King Street: Digression Southwards At Church Street: Market Lane
Across Church Street from Clinkunbroomer's were the wooden buildings
already referred to, as having remained long in a partially finished
state, being the result of a premature speculation. From this point we
are induced to turn aside from our direct route for a few moments,
attracted by a street which we see a short distance to the south,
namely, Market Lane, or Colborne Street, as the modern phraseology is.
In this passage was, in the olden time, the Masonic Hall, a wooden
building of two storeys. To the young imagination this edifice seemed to
possess considerable dignity, from being surmounted by a cupola; the
first structure in York that ever enjoyed such a distinction. This
ornamental appendage supported above the western gable, by slender
props, (intended in fact for the reception of a bell, which, so far as
our recollection extends, was never supplied), would appear
insignificant enough now; but it was the first budding of the
architectural ambition of a young town, which leads at length to
turrets, pinnacles, spires and domes.
A staircase on the outside led to the upper storey of the Masonic Hall.
In this place were held the first meetings of the first Mechanics'
Institute, organized under the auspices of Moses Fish, a builder of
York, and other lovers of knowledge of the olden time. Here were
attempted the first popular lectures. Here we remember
hearing--certainly some forty years ago--Mr. John Fenton read a paper on
the manufacture of steel, using diagrams in illustration: one of them
showed the magnified edge of a well-set razor, the serrations all
sloping in one direction, by which it might be seen, the lecturer
remarked, that unless a man, in shaving, imparted to the instrument in
his hand a carefully-studied movement, he was likely "to get into a
scrape."--The lower part of the Masonic Hall was for a considerable
while used as a school, kept successively by Mr. Stewart and Mr.
Appleton, and afterwards by Mr. Caldicott.
At the corner of Market Lane, on the north side, towards the Market, was
Frank's Hotel, an ordinary white frame building. The first theatre of
York was extemporized in the ball-room of this house. When fitted up for
dramatic purposes, that apartment was approached by a stairway on the
Here companies performed, under the management, at one time, of Mr.
Archbold; at another, of Mr. Talbot; at another, of Mr. Vaughan. The
last-named manager, while professionally at York, lost a son by drowning
in the Bay. We well remember the poignant distress of the father at the
grave, and that his head was bound round on the occasion with a white
bandage or napkin. Mrs. Talbot was a great favourite. She performed the
part of Cora in Pizarro, and that of Little Pickle, in a comedy of that
name, if our memory serves us.
Pizarro, Barbarossa or the Siege of Algiers, Ali Baba or the Forty
Thieves, the Lady of the Lake, the Miller and his Men, were among the
pieces here represented. The body-guard of the Dey of Algiers, we
remember, consisted of two men, who always came in with military
precision just after the hero, and placed themselves in a formal manner
at fixed distances behind him, like two sentries. They were in fact
soldiers from the garrison, we think. All this appeared very effective.
The dramatic appliances and accessories at Frank's were of the humblest
kind. The dimensions of the stage must have been very limited: the
ceiling of the whole room, we know, was low. As for orchestra--in those
days, the principal instrumental artist of the town was Mr. Maxwell,
who, well-remembered for his quiet manner, for the shade over one eye,
in which was some defect, and for his homely skill on the violin, was
generally to be seen and heard, often alone, but sometimes with an
associate or two, here, as at all other entertainments of importance,
public or private. Nevertheless, at that period, to an unsophisticated
yet active imagination, innocent of acquaintance with more respectable
arrangements, everything seemed charming; each scene, as the bell rang
and the baize drew up, was invested with a magical glamour, similar in
kind, if not equal in degree, to that which, in the days of our
grandfathers, ere yet the modern passion for real knowledge had been
awakened, fascinated the young Londoner at Drury Lane.
And how curiously were the illusions of the mimic splendors sometimes in
a moment broken, as if to admonish the inexperienced spectator of the
facts of real life. In the performance of Pizarro, it will be remembered
that an attempt is made to bribe a Spanish soldier at his post. He
rejects and flings to the ground what is called "a wedge of massive
gold:"--we recollect the sound produced on the boards of the stage in
Frank's by the fall of this wedge of massive gold: it instantly betrayed
itself by this, as well as by its nimble rebound, to be, of course, a
gilded bit of wood.
And it is not alone at obscure village performances that such
disclosures occur. At an opera in London, where all appearances were
elaborately perfect, we recollect the accidental fall of a goblet which
was supposed to be of heavy chased silver, and also filled with wine--a
contretemps occasioned by the giddiness of the lad who personated a
page: two things were at once clear: the goblet was not of metal, and
nothing liquid was contained within it: which recalls a mishap
associated in our memory with a visit to the Argentina at Rome some
years ago: this was the coming off of a wheel from the chariot of a
Roman general, at a critical moment: the descent on this occasion from
the vehicle to the stage was a true step from the sublime to the
ridiculous; for the audience observed the accident, and persisted in
their laugh in spite of the heroics which the great commander proceeded
to address, in operatic style, to his assembled army.
It was in the assembly-room at Frank's, dismantled of its theatrical
furniture, that a celebrated fancy ball was given, on the last day of
the year 1827, conjointly by Mr. Galt, Commissioner of the Canada
Company, and Lady Mary Willis, wife of Mr. Justice Willis. On that
occasion the general interests of the Company were to some extent
studied in the ornamentation of the room, its floor being decorated with
an immense representation, in chalks or water-colour, of the arms of the
association. The supporters of the shield were of colossal dimensions:
two lions, rampant, bearing flags turning opposite ways: below, on the
riband, in characters proportionably large, was the motto of the
Company, "Non mutat genus solum." The sides and ceiling of the room,
with the passages leading from the front door to it, were covered
throughout with branchlets of the hemlock-spruce: nestling in the
greenery of this perfect bower were innumerable little coloured lamps,
each containing a floating light.
Here, for once, the potent, grave and reverend signiors of York, along
with their sons and daughters, indulged in a little insanity. Lady Mary
Willis appeared as Mary, Queen of Scots; the Judge himself, during a
part of the evening, was in the costume of a gay old lady, the Countess
of Desmond, aged one hundred years; Miss Willis, the clever amateur
equestrienne, was Folly, with cap and bells; Dr. W. W. Baldwin was a
Roman senator; his two sons William and St. George, were the Dioscuri,
"Fratres Helenae, lucida Sidera;" his nephew, Augustus Sullivan, was Puss
in Boots; Dr. Grant Powell was Dr. Pangloss; Mr. Kerr, a real Otchipway
chief, at the time a member of the Legislature, made a magnificent
Kentucky backwoodsman, named and entitled Captain Jedediah Skinner. Mr.
Gregg, of the Commissariat, was Othello. The Kentuckian (Kerr),
professing to be struck with the many fine points of the Moor, as
regarded from his point of view, persisted, throughout the evening, in
exhibiting an inclination to purchase--an idea naturally much resented
by Othello. Col. Givins, his son Adolphus, Raymond Baby, and others,
were Indian chiefs of different tribes, who more than once indulged in
the war-dance. Mr. Buchanan, son of the British Consul at New York, was
Darnley; Mr. Thomson, of the Canada Company's office, was Rizzio; Mr. G.
A. Barber was a wounded sailor recently from Navarino (that untoward
event had lately taken place); his arm was in a sling; he had suffered
in reality a mutilation of the right hand by an explosion of gunpowder,
on the preceding 5th of November.
Mr. Galt was only about three years in Canada, but this short space of
time sufficed to enable him to lay the foundation of the Canada Company
wisely and well, as is shewn by its duration and prosperity. The feat
was not accomplished without some antagonism springing up between
himself and the local governmental authorities, whom he was inclined to
treat rather haughtily.
It is a study to observe how frequently, at an early stage of Upper
Canadian society, a mutual antipathy manifested itself between visitors
from the transatlantic world, tourists and settlers (intending and
actual), and the first occupants of such places of trust and emolument
as then existed. It was a feeling that grew partly out of personal
considerations, and partly out of difference of opinion in regard to
public policy. A gulf thus began at an early period to open between two
sections of the community, which widened painfully for a time in after
years;--a fissure, which, at its first appearance, a little philosophy
on both sides would have closed up. Men of intelligence, who had risen
to position and acquired all their experience in a remote, diminutive
settlement, might have been quite sure that their grasp of great
imperial and human questions, when they arose, would be very imperfect;
they might, therefore, rationally have rejoiced at the accession of new
minds and additional light to help them in the day of necessity. And on
the other hand, the fresh immigrant or casual visitor, trained to
maturity amidst the combinations of an old society, and possessing a
knowledge of its past, might have comprehended thoroughly the exact
condition of thought and feeling in a community such as that which he
was approaching, and so might have regarded its ideas with charity, and
spoken of them in a tone conciliatory and delicate. On both sides, the
maxim Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner would have had a salutary
and composing effect, "for," as the author of Realmah well says, "in
truth, one would never be angry with anybody, if one understood him or
We regret that we cannot recover two small "paper pellets of the brain,"
of this period, arising out of the discussions connected with the
appointment of an outsider (Mr. Justice Willis) to the Bench of Upper
Canada. They would have been illustrative of the times. They were in the
shape of two advertisements, one in reply to the other, in a local
Paper: one was the elaborate title-page of a pamphlet "shortly to
appear," on the existing system of Jurisprudence in Upper Canada; with
the motto "Meliora sperans;" the other was an exact counterpart of the
first, only in reversed terms, and bearing the motto "Deteriora timens."
In the early stages of all the colonies it is obviously inevitable that
appointments ab extra to public office must occasionally, and even
frequently, be made. Local aspirants are thus subject to
disappointments; and men of considerable ability may now and then feel
themselves overshadowed, and imagine themselves depressed, through the
introduction of talent transcending their own. Some manifestations of
discontent and impatience may thus always be expected to appear. But in
a few years this state of things comes naturally to an end. In no
public exigency is there any longer a necessity to look to external
sources for help. A home supply of persons "duly qualified to serve God
in Church and State" is legitimately developed, as we see in the United
States, among ourselves, and in all the other larger settlements from
the British Islands.
The denouement of the Willis-trouble may be gathered from the
following notice in the Gazette of Thursday, July 17th, 1828, now
lying before us: "His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor has been
pleased to appoint, by Commission under the Great Seal, Christopher
Alexander Hagerman, Esq., to be a Judge in the Court of King's Bench for
this Province, in the room of the Hon. John Walpole Willis, amoved,
until the King's pleasure shall be signified."
Lady Mary Willis, associated with Mr. Galt in the Fancy Ball just spoken
of, was a daughter of the Earl of Strathmore. A trial of a painful
nature known as Willis v. Bernard in the annals of the Common Pleas,
arising out of circumstances connected with Judge Willis's brief
residence in Canada, took place in 1832 before the Chief Justice of
England and a special jury, at Westminster, Mr. Sergeant Wilde acting
for the plaintiff; Mr. Sergeant Spankie, Mr. Sergeant Storks and Mr.
Thesiger, for the defendant: when a thousand pounds were awarded as
damages to the plaintiff. On this occasion Mr. Galt was examined as a
witness. Judge Willis was afterwards appointed Chief Justice of
In the Canadian Literary Magazine for April, 1833, there is a notice
of Mr. Galt, with a full-length pen-and-ink portrait, similar to those
which used formerly to appear in Fraser. In front of the figure is a
bust of Lord Byron; behind, on a wall, is a Map shewing the Canadian
Lakes, with York marked conspicuously. From the accompanying memoir we
learn that "Mr. Galt always conducted himself as a man of the strictest
probity and honour. He was warm in his friendships, and extremely
hospitable in his Log Priory at Guelph, and thoroughly esteemed by those
who had an opportunity of mingling with him in close and daily intimacy.
He was the first to adopt the plan of opening roads before making a
settlement, instead of leaving them to be cut, as heretofore, by the
settlers themselves--a plan which, under the irregular and patchwork
system of settling the country then prevailing, has retarded the
improvement of the Province more, perhaps, than any other cause."
In his Autobiography Mr. Galt refers to this notice of himself in the
Canadian Literary Magazine, especially in respect to an intimation
given therein that contemporaries at York accused him of playing
"Captain Grand" occasionally, and "looking down on the inhabitants of
Upper Canada." He does not affect to say that it was not so; he even
rather unamiably adds: "The fact is, I never thought about them [i. e.,
these inhabitants], unless to notice some ludicrous peculiarity of
The same tone is assumed when recording the locally famous
entertainment, given by himself and Lady Willis, as above described.
Having received a hint that the colonelcy of a militia regiment might
possibly be offered him, he says: "This information was unequivocally
acceptable; and accordingly," he continues, "I resolved to change my
recluseness into something more cordial towards the general inhabitants
of York. I therefore directed one of the clerks [the gentleman who
figured as Rizzio,] to whom I thought the task might be agreeable, to
make arrangements for giving a general Fancy Ball to all my
acquaintance, and the principal inhabitants. I could not be troubled,"
he observes, "with the details myself, but exhorted him to make the
invitations as numerous as possible."
In extenuation of his evident moodiness of mind, it is to be observed
that his quarters at York were very uncomfortable. "The reader is
probably acquainted," he says in his Autobiography, "with the manner of
living in the American hotels, but without experience he can have no
right notion of what in those days (1827,) was the condition of the best
tavern in York. It was a mean two-storey house; the landlord, however,
[this was Mr. Frank,] did," he says, "all in his power to mitigate the
afflictions with which such a domicile was quaking, to one accustomed to
Such an impression had his unfortunate accommodation at York made on
him, that, in another place, when endeavouring to describe Dover, in
Kent, as a dull place, we have him venturing to employ such extravagant
language as this: "Everybody who has been at Dover knows that it is one
of the vilest [hypochondriacal] haunts on the face of the earth, except
Little York in Upper Canada." We notice in Leigh Hunt's London Journal
for June, 1834, some verses entitled "Friends and Boyhood," written by
Mr. Galt, in sickness. They will not sound out of place in a paper of
"Talk not of years! 'twas yesterday
We chased the hoop together,
And for the plover's speckled egg
We waded through the heather.
"The green is gay where gowans grow,
'Tis Saturday--oh! come,
Hark! hear ye not our mother's voice,
The earth?--she calls us home.
"Have we not found that fortune's chase
For glory or for treasure,
Unlike the rolling circle's race,
Was pastime, without pleasure?
"But seize your glass--another time
We'll think of clouded days--
I'll give a toast--fill up my friend!
Here's 'Boys and merry plays!'"
But Market Lane and its memories detain us too long from King Street. We
now return to the point where Church Street intersects that