the bridge, and looking obliquely to
the north-west, we may still discern close by some remains of the short,
shallow, winding ravine, by which in winter the sleighs used to ascend
from the level of the river, and regain, through a grove of pines and
hemlocks, the high road into the town. As soon as the steady cold set
in, every year, the long reaches and grand sweeps of the river Don
became peculiarly interesting. Firmly frozen over everywhere, and coated
with a good depth of snow, bordered on each side by a high shrubbery of
wild willow, alder, wych-hazel, dog-wood, tree-cranberry and other
specimens of the lesser brushwood of the forest, plentifully overspread
and interwoven in numerous places with the vine of wild grape, the whole
had the appearance of a fine, clear, level English coach-road or
highway, bounded throughout its winding course by a luxuriant hedge,
seen as such English roads and their surroundings were wont to be, all
snow-clad, at Christmas-tide, from the top of the fast mail to Exeter,
for example, in the old coaching days.
Down the river, thus conveniently paved over, every day came a cavalcade
of strong sleighs, heavily laden, some with cordwood, some with sawn
lumber, some with hay, a whole stack of which at once, sometimes, would
seem to be on the move.
After a light fall of snow in the night, the surface of the frozen
stream would be marked all over with foot-prints innumerable of animals,
small and great, that had been early out a-foraging: tracks of
field-mice, minks and martens, of land-rats, water-rats and muskrats; of
the wild-cat sometimes, and of the fox; and sometimes of the wolf. Up
this valley we have heard at night the howling of the wolf; and in the
snow of the meadows that skirt the stream, we have seen the
blood-stained spots where sheep had been worried and killed by that
In one or two places where the bends of the river touched the inner high
bank, and where diggings had abortively been made with a view to the
erection of a factory of some kind, beautiful frozen gushes of water
from springs in the hill-side were every winter to be seen, looking, at
a distance, like small motionless Niagaras. At one sheltered spot, we
remember, where a tannery was begun but never finished, solid ice was
sometimes to be found far on in the summer.
In the spring and summer, a pull up the Don, while yet its banks were in
their primeval state was something to be enjoyed. After passing certain
potasheries and distilleries that at an early period were erected a
short distance northward of the bridge, the meadow land at the base of
the hills began to widen out; and numerous elm trees, very lofty, with
gracefully-drooping branches, made their appearance, with other very
handsome trees, as the lime or basswood, and the sycamore or
button-wood.--At a very early period, we have been assured that brigades
of North-west Company boats, en route to Lake Huron, used to make
their way up the Don as far as the "Forks," by one of which they then
passed westward towards the track now known as Yonge-street: they there
were taken ashore and carried on trucks to the Holland river. The help
gained by utilizing this piece of water-way must have been slight, when
the difficulties to be overcome high up the stream were taken into
account. We have conversed with an early inhabitant who, at a more
recent period, had seen the North-west Company's boats drawn on trucks
by oxen up the line of modern Yonge-street, but, in his day, starting,
mounted in this manner, from the edge of the bay. In both cases they
were shifted across from the Lake into the harbour at the
"Carrying-place"--the narrow neck or isthmus a little to the west of the
mouth of the Don proper, where the lake has now made a passage.
We add one more of the spectacles which, in the olden time, gave
animation to the scene before us. Along the winding stream, where in
winter the sleighs were to be seen coming down, every summer at night
would be observed a succession of moving lights, each repeated in the
dark water below. These were the iron cressets, filled with unctuous
pine knots all ablaze, suspended from short poles at the bows of the
fishermen's skiffs, out in quest of salmon and such other large fish as
might be deemed worth a thrust of the long-handled, sharply-barbed
trident used in such operations. Before the establishment of mills and
factories, many hundreds of salmon were annually taken in the Don, as in
all the other streams emptying into Lake Ontario. We have ourselves been
out on a night-fishing excursion on the Don, when in the course of an
hour some twenty heavy salmon were speared; and we have a distinct
recollection of the conspicuous appearance of the great fish, as seen by
the aid of the blazing "jack" at the bow, nozzling about at the bottom
of the stream.
2.--From Tyler's to the Big Bend.
Not far from the spot where, at present, the Don-street bridge crosses
the river, on the west side and to the north, lived for a long time a
hermit-squatter, named Joseph Tyler, an old New Jersey man, of
picturesque aspect. With his rather fine, sharp, shrewd features, set
off by an abundance of white hair and beard, he was the counterpart of
an Italian artist's stock-model. The mystery attendant on his choice of
a life of complete solitude, his careful reserve, his perfect
self-reliance in regard to domestic matters, and, at the same time, the
evident wisdom of his contrivances and ways, and the propriety and
sagacity of his few words, all helped to render him a good specimen in
actual life of a secular anchorite. He had been in fact a soldier in the
United States army, in the war of Independence, and was in the receipt
of a pension from the other side of the lakes. He was familiar, he
alleged, with the personal appearance of Washington.
His abode on the Don was an excavation in the side of the steep hill, a
little way above the level of the river-bank. The flue of his winter
fire-place was a tubular channel, bored up through the clay of the
hill-side. His sleeping-place or berth was exactly like one of the
receptacles for human remains in the Roman catacombs, an oblong recess,
likewise carved in the dry material of the hill. To the south of his
cave he cultivated a large garden, and raised among other things, the
white sweet edible Indian corn, a novelty here at the time; and very
excellent tobacco. He moreover manufactured pitch and tar, in a little
kiln or pit dug for the purpose close by his house.
He built for himself a magnificent canoe, locally famous. It consisted
of two large pine logs, each about forty feet long, well shaped and
deftly hollowed out, fastened together by cross dove-tail pieces let in
at regular distances along the interior of its bottom. While in process
of construction in the pine woods through which the "Mill road" passes,
on the high bank eastward of the river, it was a wonderment to all the
inquisitive youth of the neighbourhood, and was accordingly often
visited and inspected by them.
In this craft he used to pole himself down the windings of the stream,
all the way round into the bay, and on to the landing-place at the foot
of Caroline-street, bringing with him the produce of his garden, and
neat stacks of pine knots, ready split for the fishermen's lightjacks.
He would also on occasion undertake the office of ferryman. On being
hailed for the purpose, he would put across the river persons anxious to
make a short cut into the town from the eastward. Just opposite his den
there was for a time a rude causeway over the marsh.
At the season of the year when the roads through the woods were
impracticable, Tyler's famous canoe was employed by the Messrs.
Helliwell for conveying into town, from a point high up the stream, the
beer manufactured at their Breweries on the Don. We are informed by Mr.
William Helliwell, of the Highland Creek, that twenty-two barrels at a
time could be placed in it, in two rows of eleven each, laid lengthwise
side by side, still leaving room for Tyler and an assistant to navigate
The large piece of meadow land on the east side of the river, above
Tyler's abode, enclosed by a curve which the stream makes towards the
west, has a certain interest attached to it from the fact that therein
was reproduced, for the first time in these parts, that peculiarly
pleasant English scene, a hop-garden. Under the care of Mr. James Case,
familiar with the hop in Sussex, this graceful and useful plant was here
for several seasons to be seen passing through the successive stages of
its scientific cultivation; in early spring sprouting from the surface
of the rich black vegetable mould; then trained gradually over, and at
length clothing richly the poles or groups of poles set at regular
distances throughout the enclosure; overtopping these supports; by and
by loading them heavily with a plentiful crop of swaying clusters; and
then finally, when in a sufficiently mature state, prostrated, props and
all, upon the ground, and stripped of their fragrant burden, the real
object of all the pains taken.--From this field many valuable pockets of
hops were gathered; and the quality of the plant was pronounced to be
good. Mr. Case afterwards engaged extensively in the same occupation in
the neighbourhood of Newmarket.
About the dry, sandy table-land that overlooked the river on each side
in this neighbourhood, the burrows of the fox, often with little
families within, were plentifully to be met with. The marmot too,
popularly known as the woodchuck, was to be seen on sunny days sitting
up upon its haunches at holes in the hill-side. We could at this moment
point out the ancient home of a particular animal of this species, whose
ways we used to note with some curiosity.--Here were to be found racoons
also; but these, like the numerous squirrels, black, red, flying and
striped, were visible only towards the decline of summer, when the maize
and the nuts began to ripen. At that period also, bears, he-bears and
she-bears, accompanied by their cubs, were not unfamiliar objects,
wherever the blackberry and raspberry grew. In the forest, moreover,
hereabout, a rustle in the underbrush, and something white seen dancing
up and down in the distance like the plume of a mounted knight, might at
any moment indicate that a group of deer had caught sight of one of the
dreaded human race, and, with tails uplifted, had bounded incontinently
Pines of a great height and thickness crowded the tops of these hills.
The paths of hurricanes could be traced over extensive tracts by the
fallen trunks of trees of this species, their huge bulks lying one over
the other in a titanic confusion worthy of a sketch by Dore in
illustration of Dante; their heads all in one direction, their upturned
roots, vast mats of woody ramifications and earth, presented sometimes a
perpendicular wall of a great height. Occasionally one of these upright
masses, originating in the habit of the pine to send out a wide-spread
but shallow rootage, would unexpectedly fall back into its original
place, when, in the clearing of the land, the bole of the tree to which
it appertained came to be gashed through. In this case it would
sometimes happen that a considerable portion of the trunk would appear
again in a perpendicular position. As its top would of course show that
human hands had been at work there, the question would be propounded to
the new comer as to how the axe could have reached to such a height. The
suppositions usually encouraged in him were, either that the snow must
have been wonderfully deep when that particular tree was felled, or else
that some one of the very early settlers must have been a man of
Among the lofty pines, here and there, one more exposed than the rest
would be seen, with a piece of the thickness of a strong fence-rail
stripped out of its side, from its extreme apex to its very root,
spirally, like the groove of a rifle-bore. It in this manner showed that
at some moment it had been the swift conductor down into the earth of
the contents of a passing electric cloud. One tree of the pine species,
we remember, that had been severed in the midst by lightning, so
suddenly, that the upper half had descended with perfect
perpendicularity and such force that it planted itself upright in the
earth by the side of the trunk from which it had been smitten.
Nor may we omit from our remembered phenomena of the pine forests
hereabout, the bee-trees. Now and then a huge pine would fall, or be
intentionally cut down, which would exhibit in cavernous recesses at a
great distance from what had been its root end, the accumulated combs
of, it might be, a half century; those of them that were of recent
construction, filled with honey.
A solitary survivor of the forest of towering pines which, at the period
to which we are adverting, covered the hills on both sides of the Don
was long to be seen towards the northern limit of the Moss Park
property. In the columns of a local paper this particular tree was thus
Oh! tell to me, thou old pine tree,
Oh! tell to me thy tale,
For long hast thou the thunder braved,
And long withstood the gale;
The last of all thy hardy race,
Thy tale now tell to me,
For sure I am, it must be strange,
Thou lonely forest tree.
Yes, strange it is, this bending trunk,
So withered now and grey,
Stood once among the forest trees
Which long have passed away:
They fell in strength and beauty,
Nor have they left a trace,
Save my old trunk and withered limbs
To show their former place.
Countless and lofty once we stood;
Beneath our ample shade
His forest home of boughs and bark
The hardy red man made.
Child of the forest, here he roamed,
Nor spoke nor thought of fear,
As he trapped the beaver in his dam,
And chased the bounding deer.
No gallant ship with spreading sail
Then ploughed those waters blue,
Nor craft had old Ontario then,
But the Indians' birch canoe;
No path was through the forest,
Save that the red man trod;
Here, by your home, was his dwelling place,
And the temple of his God.
Now where the busy city stands,
Hard by that graceful spire,
The proud Ojibeway smoked his pipe
Beside his camping fire.
And there, where those marts of commerce are
Extending east and west,
Amid the rushes in the marsh
The wild fowl had its nest.
But the pale face came, our ranks were thinn'd,
And the loftiest were brought low,
And the forest faded far and wide,
Beneath his sturdy blow;
And the steamer on the quiet lake,
Then ploughed its way of foam,
And the red man fled from the scene of strife
To find a wilder home.
And many who in childhood's days
Around my trunk have played,
Are resting like the Indian now
Beneath the cedar's shade;
And I, like one bereft of friends,
With winter whitened o'er,
But wait the hour that I must fall,
As others fell before.
And still what changes wait thee,
When at no distant day,
The ships of far off nations,
Shall anchor in your bay;
When one vast chain of railroad,
Stretching from shore to shore,
Shall bear the wealth of India,
And land it at your door.
A short distance above the hop ground of which we have spoken, the Don
passed immediately underneath a high sandy bluff. Where, after a long
reach in its downward course, it first impinged against the steep cliff,
it was very deep. Here was the only point in its route, so far as we
recall, where the epithet was applicable which Milton gives to its
English namesake, when he speaks of--
"Utmost Tweed, or Ouse, or gulphy Don."
This very noticeable portion of the river was known as the "Big Bend."
(We may observe here that in retaining its English name, the Don has
lost the appellation assigned to it by the French, if they ever
distinguished it by a name. The Grand River, on the contrary, has
retained its French name, notwithstanding its English official
designation, which was the Ouse. The Rouge, too, has kept its French
name. It was the Nen. The Indians styled this, or a neighbouring stream,
Katabokokonk, "The River of Easy Entrance." The Thames, however, has
wholly dropped its French title, LaTranche. We may subjoin that the
Humber was anciently called by some, St John's River, from a trader
named St. John; and by some, as we have already learnt, Toronto River.
In Lahontan's map it is marked Tanaouate. No interpretation is
given.--Augustus Jones, the early surveyor of whom we shall have
occasion frequently to speak, notes in one of his letters that the
Indian name for the Don was Wonscoteonach, "Back burnt grounds;" that
is, the river coming down from the back burnt country, meaning probably
the so-called Poplar Plains to the north, liable to be swept by casual
fires in the woods. The term is simply descriptive, and not, in the
modern sense, a proper name.)
Towards the summit of the high bluff just mentioned, the holes made by
the sand-martins were numerous. Hereabout we have met with the snapping
turtle. This creature has not the power of withdrawing itself wholly
within a shell. A part of its protection consists in the loud
threatening snap of its strong horny jaws, armed in front with a
beak-like hook bent downwards. What the creature lays hold of, it will
not let go. Let it grasp the end of a stout stick, and the sportsman may
sling it over his shoulder, and so carry it home with him. When allowed
to reach its natural term of life, it probably attains a very great age.
We remember a specimen captured near the spot at which we are pausing,
which, from its vast size, and the rough, lichen-covered condition of
its shell, must have been extremely old. We also once found near here a
numerous deposit of this animal's eggs; all white and spherical, of the
diameter of about an inch, and covered with a tough parchment-like skin.
The ordinary lesser tortoises of the marsh were of course plentiful
along the Don: their young frequently to be met with creeping about,
were curious and ever-interesting little objects. Snakes too there were
about here, of several kinds: one, often very large and
dangerous-looking, the copper-head, of a greenish brown colour, and
covered with oblong and rather loose scales. The striped garter-snake of
all sizes, was very common. Though reported to be harmless, it always
indulged, when interfered with, in the menacing action and savage
attempts to strike, of the most venomous of its genus.--Then there was
the beautiful grass-green snake; and in large numbers, the black
water-snake. In the rank herbage along the river's edge, the terrified
piping of a pursued frog was often heard.
It recurs to us, as we write, that once, on the banks of the Humber, we
saw a bird actually in the grasp of a large garter-snake--just held by
the foot. As the little creature fluttered violently in the air, the
head of the reptile was swayed rapidly to and fro. All the small birds
in the vicinity had gathered together in a state of noisy excitement;
and many spirited dashes were make by several of them at the common foe.
No great injury having been as yet inflicted, we were enabled to effect
a happy rescue.
From the high sandy cliff, to which our attention has been drawn, it was
possible to look down into the waters of the river; and on a sunny day,
it afforded no small amusement to watch the habits, not only of the
creatures just named, but of the fish also, visible below in the stream;
the simple sunfish, for example, swimming about in shoals (or schools,
as the term used to be); and the pike, crafty as a fox, lurking in
solitude, ready to dart on his unwary prey with the swiftness and
precision of an arrow shot from the bow.
3.--From the Big Bend to Castle Frank Brook.
Above the "Big Bend," on the west side, was "Rock Point." At the water's
edge hereabout was a slight outcrop of shaly rock, where crayfish were
numerous, and black bass. The adjoining marshy land was covered with a
dense thicket, in which wild gooseberry bushes and wild black-currant
bushes were noticeable. The flats along here were a favourite haunt of
woodcock at the proper season of the year: the peculiar succession of
little twitters uttered by them when descending from their flight, and
the very different deep-toned note, the signal of their having alighted,
were both very familiar sounds in the dusk of the evening.
A little further on was "the Island." The channel between it and the
"mainland" on the north side, was completely choked up with logs and
large branches, brought down by the freshets. It was itself surrounded
by a high fringe or hedge of the usual brush that lined the river-side
all along, matted together and clambered over, almost everywhere by the
wild grape-vine. In the waters at its northern end, wild rice grew
plentifully, and the beautiful sweet-scented white water-lily or lotus.
This minute bit of insulated land possessed, to the boyish fancy, great
capabilities. Within its convenient circuit, what phantasies and dreams
might not be realized? A Juan Fernandez, a Barataria, a New
Atlantis.--At the present moment we find that what was once our charmed
isle has now become terra firma, wholly amalgamated with the mainland.
Silt has hidden from view the tangled lodgments of the floods. A carpet
of pleasant herbage has overspread the silt. The border-strip of
shrubbery and grape-vine, which so delightfully walled it round, has
been improved, root and branch, out of being.
Near the Island, on the left side, a rivulet, of which more immediately,
pouring down through a deep, narrow ravine, entered the Don. On the
right, just at this point, the objectionable marshes began to disappear,
and the whole bottom of the vale was early converted into handsome
meadows. Scattered about were grand elm and butternut, fine basswood and
buttonwood trees, with small groves of the Canadian willow, which
pleasantly resembles, in habit, the olive tree of the south of Europe.
Along the flats, remains of Indian encampments were often met with;
tusks of bears and other animals; with fragments of coarse pottery,
streaked or furrowed rudely over, for ornament. And all along the
valley, calcareous masses, richly impregnated with iron, were found,
detached, from time to time, as was supposed, from certain places in the
At the long-ago epoch when the land went up, the waters came down with a
concentrated rush from several directions into the valley just here,
from some accidental cause, carving out in their course, in the enormous
deposit of the drift, a number of deep and rapidly descending channels,
converging all upon this point. The drainage of a large extent of
acreage to the eastward, also at that period, found here for a time its
way into the Don, as may be seen by a neighbouring gorge, and the deep
and wide, but now dry water-course leading to it, known, where the
"Mill road" crosses it, as the "Big Hollow."
Bare and desolate, at that remote era, must have been the appearance of
these earth-banks and ridges and flats, as also those in the vicinity of
all our rivers: for many a long year they must have resembled the
surroundings of some great tidal river, to which the sea, after ebbing,
had failed to return.
One result of the ancient down-rush of waters, just about here, was that
on both sides of the river there were to be observed several striking
specimens of that long, thin, narrow kind of hill which is popularly
known as a "hog's back." One on the east side afforded, along its ridge,
a convenient ascent from the meadows to the table-land above, where
fine views up and down the vale were obtainable, somewhat Swiss in
character, including in the distance the lake, to the south. Overhanging
the pathway, about half-way up, a group of white-birch trees is
remembered by the token that, on their stems, a number of young men and
maidens of the neighbourhood had, in sentimental mood, after the manner
of the Corydons and Amaryllises of classic times, incised their names.
The west side of the river, as well as the east, of which we have been
more especially speaking, presented here also a collection of convergent
"hog's backs" and deeply channelled water-courses. One of the latter
still conducted down a living stream to the Don. This was the rivulet
already noticed as entering just above the Island. It bore the graceful
name of "Castle Frank Brook."
Castle Frank was a rustic chateau or summer-house, built by Governor
Simcoe in the midst of the woods, on the brow of a steep and lofty bank,
which overlooks the vale of the Don, a short distance to the north of
where we have been lingering. The construction of this edifice was a
mere divertissement while engaged in the grand work of planting in a
field literally and entirely new, the institutions of civilization.
All the way from the site of the town of York to the front of this
building, a narrow carriage-road and convenient bridle-path had been cut
out by the soldiers, and carefully graded. Remains of this ancient
engineering achievement are still to be traced along the base of the
hill below the Necropolis and elsewhere. The brook--Castle Frank
Brook--a little way from where it enters the Don, was spanned by a
wooden bridge. Advantage being taken of a narrow ridge, that opportunely
had its commencing point close by on the north side, the roadway here
began the ascent of the adjoining height. It then ran slantingly up the
hill-side, along a cutting which is still to be seen. The table-land at
the summit was finally gained by utilizing another narrow ridge. It then
proceeded along the level at the top for some distance through a forest
of lofty pines, until the chateau itself was reached.
The cleared space where the building stood was not many yards across. On
each side of it, the ground precipitously descended, on the one hand to
the Don, on the other to the bottom of the ravine where flowed the
brook. Notwithstanding the elevation of the position, the view was
circumscribed, hill-side and table-land being alike covered with trees
of the finest growth.
Castle Frank itself was an edifice of considerable dimensions, of an
oblong shape; its walls were composed of a number of rather small,
carefully hewn logs, of short lengths. The whole wore the hue which
unpainted timber, exposed to the weather, speedily assumes. At the gable
end, in the direction of the roadway from the nascent capital, was the
principal entrance, over which a rather imposing portico was formed by
the projection of the whole roof, supported by four upright columns,
reaching the whole height of the building, and consisting of the stems
of four good-sized, well-matched pines, with their deeply-chapped,
corrugated bark unremoved. The doors and shutters to the windows were
all of double thickness, made of stout plank, running up and down on one
side, and crosswise on the other, and thickly studded over with the
heads of stout nails. From the middle of the building rose a solitary,
We can picture to ourselves the cavalcade that was wont, from time to
time, to be seen in the summers and autumns of 1794-'5-'6, wending its
way leisurely to the romantically situated chateau of Castle Frank,
along the reaches and windings, the descents and ascents of the forest
road, expressly cut out through the primitive woods as a means of access
First, mounted on a willing and well-favoured horse, as we will suppose,
there would be General Simcoe himself--a soldierly personage, in the
full vigour of life, advanced but little beyond his fortieth year, of
thoughtful and stern, yet benevolent aspect--as shewn by the medallion
in marble on his monument in the cathedral at Exeter--revolving ever in
his mind schemes for the development and defence of the new Society
which he was engaged in founding; a man "just, active, enlightened,
brave, frank," as the French Duke de Liancourt described him in 1795;
"possessing the confidence of the country, of the troops, and of all
those who were joined with him in the administration of public affairs."
"No hillock catches his eye," the same observant writer remarks,
"without exciting in his mind the idea of a fort which might be
constructed on the spot, associating with the construction of this fort
the plan of operations for a campaign; especially of that which should
lead him to Philadelphia, i. e., to recover, by force of arms, to the
allegiance of England, the Colonies recently revolted."
By the side of the soldier and statesman Governor, also on horseback,
would be his gifted consort, small in person, "handsome and amiable," as
the French Duke again speaks, "fulfilling," as he continues to say, "all
the duties of the mother and wife with the most scrupulous exactness;
carrying the latter so far," DeLiancourt observes, "as to be of great
assistance to her husband by her talent for drawing, the practice of
which, in relation to maps and plans, enabled her to be extremely useful
to the Governor," while her skill and facility and taste in a wider
application of that talent were attested, the French traveller might
have added, by numerous sketch-books and portfolios of views of Canadian
scenery in its primitive condition, taken by her hand, to be treasured
up carefully and reverently by her immediate descendants, but
unfortunately not accessible generally to Canadian students.
This memorable lady--memorable for her eminent Christian goodness, as
well as for her artistic skill and taste, and superior intellectual
endowments--survived to the late period of 1850. Her maiden name is
preserved among us by the designation borne by two of our townships,
East and West "Gwillim"-bury. Her father, at the time one of the
aides-de-camp to General Wolfe, was killed at the taking of Quebec.
Conspicuous in the group would likewise be a young daughter and son, the
latter about five years of age and bearing the name of Francis. The
chateau of which we have just given an account was theoretically the
private property of this child, and took its name from him, although the
appellation, by accident as we suppose, is identical, in sound at all
events, with that of a certain "Castel-franc" near Rochelle, which
figures in the history of the Huguenots.
The Iroquois at Niagara had given the Governor a title, expressive of
hospitality--Deyonynhokrawen, "One whose door is always open." They had,
moreover, in Council declared his son a chief, and had named him Tioga;
or Deyoken, "Between the Two Objects;" and to humour them in return, as
Liancourt informs us, the child was occasionally attired in Indian
costume. For most men it is well that the future is veiled from them. It
happened eventually that a warrior's fate befell the young chieftain
Tioga. The little spirited lad who had been seen at one time moving
about before the assembled Iroquois at Niagara, under a certain
restraint probably, from the unwonted garb of embroidered deerskin, in
which, on such occasions, he would be arrayed; and at another time
clambering up and down the steep hill-sides at Castle Frank, with the
restless energy of a free English boy, was at last, after the lapse of
some seventeen years, seen a mangled corpse, one in that ghastly pile of
"English dead," which, in 1812, closed up the breach at Badajoz.
Riding with the Governor, out to his rustic lodge, would be seen also
his attached secretary, Major Littlehales, and one or other of his
faithful aides-de-camp, Lieutenant Talbot or Lieutenant Givins; with men
in attendance in the dark green undress of the famous Queen's Rangers,
with a sumpter pony or two, bearing packages and baskets filled with a
day's provender for the whole party. A few dogs also, a black
Newfoundland, a pointer, a setter, white and tan, hieing buoyantly about
on the right and left, would give animation to the cavalcade as it
passed sedately on its way--
"Through the green-glooming twilight of the grove."
It will be of interest to add here, the inscription on General Simcoe's
monument in Exeter Cathedral:--"Sacred to the memory of John Graves
Simcoe, Lieutenant-General in the army, and Colonel of the 22nd Regiment
of Foot, who died on the 25th day of October, 1806, aged 54. In whose
life and character the virtues of the hero, the patriot and the
Christian were so eminently conspicuous, that it may justly be said, he
served his king and his country with a zeal exceeded only by his piety
towards God." Above this inscription is a medallion portrait. On the
right and left are figures of an Indian and a soldier of the Queen's
Rangers. The remains of the General are not deposited in Exeter
Cathedral, but under a mortuary chapel on the estate of his family
Our cavalcade to Castle Frank, as sketched above, was once challenged on
the supposed ground that in 1794 there were no horses in Western
Canada.--Horses were no doubt at that date scarce in the region named;
but some were procurable for the use of the Governor and his suite. In a
"Journal to Detroit from Niagara, in 1793, by Major Littlehales,"
printed for the first time in the Canadian Literary Magazine, for May,
1833, we have it mentioned that, on the return of an exploring party,
they were met at the end of the plains, near the Salt Lake Creek, by
Indians, "bringing horses for the Governor and his suite." The French
habitans about Sandwich and Detroit were in possession of horses in
1793, as well as their fellow countrymen in Lower Canada.
After the departure of General Simcoe from Canada, Castle Frank was
occasionally made the scene of an excursion or pic-nic by President
Russell and his family; and a ball was now and then given there, for
which the appliances as well as the guests were conveyed in boats up the
Don. At one time it was temporarily occupied by Captain John Denison, of
whom hereafter. About the year 1829, the building, shut up and
tenantless at the time, was destroyed by fire, the mischievous handiwork
of persons engaged in salmon-fishing in the Don. A depression in the dry
sand just beyond the fence which bounds the Cemetery of St. James,
northward, shews to this day the exact site of Castle Frank. The
quantity of iron that was gathered out from this depression after the
fire, was, as we remember, something extraordinary, all the window
shutters and doors having been, as we have said, made of double planks,
fastened together with an immense number of stout nails, whose heads
thickly studded the surface of each in regular order.
The immediate surroundings of the spot where Castle Frank stood,
fortunately continue almost in their original natural state. Although
the site of the building itself is outside the bounds of the Cemetery of
St. James, a large portion of the lot which at first formed the domain
of the chateau, now forms a part of that spacious and picturesque
enclosure. The deep glen on the west, immediately below where the house
was built, and through which flows (and by the listener may be
pleasantly heard to flow) the brook that bears its name, is to this
day a scene of rare sylvan beauty. The pedestrian from the town, by a
half-hour's easy walk, can here place himself in the midst of a forest
solitude; and from what he sees he can form an idea of the whole
surrounding region, as it was when York was first laid out. Here he can
find in abundance, to this day, specimens, gigantic and minute, of the
vegetation of the ancient woods. Here at the proper seasons he can still
hear the blue jay; the flute notes of the solitary wood-thrush, and at
night, specially when the moon is shining bright, the whip-poor-will,
hurriedly and in a high key, syllabling forth its own name.
5.--On to the Ford and the Mills.
We now resume our ramble up the valley of the Don. Northward of the
gorge, where Castle Frank Brook entered, and where so many other
deep-cut ravines converge upon the present channel of the stream, the
scenery becomes really good.
We pass along through natural meadows, bordered on both sides by fine
hills, which recede by a succession of slight plateaux, the uppermost of
them clothed with lofty pines and oaks: on the slope nearest to "the
flats" on the east, grew, along with the choke-cherry and may-flower,
numbers of the wild apple or crab, beautiful objects when in full bloom.
Hereabout also was to be found the prickly ash, a rather uncommon and
graceful shrub. (The long-continued precipitous bank on the west side of
the Don completely covered with forest, with, at last, the roof of the
rustic chateau appearing above, must have recalled, in some slight
degree, the Sharpham woods and Sharpham to the mind of anyone who had
ever chanced to sail up the Dart so far as that most beautiful spot.)
Immediately beyond the Castle Frank woods, where now is the property
known as Drumsnab, came the estate of Captain George Playter, and
directly across on the opposite side of the river, that of his son
Captain John Playter, both immigrants from Pennsylvania. When the town
of York was in the occupancy of the Americans in 1813, many of the
archives of the young province of Upper Canada were conveyed for safe
keeping to the houses of these gentlemen. But boats, with men and
officers from the invading force, found their way up the windings of the
Don; and such papers and documents as could be found were carried away.
Just below Drumsnab, on the west side of the stream, and set down, as it
were, in the midst of the valley, was, and is, a singular isolated mound
of the shape of a glass shade over a French clock, known in the
neighbourhood as the "Sugar Loaf." It was completely clothed over with
moderate sized trees. When the whole valley of the Don was filled with a
brimming river reaching to the summit of its now secondary banks, the
top of the "Sugar Loaf," which is nearly on a level with the summit of
the adjacent hills, must have appeared above the face of the water as an
This picturesque and curious mound is noticed by Sir James Alexander, in
the account which he gives of the neighbourhood of Toronto in his
"L'Acadie, or Seven Years' Explorations in British America":--"The most
picturesque spot near Toronto," says Sir James, "and within four miles
of it, is Drumsnab, the residence of Mr. Cayley. The mansion is roomy
and of one storey, with a broad verandah. It is seated among fields and
woods, on the edge of a slope; at the bottom winds a river; opposite is
a most singular conical hill, like an immense Indian tumulus for the
dead; in the distance, through a vista cut judiciously through the
forest, are seen the dark blue waters of Lake Ontario. The walls of the
principal room are covered with scenes from Faust, drawn in fresco, with
a bold and masterly hand, by the proprietor."--(Vol. 1. p. 230.)
In the shadow thrown eastward by the "Sugar Loaf," there was a "Ford" in
the Don, a favourite bathing-place for boys, with a clean gravelly
bottom, and a current somewhat swift. That Ford was just in the line of
an allowance for a concession road; which from the precipitous character
of the hills on both sides, has been of late years closed by Act of
Parliament, on the ground of its supposed impracticability for ever,--a
proceeding to be regretted; as the highway which would traverse the Don
valley at the Ford would be a continuation of Bloor street in a right
line; and would form a convenient means of communication between Chester
In the meadow on the left, just above the Ford, a little meandering
brook, abounding in trout, entered the Don. Hereabouts also was, for a
long while, a rustic bridge over the main river, formed by trees felled
across the stream.
Proceeding on our way we now in a short time approached the great colony
of the Helliwells, which has already been described. The mills and
manufactories established here by that enterprising family constituted
quite a conspicuous village. A visit to this cluster of buildings, in
1827, is described by Mr. W. L. Mackenzie, in his "Sketches of Canada,"
published in London, by Effingham Wilson, in 1833. At page 270 of that
work, the writer says: "About three miles out of town, in the bottom of
a deep ravine, watered by the river Don, and bounded also by beautiful
and verdant flats, are situated the York Paper Mills, distillery and
grist-mill of Messrs. Eastwood & Co.; also Mr. Shepard's axe-grinding
machinery; and Messrs. Helliwell's large and extensive Brewery. I went
out to view these improvements a few days ago, and returned much
gratified with witnessing the paper-manufacture in active operation--as
also the bold and pleasant scenery on the banks of the Don. The river
might be made navigable with small expense up to the brewery; and if the
surrounding lands were laid out in five-acre lots all the way to town,
they would sell to great advantage."
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