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Toronto of old; collections and recollections illustrative of the early settlement and social life of the capital of Ontario online

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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 natu-
ral term of life, it probably attains a very great age. We re-
member a specimen captured near the spot at which we are paus-
ing, which, from its vast size, and the rough, lichen-covered con-
dition 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 plenti-
ful 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 menac-
ing action and savage attempts to strike, of the most venomous of
its genus. — Then there was the beautiful grass-green snake j and in
large numbers, the black water-snake. In the rank herbage along
the river's edge, the terrified piping of apursued frog was often heard.

2 34 Toronto of Old. [§ 17.

It recurs to us, as we write, that once, on the banks of the Hum-
ber, 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. Ail
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 j 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

j. — 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 goose-
berry 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 Bara-

§ 1 7.] The Valley of the (Don. 235

taria, a New Atlantis. — At the present moment we find that what
was once our charmed isle has now become terra jftrma, 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 imme-
diately, 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 con-
verted 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 j 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 hill-sides.

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 ap-
pearance 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 seve-
ral 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

236 Toronto of Old. [§ 17,

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 neigh-
bourhood had, in sentimental mood, after the manner of the Cory-
dons 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."

4. — Castle Frank.

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 con- 1
struction 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 pro-
ceeded 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

§ 1 7.] The Valley of the (Don. 237

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 as-
sumes. 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 unre-
moved. 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,
massive chimney-stack.

We can picture to ourselves the cavalcade that was wont, from
time to time, to be seen in the summers and autumns of 17 94-' 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 to it.

First, mounted on a willing and well-favoured horse, as we will
suppose, there would be General Simcoe himself — a soldierly per-
sonage, 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 cathe-
dral at Exeter — revolving ever in his mind schemes for the develop-
ment 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, "with-
out exciting in his mind the idea of a fort which might be con-
structed 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/ /'. e., to recover, by force of arms,
to the allegiance of England, the Colonies recently revolted.

238 Toronto of Old. [§ 17.

By the side of the soldier and statesman Governor, also on
horseback, would be his gifted consort, small in person, " hand-
some 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 hus-
band 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 appli-
cation 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 de-'
scendants, but unfortunately not accessible generally to Canadian

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 sup-
pose, is identical, in sound at all events, with that of a certain
" Castel-franc " near Rochelle, which figures in the history of the

The Iroquois at Niagara had given the Governor a title, ex-
pressive 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 in-
forms 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 chief-
tain Tioga. The little spirited lad who had been seen at one time
moving about before the assembled Iroquois at Niagara, under a

§ 1 7.] The Valley of the (Don. 239

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 Lieuten-
ant 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 set-
ter, 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 Col-
onel 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 con-
spicuous, 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 elsewhere.

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 nave 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,

240 Toronto of Old. [§ 1 7.

^ bringing horses for the Governor and his suite." The French
Jiabitans 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 en-
gaged 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

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 Ceme-
tery 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 be-
low 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 pedes-
trian 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, hur-
riedly and in a high key, syllabling forth its own name.

I 17.] The Valley of the (Don. 241

5. — On to the Ford and the Mills.

We now resume our ramble up the valley of the Don. North-
ward 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, beauti-
ful 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 com-
pletely covered with forest, with, at last, the roof of the rustic
chateau appearing above, must have recalled, in some slight de-
gree, 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 Pennsyl-
vania. When the town of York was in the occupancy of the Ameri-
cans in 18 1 3, 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 in-
vading 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 island


242 Toronto of Old. [§ i *j m

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. i. 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 and

In the meadow on the left, just above the Ford, a little mean-
dering 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 ver-
dant flats, are situated the York Paper Mills, distillery and grist-
mill of Messrs. Eastwood & Co. ; also Mr. Shepard's axe-grinding
machinery ; and Messrs. HelliwelPs large and extensive Brewery.


The Valley of the (Don.


I went out to view these improvements a few days ago, and re-

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