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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part IV: Chapter III. The Administrations of Governors Hunter and Gore


JUST prior to the beginning of the present century the infant settlement at York was honoured with the presence of a new Lieutenant-Governor. President Russell, who provisionally succeeded Governor Simcoe, was relieved of his administrative duties by the arrival at the capital of Lieutenant-General Peter Hunter, of whose antecedents, it may here be said, little was known. He was a Scottish gentleman, possessed of the characteristic qualities of his nation, and, as it turned out, had those additional virtues which we associate with the military man, and which were needed in his official capacity—discernment and decision. Governor Hunter arrived at York on the 17th of August, 1799, and presently took up his residence in the garrison. The event is duly chronicled in the press, the Niagara Constellation of the 23rd instant supplying us with the following interesting paragraph: "His Excellency, Governor Hunter, arrived at York on Friday morning last in the Speedy. On landing he was received by a party of the Queen's Rangers; and at one o'clock p.m. was waited on at his Honour's, the President's, by the military officers, and congratulated on his safe arrival and appointment to the government of the Province."

After a brief visit to Niagara, Governor Hunter seems to have returned for a time to Lower Canada, for we presently find the direction of affairs again committed to the hands of President Russell, with whom is now associated the Hon. J. McGill, J. Elmsley and AEneas Shaw. The official Gazette continues from tiime to time to report the going and coming of Governor Hunter, and the various movements of Government schooners on the lake, as they carried to and fro, on the business of the Crown, the law officers of the Province, and such naval and military magnates as were in this part of the world on His Majesty's service. The entries are varied by the advertisements of sailing packets, plying between different ports on Lake Ontario, the interest of the growing commerce of the Province. Occasionally there is a paragraph in the Gazette which records some calamitous shipwreck on the lake, the foundering or running ashore of some Government or merchant vessel, or other dire mishap which brings grief and dismay to the young colony. The naval architecture of the shipping on the lakes was at this period of a very primitive type, and few came to commit themselves to any extended voyage on the lake without serious apprehension and grave misgiving. Abroad, His Majesty's navy was making Britain "mistress of the seas;" but in the inland waters of Canada English commerce had as yet done little to give the colony trustworthy boats. Among the casualties recorded in the journals of the time we find that which overtook the schooner Speedy, late in the season of 1802. At the period above referred to she foundered off Presque Isle, and the whole of her passengers, including many notables of the Province, were lost. In Dr. Scadding's "Toronto of Old," he who has a love for the eventful may gratify his taste by reading the account given in the volume of the loss, some twenty years earlier than the period we are writing of, of the Ontario, Captain Andrews in command, which "went down with all on board while conveying troops—a detachment of the King's Own—under Colonel Burton, from Niagara to Oswego." The vessel carried twenty-two guns, the weight of which, when she became disabled, soon sent her to the bottom of the lake. Dr. Scadding tells us that one hundred and seventy-two persons perished on this occasion. The calamitous story has long since passed from memory or tradition among us, though it deserves to be worthily commemorated in some modern epic. Presently the announcement is made that the Legislature has enacted that lighthouses shall be established round the lake, one of which is to be constructed on Gibraltar Point. This, in some measure, lessened the risks of navigation on the waters of Ontario.

For the next few years we meet with little of moment in the announcements of the Gazette. The colony, indeed, was at the time living through but a humdrum existence. Events that were occurring in the outside world took long to reach the colony, and the inhabitants as yet were so few that their significance failed to make that impression which might otherwise be expected. Within the country we find record of a few events which, to the good people of York, were of absorbing interest. Among these may be mentioned the opening at the capital of a weekly public market, the necessity for wdiich had now become urgent. Governor Hunter had set aside nearly five acres, in the region of the present St. Lawrence Hall, for this laudable purpose, and the market was opened by official proclamation on the 5th of November, 1803. Henceforth it was not necessary to send to Niagara, as we have an amusing record of, for a few pounds of butter. In the same year we find several notables of the town elevated by royal proclamation to the rank of the legal profession. This honour fell upon Dr. W. W. Baldwin, father of the Hon. Robert Baldwin—the noted later-day Liberal—William Dickson, of Niagara, D'Arcy Boulton, of Augusta, and John Powell, of York. Dr. Scadding tells us that these gentlemen used to be referred to as the " heaven-descended " barristers.

Another historic announcement appears in the Gazette of the period, in the hoisting, fur the first time since the union of Great Britain and Ireland, of the Royal Standard—the flag of the now United Kingdom. . his national emblem was first given to the winds in Upper Canada one day about the middle of November, 1801, from the flagstaff of Fort George. In 1803 the Duke of Kent, uncle of Her Present Majesty, paid his second visit to Canada, and was entertained at York by the Hon. AEneas Shaw, now become a general. In this year, for the first time, we come upon an instance of the benefits which "our coloured brethren" derived from Simcoe's humane Act, in forbidding the further introduction of slaves into Canada, and the freedom that was to be granted those born in the country on attaining a certain age. On record in the Registry Office of Toronto, under the year 1803, is a registration of the sale, by Robert Franklin, York, yeoman, free black man, of "the front half of lot number five in the second concession east of the Township of York." On file, in the same depository, is also to be seen the will of Isaac de Gray, Solicitor-General of Upper Canada, by one of the clauses of which he gives freedom to a slave in his possession, and leaves a handsome sum for her support. The clause reads thus: "Thirdly, I feel it a duty incumbent upon me, in consequence of the long and faithful services of Dorinda, my black woman servant, rendered to my family, to release, manumit, and discharge her from the state of slavery in which she now is, and to give her and all her children their freedom. My will, therefore, is that she be released, and I hereby accordingly release, manumit, and discharge the said Dorinda, and all and every of her said children from slavery, and declare them and every one of them to be free." The provision Mr. De Gray made for them was the funding of £1,200, " the interest of which was to be paid to the said Dorinda, and her heirs and assigns forever.'"

Three years later, in sharp contract to the humanity of Governor Simcoe, we find Mr. Administrator Peter Russell offering for sale in the advertising columns of the Gazette and Oracle "a black woman named Peggy, aged forty years, and a black boy, her son, named Jupiter, aged about fifteen years, both of them the property of the subscriber. The woman," so sets forth the advertisement, "is a tolerable cook and washerwoman, and perfectly understands making soap and candles/' The price set upon Peggy is $150, and upon Jupiter, junior, $200, "payable in three years, with interest from the day of sale, and to be secured by bond." His Excellency is good enough to say, however, that "one-fourth less will be taken for ready money."

For the first time we now hear of what used often to be referred to as " the Church at York." The "meeting-house for Episcopalians," as it was also for a period termed, though subsequently the church was to develop into the Cathedral of St. James, had its origin in the year 1804, and was, as we learn/" a plain, barn dike structure of framed timber, .forty feet by fifty, standing east and west." The building was put up with the assistance of some troops from the garrison, by permission of Colonel Sheaffe, the commandant. Its first clergyman was the Rev. G. O'Kill Stuart, who afterwards became an archdeacon in the church, and for a time was master of the Home District School at York. In the records of both church and school we meet with the names of estimable citizens who, with their families, have been long associated with the town, and been instrumental, in large measure, in advancing its prospects.

Society at the capital was presently, however, to receive a shock in the receipt of a despatch conveying intelligence of the death at Quebec of the Lieutenant-Governor, General Hunter. As commander in-chief of the forces he had gone to the capital of the Lower Province on a tour of military inspection, and there fell ill and died. His body was buried at Quebec on one of the last days of August, 1805. His temporary successor in the governorship was Commodore Alexander Grant, who is chiefly known by his zeal in establishing for a while at York an institution for the promotion of Natural Science, and in procuring a grant from Parliament for the purchase of the necessary apparatus.

In the following year there came to the Province from the governorship of Bermuda the Hon. Francis Gore, who for the next five years was to figure in provincial history as Lieutenant-Governor. During this period York made slow but steady progress, and the Province continued satisfactory to advance in settlement. Parliament voted sums for the construction of roads and bridges, and made laudable efforts to open up new sections of the country. Postal facilities were also increased, and communication with Lower Canada and the outer world became more practicable. The population of the capital had by this time grown to 2,000. In George Heriot's work on British North America, he says of York in 1806 that "many houses are already completed, some of which display a considerable degree of taste. The advancement of the place to its present condition," he adds, "has been effected within the lapse of six or seven years, and persons who have formerly travelled n this part of the country are impressed with sentiments of wonder on beholding a town which may be termed handsome, reared as if by enchantment in the midst of a wilderness." Mr. Heriot filled the office of Deputy Postmaster-General of British North America. The mail between Montreal and York, we learn, was at this time so light as "to be carried by pedestrian white men between these two places, and by an Indian between York and Niagara, all of whom carried axes to enable them to cross streams. The number of post-offices in Upper and Lower (Canada at this date was less than twenty, and only about eight hundred miles of post road were open, of which not more than one hundred and fifty were in Upper Canada."

"No country in the world—" We quote from a modern source—"was less burdened with taxes than was Upper Canada at this period. A small direct tax on property, levied by the District Courts of Session, and not amounting to sixteen thousand dollars for the whole country, sufficed for all local expenses. There was no poor-rate, no capitation tax, no tithes or ecclesiastical rates of any kind. The chief check to the great prosperity of the country was the want of paper currency, there being no bank then in Canada. Gold and silver were the only circulating mediums, and, as the exports did not balance the imports, the little money brought into the colony by settlers, or paid out by Government, was insufficient to meet the increasing wants of the community. A system of barter was thus originated between merchant and fanner, highly prejudicial to the latter, and which frequently led him into debt.

"Nor were the public morals as much calculated to advance the welfare of the country as could be desired. Intemperance was a prevalent vice. The rough backwoodsmen, too, were often quarrelsome in their cups, and pugilistic encounters very frequently took place. The mass of the people may be described as a rough, homespun generation, with little religion, still less education; but honest in their general demeanour; steady, yet simple in their manners, and exceedingly hospitable in their homes. In the early days of York the vice of intemperance was punished in a somewhat summary though certainly utilitarian way: all persons guilty of drunkenness were made to give a certain amount of labour in pulling out tree-stumps in the public streets."

Such is the picture of York on the arrival of Lieutenant-Governor Gore. In some respects the country was an "earthly paradise," where there was abundance for all, with quiet enjoyment and reasonable pleasures to him who would dress the land and till it. But paradises, historically, have not been able to keep out discord. How much of this came to be introduced into Upper Canada, and what evil from the outside threatened to befall the young colony, we shall m the next and following chapters discover. Europe was at the period in the throes of a conflict which was putting Anglo-Saxon pluck and British manhood to the severest test. Nearer hand, the clouds of war were stretching their murkv curtain over British possessions in Canada, and the mutterings of a portentous storm were already disturbing the land. In the Governor's address at the opening of Parliament, in 1809, occurs this presage of the coming conflict: "Hitherto," says His Excellency, "we have enjoyed tranquility, plenty, and peace. How long it may please the supreme Ruler of Nations to favour us is wiserly concealed from our view. But under such circumstances it becomes us to prepare ourselves to meet every event, and to evince by our zeal and loyalty that we know the value of our Constitution, and are worthy the name of British subjects." Two years afterwards Governor Gore, obtaining leave of absence, quitted the country, and there now comes upon the scene the memorable figure of Brock.


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