Henry Scadding.

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

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take what note we can of the labours of their hands; to forbid, so far
as we may, the utter oblivion of their early efforts, and deeds, and
sayings, the outcome of their ideas, of their humours and anxieties; to
forbid, even, so far as we may, the utter oblivion of the form and
fashion of their persons.

The excavations which the first inhabitants made in the construction of
their dwellings and in engineering operations, civil and military, were
neither deep nor extensive; the materials which they employed were, for
the most part, soft and perishable. In a few years all the original
edifices of York, the infant Toronto, together with all the primitive
delvings and cuttings, will, of necessity, have vanished. Natural decay
will have destroyed some. Winds, fires, and floods will have removed
others. The rest will have been deliberately taken out of the way, or
obliterated in the accomplishment of modern improvements, the rude and
fragile giving way before the commodious and enduring.

At St. Petersburg, we believe, the original log-hut of Peter the Great
is preserved to the present day, in a casing of stone, with a kind of
religious reverence. And in Rome of old, through the influence of a
similar sacred regard for the past, the lowly cottage of Romulus was
long protected in a similar manner. There are probably no material
relics of our founders and forefathers which we should care to invest
with a like forced and artificial permanence. But memorials of those
relics, and records of the associations that may here and there be found
to cluster round them, - these we may think it worth our while to collect
and cherish.

Overlooking the harbour of the modern Toronto, far down in the east,
there stands at the present day, a large structure of grey cut-stone.
Its radiating wings, the turret placed at a central point aloft,
evidently for the ready oversight of the subjacent premises; the
unornamented blank walls, pierced high up in each storey with a row of
circular-heading openings, suggestive of shadowy corridors and cells
within, all help to give to this pile an unmistakable prison-aspect.

It was very nearly on the site of this rather hard-featured building
that the first Houses of Parliament of Upper Canada were placed - humble
but commodious structures of wood, built before the close of the
eighteenth century, and destroyed by the incendiary hand of the invader
in 1813. "They consisted," as a contemporary document sets forth, "of
two elegant Halls, with convenient offices, for the accommodation of the
Legislature and the Courts of Justice." - "The Library, and all the
papers and records belonging to these institutions were consumed, and,
at the same time," the document adds, "the Church was robbed, and the
Town Library totally pillaged." - The injuries thus inflicted were a few
months afterwards avenged by the destruction of the Public Buildings at
Washington, by a British force. "We consider," said an Address of the
Legislative Council of Lower Canada to Sir George Prevost, "the
destruction of the Public Buildings at Washington as a just retribution
for the outrages committed by an American force at the seat of
Government of Upper Canada."

On the same site succeeded the more conspicuous and more capacious, but
still plain and simply cubical brick block erected for legislative
purposes in 1818, and accidentally burned in 1824. The conflagration on
this occasion entailed a loss which, the _Canadian Review_ of the
period, published at Montreal, observes, "in the present state of the
finances and debt of the Province, cannot be considered a trifling
affair." That loss, we are informed by the same authority, amounted to
the sum of two thousand pounds.

Hereabout the Westminster of the new capital was expected to be. It is
not improbable that the position at the head, rather than the entrance,
of the harbour was preferred, as being at once commanding and secure.

The appearance of the spot in its primæval condition, was doubtless more
prepossessing than we can now conceive it ever to have been. Fine groves
of forest trees may have given it a sheltered look, and, at the same
time, have screened off from view the adjoining swamps.

The language of the early _Provincial Gazetteer_, published by
authority, is as follows: "The Don empties itself into the harbour, a
little above the Town, running through a marsh, which when drained, will
afford most beautiful and fruitful meadows." In the early manuscript
Plans, the same sanguine opinion is recorded, in regard to the morasses
in this locality. On one, of 1810, now before us, we have the
inscription: "Natural Meadow which may be mown." On another, the legend
runs: "Large Marsh, and will in time make good Meadows." On a third it
is: "Large Marsh and Good Grass."

At all events, hereabout it was that York, capital of Upper Canada,
began to rise. To the west and north of the site of the Houses of
Parliament, the officials of the Government, with merchants and
tradesmen in the usual variety, began to select lots and put up
convenient dwellings; whilst close by, at Berkeley Street or Parliament
Street as the southern portion of the modern Berkeley Street was then
named, the chief thoroughfare of the town had its commencing-point.
Growing slowly westward from here, King Street developed in its course,
in the customary American way, its hotel, its tavern, its
boarding-house, its waggon-factory, its tinsmith shop, its bakery, its
general store, its lawyer's office, its printing office, its places of

Eastward of Berkeley Street, King Street became the Kingston road,
trending slightly to the north, and then proceeding in a straight line
to a bridge over the Don. This divergency in the highway caused a number
of the lots on its northern side to be awkwardly bounded on their
southern ends by lines that formed with their sides, alternately obtuse
and acute angles, productive of corresponding inconveniencies in the
shapes of the buildings afterwards erected thereon; and in the position
of some of them. At one particular point the houses looked as if they
had been separated from each other and partially twisted round, by the
jolt of an earthquake.

At the Bridge, the lower Kingston road, if produced westward in a right
line, would have been Queen Street, or Lot Street, had it been deemed
expedient to clear a passage in that direction through the forest. But
some way westward from the Bridge, in this line, a ravine was
encountered lengthwise, which was held to present great engineering
difficulties. A road cut diagonally from the Bridge to the opening of
King Street, at once avoided this natural impediment, and also led to a
point where an easy connection was made with the track for wheels, which
ran along the shore of the harbour to the Garrison. But for the ravine
alluded to, which now appears to the south of Moss Park, Lot Street, or,
which is the same thing, Queen Street, would at an early period, have
begun to dispute with King Street, its claim to be the chief
thoroughfare of York.

But to come back to our original unpromising stand-point.

Objectionable as the first site of the Legislative Buildings at York may
appear to ourselves, and alienated as it now is to lower uses, we cannot
but gaze upon it with a certain degree of emotion, when we remember that
here it was the first skirmishes took place in the great war of
principles which afterwards with such determination and effect was
fought out in Canada. Here it was that first loomed up before the minds
of our early law-makers the ecclesiastical question, the educational
question, the constitutional question. Here it was that first was heard
the open discussion, childlike, indeed, and vague, but pregnant with
very weighty consequences, of topics, social and national, which, at the
time, even in the parent state itself, were mastered but by few.

Here it was, during a period of twenty-seven years (1797-1824), at each
opening and closing of the annual session, amidst the firing of cannon
and the commotion of a crowd, the cavalcade drew up that is wont, from
the banks of the Thames to the remotest colony of England, to mark the
solemn progress of the sovereign or the sovereign's representative, to
and from the other Estates in Parliament assembled. Here, amidst such
fitting surroundings of state, as the circumstances of the times and the
place admitted, came and went personages of eminence, whose names are
now familiar in Canadian story: never, indeed, the founder and organiser
of Upper Canada, Governor Simcoe himself, in this formal and ceremonious
manner; although often must he have visited the spot otherwise, in his
personal examinations of every portion of his young capital and its
environs. But here, immediately after him, however, came and went
repeatedly, in due succession, President Russell, Governor Hunter,
Governor Gore, General Brock, General Sheaffe, Sir Gordon Drummond, Sir
Peregrine Maitland.

And, while contemplating the scene of our earliest political conflicts,
the scene of our earliest known state pageants in these parts, with
their modest means and appliances, our minds intuitively recur to a
period farther removed still, when under even yet more primitive
conditions the Parliament of Upper Canada assembled at Newark, just
across the Lake. We picture to ourselves the group of seven
crown-appointed Councillors and five representatives of the Commons,
assembled there, with the first Speaker, McDonell, of Glengary; all
plain, unassuming, prosaic men, listening, at their first session, to
the opening speech of their frank and honoured Governor. We see them
adjourning to the open air from their straightened chamber at Navy Hall,
and conducting the business of the young Province under the shade of a
spreading tree, introducing the English Code and Trial by Jury,
decreeing Roads, and prohibiting the spread of Slavery; while a boulder
of the drift, lifting itself up through the natural turf, serves as a
desk for the recording clerk. Below them, in the magnificent estuary of
the river Niagara, the waters of all the Upper Lakes are swirling by,
not yet recovered from the agonies of the long gorge above, and the leap
at Table Rock. - Even here, at the opening and close of this primæval
Legislature, some of the decent ceremonial was observed with which, as
we have just said, the sadly inferior site at the embouchure of the Don
became afterwards familiar. We learn this from the narrative of the
French Duke de Liancourt, who affords us a glimpse of the scene at
Newark on the occasion of a Parliament there in 1795. "The whole retinue
of the Governor," he says, "consisted in a guard of fifty men of the
garrison of the fort. Draped in silk, he entered the Hall with his hat
on his head, attended by his adjutant and two secretaries. The two
members of the Legislative Council gave, by their speaker, notice of it
to the Assembly. Five members of the latter having appeared at the bar,
the Governor delivered a speech, modelled after that of the King, on the
political affairs of Europe, on the treaty concluded with the United
States (Jay's treaty of 1794), which he mentioned in expressions very
favourable to the Union; and on the peculiar concerns of Canada."
(Travels, i. 258.)

By the Quebec Act, passed in 1791, it was enacted that the Legislative
Council for Upper Canada should consist of not fewer than seven members,
and the Assembly of not less than sixteen members, who were to be called
together at least once in every year. To account for the smallness of
the attendance on the occasion just described, the Duke explains that
the Governor had deferred the session "on account of the expected
arrival of a Chief Justice, who was to come from England: and from a
hope that he should be able to acquaint the members with the particulars
of the Treaty with the United States. But the harvest had now begun,
which, in a higher degree than elsewhere, engages in Canada the public
attention, far beyond what state affairs can do. Two members of the
Legislative Council were present, instead of seven; no Chief Justice
appeared, who was to act as Speaker; instead of sixteen members of the
Assembly, five only attended; and this was the whole number that could
be collected at this time. The law required a greater number of members
for each house, to discuss and determine upon any business; but within
two days a year would have expired since the last session. The Governor,
therefore, thought it right to open the session, reserving, however, to
either house the right of proroguing the sitting, from one day to
another, in expectation that the ships from Detroit and Kingston would
either bring the members who were yet wanting, or certain intelligence
of their not being able to attend."

But again to return to the Houses of Parliament at York. - Extending from
the grounds which surrounded the buildings, in the east, all the way to
the fort at the entrance of the harbour, in the west, there was a
succession of fine forest trees, especially oak; underneath and by the
side of which the upper surface of the precipitous but nowhere very
elevated cliff was carpeted with thick green-sward, such as is still to
be seen between the old and new garrisons, or at Mississaga Point at
Niagara. A fragment, happily preserved, of the ancient bank, is to be
seen in the ornamental piece of ground known as the Fair-green; a strip
of land first protected by a fence, and planted with shrubbery at the
instance of Mr. George Monro, when Mayor, who also, in front of his
property some distance further on, long guarded from harm a solitary
survivor of the grove that once fringed the harbour.

On our first visit to Southampton, many years ago, we remember observing
a resemblance between the walk to the river Itchen, shaded by trees and
commanding a wide water-view on the south, and the margin of the harbour
of York.

In the interval between the points where now Princes Street and Caroline
Street descend to the water's edge, was a favourite landing-place for
the small craft of the bay - a wide and clean gravelly beach, with a
convenient ascent to the cliff above. Here, on fine mornings, at the
proper season, skiffs and canoes, log and birch-bark were to be seen
putting in, weighed heavily down with fish, speared or otherwise taken
during the preceding night, in the lake, bay, or neighbouring river.
Occasionally a huge sturgeon would be landed, one struggle of which
might suffice to upset a small boat. Here were to be purchased in
quantities, salmon, pickerel, masquelonge, whitefish and herrings; with
the smaller fry of perch, bass and sunfish. Here, too, would be
displayed unsightly catfish, suckers, lampreys, and other eels; and
sometimes lizards, young alligators for size. Specimens, also, of the
curious steel-clad, inflexible, vicious-looking pipe-fish were not
uncommon. About the submerged timbers of the wharves this creature was
often to be seen - at one moment stationary and still, like the
dragon-fly or humming-bird poised on the wing, then, like those nervous
denizens of the air, giving a sudden dart off to the right or left,
without curving its body.

Across the bay, from this landing-place, a little to the eastward, was
the narrowest part of the peninsula, a neck of sand, destitute of
trees, known as the portage or carrying-place, where, from time
immemorial, canoes and small boats were wont to be transferred to and
from the lake.

Along the bank, above the landing-place, Indian encampments were
occasionally set up. Here, in comfortless wigwams, we have seen Dr. Lee,
a medical man attached to the Indian department, administering from an
ordinary tin cup, nauseous but salutary draughts to sick and
convalescent squaws. It was the duty of Dr. Lee to visit Indian
settlements and prescribe for the sick. In the discharge of his duty he
performed long journeys, on horseback, to Penetanguishene and other
distant posts, carrying with him his drugs and apparatus in saddle-bags.
When advanced in years, and somewhat disabled in regard to activity of
movement, Dr. Lee was attached to the Parliamentary staff as Usher of
the Black Rod. - The locality at which we are glancing suggests the name
of another never-to-be-forgotten medical man, whose home and property
were close at hand. This is the eminent surgeon and physician,
Christopher Widmer.

It is to be regretted that Dr. Widmer left behind him no written
memorials of his long and varied experience. Before his settlement in
York, he had been a staff cavalry surgeon, on active service during the
campaigns in the Peninsula. A personal narrative of his public life
would have been full of interest. But his ambition was content with the
homage of his contemporaries, rich and poor, rendered with sincerity to
his pre-eminent abilities and inextinguishable zeal as a surgeon and
physician. Long after his retirement from general practice, he was every
day to be seen passing to and from the old Hospital on King Street,
conveyed in his well-known cabriolet, and guiding with his own hand the
reins conducted in through the front window of the vehicle. He had now
attained a great age; but his slender form continued erect; the hat was
worn jauntily, as in other days, and the dress was ever scrupulously
exact; the expression of the face in repose was somewhat abstracted and
sad, but a quick smile appeared at the recognition of friends. The
ordinary engravings of Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the
blood, recall in some degree the countenance of Dr. Widmer. Within the
General Hospital, a portrait of him is appropriately preserved. One of
the earliest, and at the same time one of the most graceful
lady-equestrians ever seen in York was this gentleman's accomplished
wife. At a later period a sister of Mr. Justice Willis was also
conspicuous as a skilful and fearless horse-woman. The description in
the Percy Anecdotes of the Princess Amelia, youngest daughter of George
II., is curiously applicable to the last-named lady, who united to the
amiable peculiarities indicated, talents and virtues of the highest
order. "She," the brothers Sholto and Reuben say, "was of a masculine
turn of mind, and evinced this strikingly enough in her dress and
manners: she generally wore a riding-habit in the German fashion with a
round hat; and delighted very much in attending her stables,
particularly when any of the horses were out of order." At a phenomenon
such as this, suddenly appearing in their midst, the staid and
simple-minded society of York stood for a while aghast.

In the _Loyalist_ of Nov. 15, 1828, we have the announcement of a
Medical partnership entered into between Dr. Widmer and Dr. Diehl. It
reads thus: "Doctor Widmer, finding his professional engagements much
extended of late, and occasionally too arduous for one person, has been
induced to enter into partnership with Doctor Diehl, a respectable
practitioner, late of Montreal. It is expected that their united
exertions will prevent in future any disappointment to Dr. Widmer's
friends, both in Town and Country. Dr. Diehl's residence is at present
at Mr. Hayes' Boarding-house. York, Oct. 28, 1828." Dr. Diehl died at
Toronto, March 5, 1868.

At the south-west corner of Princes Street, near where we are now
supposing ourselves to be, was a building popularly known as Russell
Abbey. It was the house of the Hon. Peter Russell, and, after his
decease, of his maiden sister, Miss Elizabeth Russell, a lady of great
refinement, who survived her brother many years. The edifice, like most
of the early homes of York, was of one storey only; but it exhibited in
its design a degree of elegance and some peculiarities. To a central
building were attached wings with gables to the south: the windows had
each an architectural decoration or pediment over it. It was this
feature, we believe, that was supposed to give to the place something of
a monastic air; to entitle it even to the name of "Abbey." In front, a
dwarf stone wall with a light wooden paling surrounded a lawn, on which
grew tall acacias or locusts. Mr. Russell was a remote scion of the
Bedford Russells. He apparently desired to lay the foundation of a solid
landed estate in Upper Canada. His position as Administrator, on the
departure of the first Governor of the Province, gave him facilities
for the selection and acquisition of wild lands. The duality necessarily
assumed in the wording of the Patents by which the Administrator made
grants to himself, seems to have been regarded by some as having a touch
of the comic in it. Hence among the early people of these parts the name
of Peter Russell was occasionally to be heard quoted good-humouredly,
not malignantly, as an example of "the man who would do well unto
himself." On the death of Mr. Russell, his property passed into the
hands of his sister, who bequeathed the whole to Dr. William Warren
Baldwin, into whose possession also came the valuable family plate,
elaborately embossed with the armorial bearings of the Russells. Russell
Hill, long the residence of Admiral Augustus Baldwin, had its name from
Mr. Russell, and in one of the elder branches of the Baldwin family,
Russell is continued as a baptismal name. In the same family is also
preserved an interesting portrait of Mr. Peter Russell himself, from
which we can see that he was a gentleman of portly presence, of strongly
marked features, of the Thomas Jefferson type. We shall have occasion
hereafter to speak frequently of Mr. Russell.

Russell Abbey became afterwards the residence of Bishop Macdonell, a
universally-respected Scottish Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, whose
episcopal title was at first derived from Rhesina _in partibus_, but
afterwards from our Canadian Kingston, where his home usually was. His
civil duties, as a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada,
required his presence in York during the Parliamentary sessions. We have
in our possession a fine mezzotint of Sir M. A. Shee's portrait of
Bishop Macdonell. It used to be supposed by some that the occupancy of
Russell Abbey by the Bishop caused the portion of Front Street which
lies eastward of the Market-place, to be denominated Palace Street. But
the name appears in plans of York of a date many years anterior to that

In connection with this mention of Bishop Macdonell, it may be of some
interest to add that, in 1826, Thomas Weld, of Lulworth Castle,
Dorsetshire, was consecrated as his coadjutor, in England, under the
title of Bishop of Amylæ. But it does not appear that he ever came out
to Canada. (This was afterwards the well-known English Cardinal.) He had
been a layman, and married, up to the year 1825; when, on the death of
his wife, he took orders; and in one year he was, as just stated, made a

Russell Abbey may indeed have been styled the "Palace"; but it was
probably from being the residence of one who for three years
administered the Government; or the name "Palace Street" itself may have
suggested the appellation. "Palace Street" was no doubt intended to
indicate the fact that it led directly to the Government reservation at
the end of the Town on which the Parliament houses were erected, and
where it was supposed the "Palais du Gouvernement," the official
residence of the representative of the Sovereign in the Province would
eventually be. On an Official Plan of this region, of the year 1810, the
Parliament Buildings themselves are styled "Government House."

At the laying out of York, however, we find, from the plans, that the
name given in the first instance to the Front street of the town was,
not Palace Street, but King Street. Modern King Street was then Duke
Street, and modern Duke Street, Duchess Street. These street names were
intended as loyal compliments to members of the reigning family; to
George the Third; to his son the popular Duke of York, from whom, as we
shall learn hereafter, the town itself was named; to the Duchess of
York, the eldest daughter of the King of Prussia. In the cross streets
the same chivalrous devotion to the Hanoverian dynasty was exhibited.
George street, the boundary westward of the first nucleus of York, bore
the name of the heir-apparent, George, Prince of Wales. The next street
eastward was honoured with the name of his next brother, Frederick, the
Duke of York himself. And the succeeding street eastward, Caroline
Street, had imposed upon it that of the Princess of Wales, afterwards so
unhappily famous as George the Fourth's Queen Caroline. Whilst in
Princes Street (for such is the correct orthography, as the old plans
show, and not Princess Street, as is generally seen now,) the rest of

Online LibraryHenry ScaddingToronto of old; collections and recollections illustrative of the early settlement and social life of the capital of Ontario → online text (page 4 of 59)