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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ships between Liverpool and New York, and was 500 tons burden. We have
since learned some further particulars, by which it appears that her
loss was attended with circumstances of a peculiarly afflicting nature.
She had lived out the tremendous gale of the entire day on Sunday, and
Captain Williams consoled the passengers, at eight o'clock in the
evening, with the hope of being able to reach Liverpool on the day but
one after, which cheering expectation induced almost all of the
passengers, particularly the females, to retire to rest. In some short
time, however, a violent squall came on, which in a moment carried away
the masts, and, there being no possibility of disengaging them from the
rigging, encumbered the hull so that she became unmanageable, and
drifted at the mercy of the waves, till the light-house of the Old Head
was discovered, the wreck still nearing in; when the Captain told the
sad news to the passengers, that there was no longer any hope; and, soon
after she struck. From thenceforward all was distress and confusion. The
vessel soon went to pieces, and, of the crew and passengers, only six of
the former and nine of the latter were saved." The names of the
passengers are added, as follows: "Mr. Benyon, a London gentleman; Mr.
N. Ross, of Troy, near New York; Mr. Conyers, and his brother-in-law,
Major Gough, 68th regiment; Mr. and Mrs. Clarke, Americans; Madame
Gardinier and son, a boy about eight years of age; Col. Prevost; Mr.
Dwight, of Boston; Mrs. Mary Pye, of New York; Miss Powell, daughter of
the Honourable William Dummer Powell, Chief-Justice of Upper Canada;
Rev. Mr. Hill, Jamaica, coming home by the way of the United States;
Professor Fisher, of New Haven, Connecticut; Mr. Gurnee, New York; Mr.
Proctor, New York; Mr. Dupont, and five other Frenchmen; Mrs. Mary
Brewster; Mr. Hirst, Mr. Morrison, and Stephen Chase."

The _Weekly Register_ of York, of June 13, 1822, the number that
contains the announcement of the wreck of the _Albion_ packet, has also
the following paragraph: "Our Attorney-General arrived in London about
the 22nd of March, and up to the 11th of April had daily interviews of
great length with ministers. It gives us real pleasure to announce," - so
continues the editorial of the _Weekly Register_ - "that his mission is
likely to be attended with the most complete success, and that our
relations with the Lower Provinces will be put on a firm and
advantageous footing. We have no doubt that Mr. Robinson will deserve
the general thanks of the country." A family party from York had
embarked in the packet of the preceding month, and were, as this
paragraph intimates, safe in London on the 22nd of March. The disastrous
fate of the lady above named was thus rendered the more distressing to
friends and relatives, as she was present in New York when that packet
sailed, but for some obscure reason, she did not desire to embark
therein along with her more fortunate fellow townsfolk.

After the house and grounds of Chief-Justice Powell came the property of
Dr. Strachan, of whom much hereafter. In view of the probable future
requirements of his position in a growing town and growing country, Dr.
Strachan built, in 1818, a residence here of capacious dimensions and
good design, with extensive and very complete appurtenances. A brother
of the Doctor's, Mr. James Strachan, an intelligent bookseller of
Aberdeen, visited York in 1819, soon after the first occupation of the
new house by its owners. The two brothers, John and James, had not seen
each other since 1799, when John, a young man just twenty-one, was
setting out for Canada, to undertake a tutorship in a family at
Kingston; setting out with scant money outfit, but provided with what
was of more value, a sound constitution, a clear head, and a good strong
understanding trained in Scottish schools and colleges, and by familiar
intercourse with shrewd Scottish folk.

As James entered the gates leading into the new mansion, and cast a
comprehensive glance at the fine façade of the building before him and
over its pleasant and handsome surroundings, he suddenly paused; and
indulging in a stroke of sly humour, addressed his brother with the
words, spoken in grave confidential undertone, - "I hope it's a' come by
honestly, John!"

On his return to Scotland, Mr. James Strachan published "A Visit to the
Province of Upper Canada in 1819," an interesting book, now scarce and
desired by Canadian collectors. The bulk of the information contained in
this volume was confessedly derived from Dr. Strachan.

The bricks used in the construction of the house here in 1818 were
manufactured on the spot. One or two earlier brick buildings at York
were composed of materials brought from Kingston or Montreal; recalling
the parallel fact that the first bricks used for building in New York
were imported from Holland; just as in the present day, (though now, of
course, for a different reason,) houses are occasionally constructed at
Quebec with white brick manufactured in England.

We next arrived at a large open space, much broken up by a
rivulet - "Russell's Creek," - that meandered most recklessly through it.
This piece of ground was long known as Simcoe Place, and was set apart
in the later plan for the extension of York westward, as a Public
Square. Overlooking this area from the north-west, at the present day,
is one of the elms of the original forest - an unnoticeable sapling at
the period referred to, but now a tree of stately dimensions and of very
graceful form, resembling that of the Greek letter Psi. It will be a
matter of regret when the necessities of the case shall render the
removal of this relic indispensable.

At the corner to the south of this conspicuous tree, was an inn long
known as the Greenland Fishery. Its sign bore on one side, quite
passably done, an Arctic or Greenland scene; and on the other, vessels
and boats engaged in the capture of the whale. A travelling sailor,
familiar with whalers, and additionally a man of some artistic taste and
skill, paid his reckoning in labour, by executing for the landlord, Mr.
Wright, these spirited paintings, which proved an attraction to the

John Street, which passes north, by the Greenland Fishery, bears one of
the Christian names of the first Governor of Upper Canada. Graves
Street, on the east side of the adjoining Square, bore his second
Christian name; but Graves Street has, in recent times, been transformed
into Simcoe Street.

When the Houses of Parliament, now to be seen stretching across Simcoe
Place, were first built, a part of the design was a central pediment
supported by four stone columns. This would have relieved and given
dignity to the long front. The stone platform before the principal
entrance was constructed with a flight of steps leading thereto; but the
rather graceful portico which it was intended to sustain, was never
added. The monoliths for the pillars were duly cut out at a quarry near
Hamilton. They long remained lying there, in an unfinished state. In the
lithographic view of the Parliament Buildings, published by J. Young,
their architect, in 1836, the pediment of the original design is given
as though it existed.

Along the edge of the water, below the properties, spaces and objects
which we have been engaged in noticing, once ran a shingly beach of a
width sufficient to admit of the passage of vehicles. A succession of
dry seasons must then have kept the waters low. In 1815, however, the
waters of the Lake appear to have been unusually high. An almanac of
that year, published by John Cameron, at York, offers, seriously as it
would seem, the subjoined explanation of the phenomenon: "The comet
which passed to the northward three years since," the writer suggests,
"has sensibly affected our seasons: they have become colder; the snows
fall deeper; and from lesser exhalation, and other causes, the Lakes
rise much higher than usual."

The Commissariat store-houses were situated here, just beyond the broken
ground of Simcoe Place; long white structures of wood, with the shutters
of the windows always closed; built on a level with the bay, yet having
an entrance in the rear by a narrow gangway from the cliff above, on
which, close by, was the guard-house, a small building, painted of a dun
colour, with a roof of one slope, inclining to the south, and an arched
stoup or verandah open to the north. Here a sentry was ever to be seen,
pacing up and down. A light bridge over a deep water-course led up to
the guard-house.

Over other depressions or ravines, close by here, were long to be seen
some platforms or floored areas of stout plank. These were said to be
spaces occupied by different portions of the renowned canvas-house of
the first Governor, a structure manufactured in London and imported.
The convenience of its plan, and the hospitality for which it afforded
room, were favourite topics among the early people of the country. We
have it in Bouchette's _British North America_ a reference to this
famous canvas house. "In the spring (_i. e._ of 1793)," that writer
says, "the Lieutenant-Governor moved to the site of the new capital
(York), attended by the regiment of the Queen's Rangers, and commenced
at once the realization of his favourite project. His Excellency
inhabited, during the summer, and through the winter, a canvas-house,
which he imported expressly for the occasion; but, frail as was its
substance, it was rendered exceedingly comfortable, and soon became as
distinguished for the social and urbane hospitality of its venerable and
gracious host, as for the peculiarity of its structure," vol. i. 80.
After this allusion to the home Canadian life of the first Governor, the
following remarks of de Liancourt, on the same subject, will not appear
out of place: - "In his private life," the Duke says, "Gov. Simcoe is
simple, plain and obliging. He inhabits [the reference now is to Newark
or Niagara] a small, miserable wooden house, which formerly was occupied
by the Commissaries, who resided here on account of the navigation of
the Lake. His guard consist of four soldiers, who every morning come
from the fort [across the river], and return thither in the evening. He
lives in a noble and hospitable manner, without pride; his mind is
enlightened, his character mild and obliging; he discourses with much
good sense on all subjects; but his favourite topics are his projects,
and war, which seem to be the objects of his leading passions. He is
acquainted with the military history of all countries: no hillock
catches his eye without exciting in his mind the idea of a fort which
might be constructed on the spot; and with the construction of this fort
he associates the plan of operations for a campaign, especially of that
which is to lead him to Philadelphia. [Gen. Simcoe appears to have been
strongly of the opinion that the United States were not going to be a
permanency.] On hearing his professions of an earnest desire of peace,
you cannot but suppose, either that his reason must hold an absolute
sway over his passion, or that he deceives himself." _Travels_, i. 241.

Other traits, which doubtless at this time gave a charm to the home-life
of the accomplished Governor, may be gathered from a passage in the
correspondence, at a later period, of Polwhele, the historian of
Cornwall, who says, in a letter addressed to the General himself, dated
Manaccan, Nov. 5th, 1803: - "I have been sorely disappointed, once or
twice, in missing you, whilst you were inspecting Cornwall. It was not
long after your visit at my friend Mr. Hoblyn's, but I slept also at
Nanswhydden. Had I met you there, the _Noctes Atticæ_, the _Coenæ
Deorum_, would have been renewed, if peradventure the chess-board
intervened not; for rooks and pawns, I think, would have frightened away
the Muses, familiar as rooks and pawns might have been to the suitors of
Penelope." _Polwhele_, 544.

The canvas-house above spoken of, had been the property of Capt. Cook
the circumnavigator. On its being offered for sale in London, Gov.
Simcoe, seeing its possible usefulness to himself as a moveable
government-house purchased it.

Some way to the east of the Commissariat store-houses was the site of
the Naval Building Yard, where an unfinished ship-of-war and the
materials collected for the construction of others, were destroyed, when
the United States forces took possession of York in 1813.

It appears that Col. Joseph Bouchette had just been pointing out to the
Government the exposed condition of the public property here. In a note
at p. 89 of his _British North America_ that officer remarks: "The
defenceless situation of York, the mode of its capture, and the
destruction of the large ship then on the stocks, were but too
prophetically demonstrated in my report to headquarters in Lower Canada,
on my return from a responsible mission to the capital of the Upper
Province, in the early part of April. Indeed the communication of the
result of my reconnoitering operations, and the intelligence of the
successful invasion of York, and the firing of the new ship by the
enemy, were received almost simultaneously."

The Governor-in-Chief, Sir George Prevost, was blamed for having
permitted a frigate to be laid down in an unprotected position. There
was a "striking impropriety," as the Third Letter of _Veritas_, a
celebrated correspondent of the Montreal _Herald_ in 1815, points out,
"in building at York, without providing the means of security there, as
the works of defence, projected by General Brock, (when he contemplated,
before the war, the removal of the naval depot from Kingston to York, by
reason of the proximity of the former to the States in water by the
ice), were discontinued by orders from below, [from Sir George Prevost,
that is], and never resumed. The position intended to have been
fortified by General Brock, near York, was," _Veritas_ continues,
"capable of being made very strong, had his plan been executed; but as
it was not, nor any other plan of defence adopted, a ship-yard without
protection became an allurement to the enemy, as was felt to the cost of
the inhabitants of York."

In the year 1832, the interior of the Commissariat-store, decorated with
flags, was the scene of the first charitable bazaar held in these parts.
It was for the relief of distress occasioned by a recent visitation of
cholera. The enterprise appears to have been remarkably successful. We
have a notice of it in Sibbald's _Canadian Magazine_ of January, 1833,
in the following terms: "All the fashionable and well-disposed attended;
the band of the gallant 79th played, at each table stood a lady; and in
a very short time all the articles were sold to gentlemen, - who will
keep 'as the apple of their eye' the things made and presented by such
hands." The sum collected on the occasion, it is added, was three
hundred and eleven pounds.

Where Windsor Street now appears - with its grand iron gates at either
end, inviting or forbidding the entrance of the stranger to the prim,
quaint, self-contained little village of villas inside - formerly stood
the abode of Mr. John Beikie, whose tall, upright, staidly-moving form,
generally enveloped in a long snuff-coloured overcoat, was one of the
_dramatis personæ_ of York. He had been, at an early period, sheriff of
the Home District; at a later time his signature was familiar to every
eye, attached in the _Gazette_ to notices put forth by the Executive
Council of the day, of which rather aristocratic body he was the Clerk.

Passing westward, we had on the right the spacious home of Mr.
Crookshank, a benevolent and excellent man, sometime Receiver-General of
the Province, of whom we shall again have occasion to speak; and on the
left, on a promontory suddenly jutting out into the harbour, "Captain
Bonnycastle's cottage," with garden and picturesque grove attached; all
Ordnance property in reality, and once occupied by Col. Coffin. The
whole has now been literally eaten away by the ruthless tooth of the
steam excavator. On the beach to the west of this promontory was a much
frequented bathing-place. Captain Bonnycastle, just named, was
afterwards Sir Richard, and the author of "Canada as it was, is, and may
be," and "Canada and the Canadians in 1846."

The name "Peter," attached to the street which flanks on the west the
ancient homestead and extensive outbuildings of Mr. Crookshank, is a
memento of the president or administrator, Peter Russell. It led
directly up to Petersfield, Mr. Russell's park lot on Queen Street.

We come here to the western boundary of the so-called New Town - the
limit of the first important extension of York westward. The limit,
eastward, of the New Town, was a thoroughfare known in the former day as
Toronto Street, which was one street east of Yonge Street, represented
now by Victoria Street. At the period when the plan was designed for
this grand western and north-western suburb of York, Yonge Street was
not opened southward farther than Lot [Queen] Street. The roadway there
suddenly veered to the eastward, and then, after a short interval,
passed down Toronto Street, a roadway a little to the west of the
existing Victoria Street.

The tradition in Boston used to be, that some of the streets there
followed the line of accidental cow-paths formed in the olden time in
the uncleared bush; and no doubt other old American towns, like ancient
European towns generally, exhibit, in the direction of their
thoroughfares, occasionally, traces of casual circumstances in the
history of the first settlers on their respective sites. The practice at
later periods has been to make all ways run as nearly as possible in
right lines. In one or two "jogs" or irregularities, observable in the
streets of the Toronto of to-day, we have memorials of early waggon
tracks which ran where they most conveniently could. The slight
meandering of Front Street in its course from the garrison to the site
of the first Parliament Buildings, and of Britain Street, (an obscure
passage between George Street and Caroline Street), may be thus
explained; as also the fact that the southern end of the present
Victoria Street does not connect immediately with the present Toronto
Street. This last-mentioned irregularity is a relic of the time when the
great road from the north, namely, Yonge Street, on reaching Queen
Street, slanted off to the eastward across vacant lots and open ground,
making by the nearest and most convenient route for the market and the
heart of the town.

After the laying-out in lots of the region comprehended in the first
great expansion of York, of which we have spoken, inquiries were
instituted by the authorities as to the improvements made by the
holders of each. In the chart accompanying the report of Mr. Stegman,
the surveyor appointed to make the examination, the lots are coloured
according to the condition of each, and appended are the following
curious particulars, which smack somewhat of the ever-memorable
town-plot of Eden, to which Martin Chuzzlewit was induced to repair, and
which offered a lively picture of an infant metropolis in the rough. (We
must represent to ourselves a chequered diagram; some of the squares
white or blank; some tinted blue; some shaded black; the whole entitled
"Sketch of the Part of the Town of York west of Toronto
Street.") - "Explanation: The blank lots are cleared, agreeable to the
notice issued from His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, bearing date
September the fourth, 1800. The lots shaded blue are chiefly cut, but
the brush not burnt; and those marked with the letter A, the brush only
cut. The lots shaded black, no work done. The survey made by order of
the Surveyor-General's office, bearing date April the 23rd, 1801." A
more precise examination appears to have been demanded. The explanations
appended to the second plan, which has squares shaded brown, in addition
to those coloured blue and black, are: "1st. The blank lots are cleared.
2nd. The lots shaded black, _no work done_. 3rd. The lots shaded brown,
_the brush cut and burnt_. 4th. The lots shaded blue, _the brush cut and
not burnt_. N.B. The lots 1 and 2 on the north side of Newgate Street
[the site subsequently of the dwelling-house of Jesse Ketchum, of whom
hereafter], are mostly clear of the large timber, and some _brush cut_
also, but _not burnt_; therefore omitted in the first report. This
second examination done by order of the Honourable John Elmsley, Esq."

The second extension of York westward included the Government Common.
The staking out of streets here was a comparatively late event. Brock
Street, to which we have now approached, had its name, of course, from
the General officer slain at Queenston, and its extra width from the
example set in the Avenue to the north, into which it merges after
crossing Queen Street.

A little to the west of Brock Street was the old military
burying-ground, a clearing in the thick brushwood of the locality: of an
oblong shape, its four picketed sides directed exactly towards the four
cardinal points. The setting off of the neighbouring streets and lots at
a different angle, caused the boundary lines of this plot to run askew
to every other straight line in the vicinity. Over how many a now
forgotten and even obliterated grave have the customary farewell volleys
here been fired! - those final honours to the soldier, always so
touching; intended doubtless, in the old barbaric way, to be an
incentive to endurance in the sound and well; and consolatory in
anticipation to the sick and dying.

In the mould of this old cemetery, what a mingling from distant
quarters! Hearts finally at rest here, fluttered in their last beats,
far away, at times, to old familiar scenes "beloved in vain" long ago;
to villages, hedgerows, lanes, fields, in green England and Ireland, in
rugged Scotland and Wales. Many a widow, standing at an open grave here,
holding the hand of orphan boy or girl, has "wept her soldier dead," not
slain in the battle-field, indeed, but fallen, nevertheless, in the
discharge of duty, before one or other of the subtle assailants that,
even in times of peace, not unfrequently bring the career of the
military man to a premature close. Among the remains deposited in this
ancient burial-plot are those of a child of the first Governor of Upper
Canada, a fact commemorated on the exterior of the mortuary chapel over
his own grave in Devonshire, by a tablet on which are the words:
"Katharine, born in Upper Canada, 16th Jan., 1793; died and was buried
at York Town, in that Province, in 1794."

Close to the military burial-ground was once enacted a scene which might
have occurred at the obsequies of a Tartar chief in the days of old.
Capt. Battersby, sent out to take command of a Provincial corps, was the
owner of several fine horses, to which he was greatly attached. On his
being ordered home, after the war of 1812, friends and others began to
make offers for the purchase of the animals; but no; he would enter into
no treaty with any one on that score. What his decision was became
apparent the day before his departure from York. He then had his poor
dumb favourites led out by some soldiers to the vicinity of the
burying-ground; and there he caused each of them to be deliberately shot
dead. He did not care to entrust to the tender mercies of strangers, in
the future, those faithful creatures that had served him so well, and
had borne him whithersoever he listed, so willingly and bravely. The
carcasses were interred on the spot where the shooting had taken place.

Returning now again to Brock Street, and placing ourselves at the middle
point of its great width - immediately before us to the north, on the
ridge which bounds the view in the distance, we discern a white object.
This is Spadina House, from which the avenue into which Brock Street
passes, takes its name. The word Spadina itself is an Indian term
tastefully modified, descriptive of a sudden rise of land like that on
which the house in the distance stands. Spadina was the residence of Dr.
W. W. Baldwin, to whom reference has already been made. A liberal in his
political views, he nevertheless was strongly influenced by the feudal
feeling which was a second nature with most persons in the British
Islands some years ago. His purpose was to establish in Canada a family,
whose head was to be maintained in opulence by the proceeds of an
entailed estate. There was to be forever a Baldwin of Spadina.

It is singular that the first inheritor of the newly-established
patrimony should have been the statesman whose lot it was to carry
through the Legislature of Canada the abolition of the rights 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 7 of 59)