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

or occupations.

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

New York.

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.