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. Der
is, 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

their walks.

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

a ferment.

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

an excuse.

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.)