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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part IV: Chapter VI. York, 1813 to 1823


YORK, which for three years, as we have seen, had been passing through the agonies of a long and unequal contest, now hailed with fervour the return of peace, and set herself the task of laying anew the foundations of her material advancement. The harrow of anxious times and the sword and torch of the invader had ruthlessly gone over the town, and desolated hearts as well as homes. With peace m Europe there came large accessions to the troops in Canada; and apprehension gave up its fears at the coming of better times and returning confidence.

At the close of the year 1813, Lieutenant-General Drummond, who had commanded at Lundy's Lane, arrived at the capital to take charge of the civil and military affairs of the Province. In the following February we rind him calling the Legislature together in a hall used as a ball room, in the York Hotel, situate on King Street East—the Houses of Parliament having been burned during Chauncey's first descent upon the town. I11 April, 1815, Sir George Prevost, the Governor-General, was recalled to England, to answer charges reflecting on his military character during his operations with the troops n Lower Canada. General (now Sir Gordon Drummond was appointed in his place. Until the return of Francis Gore, in 1815, the administration of the Upper Province was entrusted to Generals Murray and Robinson. In September, however, Governor Gore returned and resumed control of affairs. His presence was not altogether acceptable to the people, who were now turning their attention to defects in the government of the Province, and with good reason. The affairs of Upper Canada had hitherto been almost wholly administered by the Governor-in-Council. In legislative matters representatives were not well versed, and for a time there were few men who were familiar with Parliamentary systems, or had given them even a thought. Necessarily, therefore, the work of administration fell largely into the hands of the Governor for the time being, and his advisers. What more natural, then, that having hitherto enjoyed exclusive power, the advisers of the Crown were loth to share it with the people's representatives ? But the time had come for a change. The Province was making headway, and the country was being opened up. The militia were disbanded, and many of the troops of the mother country had either been granted or had acquired their discharge. Immigration, moreover, had set in, and settlers desired to take up land. Now came the conflict between the people and the Government, its creatures and officials. We are on the eve, 't wiil be seen, of the period of the "Family Compact." But though poetical discontent was beginning to show itself. York and the young colony were making substantial progress. Trade was springing up, and the first steamer ever seen on the waters of Ontario, the Frontenac, had been launched 011 the Bay of Quinte. The Session of Parliament held in the spring of 1816 is notable for having laid the foundation of the Common School system of the Province. An Act was passed authorizing the establishment of schools "in such town, township, village, or place," at each of which the attendance of pupils should not be less than twenty; and £6.000 were appropriated to provide the machinery of education. The measure also provided for the election of school trustees—"Fit and discreet persons," who were "to examine into the moral character and capacity of any person willing to become a teacher, and to nominate or appoint him." Considerable sums were voted for building roads and bridges; for the. support of a provincial agent n London; for the purchase of books for the Parliamentary Library, which had been burned. A grant from the Provincial Exchequer of -£1,500 was also made for the purposes of civil government, and permission to expend £3,ooo was asked of the Crown for the purchase of a service uf plate for the Governor. This latter investment seemed to not a few of the representatives a lavish and unnecessary one, in view, particularly, of the absence of the Governor during the whole period of the war, and the many other more laudable objects on which the money could be expended. In the following session provision was made for a modest system of police supervision of the town, and for some measure of municipal government. Before this session closed an effort was made by the Lower House to take into consideration "the present state of the Province." But the spectre of Reform, the Governor and his friends had decided, should not be long allowed to show itself. Presently down came a message from the Governor, summoning the House to the Bar of the Upper Chamber, where, without waste of words, the country's representatives were dismissed to their homes. "I will send the rascals about their business!" were the irate words of the Governor, when he heard the nature of the House's deliberations, and he almost literally put his threat into execution. In May, 1817, Governor Gore, however, was recalled to England, and the relations between the administrator and Parliament for the time escaped rupture.

With the return of Mr. Gore to England another interregnum occurs in the consecutive order of Lieutenant-Governors of Upper Canada, during which Colonel Samuel Smith acts as President, and for the time being administers the affairs of the Province. Gore left the capital- in the spring of 1817, and his successor did not arrive until the summer of the following year. Colonel Smith was a retired half-pay officer, who had been appointed a member of the Executive Council by the Prince Regent, acting for His Majesty, George III. Among the appointments made at this period (7th October, 1815), we notice that of Dr. John Strachan, *to be an Honorary Member of the same Council."

In the month of August, 1818, his Excellency, Sir Peregrine Maitland, Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Path, Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, and Major-General commanding His Majesty's Forces, arrived. This officer was the son-in-law of His Grace the Duke of Richmond, with whose daughter, the charming Lady Sarah Lennox, he had eloped from Paris. The Duke himself had just been appointed Governor-General of Canada, and had come to the country with his son-in-law and daughter. Here, a year hence, he was to meet with a painful death, from the bite of a pet fox, as has often been told.

The coining to York of Sir Peregrine and Lady Sarah Maitland, it may readily be imagined, raised no little matter in society circles in the young colony. He was stately and she was fair, and about both there was a romance which would endear them to the hearts of the young and gushing in the prosaic capital. But the society' of Little York was to see little, comparatively, of their Excellencies. They made their residence mainly at Stamford, not far from the Falls, where Nature was bountiful and life more quiet. At intervals a visit would be paid, however, to the capital, where they were always received with state ceremonial, and interest would now and then be added to the occasion by the presence of some notable visitor from Europe. There were also the ceremonies to be witnessed in connection with the opening and proroguing of Parliament—new Legislative Buildings having been erected. Oil occasional Sundays there would also be the unpretending, but nevertheless attractive, spectacle of the presence of the minor court at divine service  in the Church of York.

St. James's had by this time been enlarged. At the southern end of the church a pew of state had been erected, with an elaborate canopy, and the symbol of the Royal Arms overhead. Within the building, as Dr. Scadding, Toronto's genial historiographer, takes pleasure in telling us, "used to assemble periodically the little world of York; occasionally, a goodly proportion of the uttle world of all Upper Canada." Here the troops and townspeople would assemble, with the judges, members of the Legislative Council, and those of the Lower House, together with the state officers, and the Provincial and town officials. And here the reverend oligarch, Doctor John Strachan, would try to solemnize his mind for the performance of his ministerial duties, and endeavour to forget the evil that was incarnate in politics, and the tribulation that daily beset him n his dual care of the State and the Church.

Meanwhile York was extending its boundaries. The once infant capital was now growing up to adolescence, and those who had been born in the town to young manhood. The settlement that had at first hewn itself a home by the banks of the Don was now spreading north and westward. About the market had sprung up a number of public buildings, stores, taverns, and land and steamboat offices, and more than one denomination had begun to build itself a sanctuary. The judges had erected residences outside the town .units, and the Reverend incumbent of the parish had domiciled himself in what was long known as "the Palace," situate on Front Street, to the west of York. Newspapers had come into existence, and there was already talk of founding a college, n addition to the District Grammar School, of which Strachan was still Principal. The professions also were beginning to establish themselves, and legislation had been enacted to regulate their practice. In legislation we also find the evidence of growth and prosperity. In 1820 increased representation was granted to the House of Assembly. Counties which had attained a population of 4,000 were given two members to represent them; while towns of 1,000, in which Quarter Sessions were held, were given one member. In 1822 the Bank of Upper Canada came into corporate existence; and steps were taken to establish a uniform currency. The following year saw the erection of a jail and court-house; and the unexpended moneys of the "Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada " were devoted to the building of an hospital.

The revenues of the Province, besides the moneys raised from land-sales, were mainly obtained from a share in the duties levied by the Lower Province on 'goods coming into the country. This sum was yearly increasing; though the Province at the time had difficulty in getting the amount regularly paid over by the Lower Canada Government. Goods entering the Province from the United States of course paid duty directly into, the Upper Canada exchequer. It may not here be amiss to see what was then the tariff.

At the first settlement of Upper Canada, it was not uncommon, we are told, for soldiers to sell their 200-acre lots of land for a bottle of rum. This favourite beverage of the other branch of the service was not then hi .h-priced in consequence of the tariff, but rather from the primitiveness of trade and the dearth of importers. In 1821 circumstances had changed. The tariff of that year placed a duty of 2s. 11d. a gallon on distilled spirits, and 6s. a dozen on beer, in bottles. Sheep paid is., live hogs 20s, cows 25s., and oxen 50s. per head. Clothing, cotton goods, books, paper, and pictures were taxed 35 per cent, ad valorem; snuff had an impost put upon it of manufactured tobacco, 7d., and unmanufactured, 4d. per pound. On soap there was levied 2d., and on hair powder 4d. a pound, while their complement, looking-glasses, were taxed 40 per cent. Boots and shoes paid 25 cents per pair; while all other manufactured goods, the growth and produce of the United States, were subject to a duty of 30 per cent.

We are at this early period without information of the amount of revenue these imports yielded at York; but the sum could not have been large, as the trade of the town as yet had not assumed any great proportions, and most imports were still entered at Niagara. The local traffic at the port, however, was annually growing; and steamboats, which had replaced the old-fashioned Durham packets, were now actively plying between the capital and various towns on the lake. It was still, however, a primitive time in York; and the annalist can with truth make nothing more of the place than to reveal it in its real colours, from the travellers of this period, and even from some of its long-time residents, the town has had bare justice done it. The former have too often written from caprice, or from the impressions formed by a hasty, and perhaps an accidentally unpleasant visit. The latter have not infrequently described the place with a temper soured by failure in the colony, or with teeth gnashed against some one individual who has unluckily given them offence. A collection of criticisms on the capital, which appear in print from contemporary writers, would be curious reading. They would be as varied as the humours of the visitor, and often as tart as a green apple. But everything must have a beginning, and the beginnings of York, we may as well confess, were unlovely.

The modern tourist, who has his first view of Toronto from the water, and lands to drive through its elegant streets, or to take a coupe' to one or other of its fashionable hotels, can have little notion of what scenes were presented to the visitor at the water-front, or in the streets of "muddy Little York," in the years prior to the Rebellion. Here is a picture, exaggerated perhaps, certainly not over complimentary, of York in 1822. It is from the pen of Mr. Edward Allen Talbot, described as of the Talbot Settlement, Upper Canada, but who is not to be confounded with the hermit Colonel, with the same patronymic, who in 1803 founded the colony on the northern shores of Lake Erie.1 Says Mr. Talbot: "The streets of York are regularly laid out, intersecting each other at right angles. Only one of them, however, is yet completely built; and in wet weather the unfinished streets are, if possible, muddier and dirtier than those of Kingston. The situation of the town is very unhealthy; for it stands on a piece of low marshy land, which is better calculated for a frog-pond, or beaver-meadow than for the residence of human beings. The inhabitants are, on this account, much subject, particularly m spring and autumn, to agues and intermittent fevers; and probably five-sevenths of the people-are annually afflicted with these complaints. He who first fixed upon this spot as the site of the capital of Upper Canada, whatever predilection he may have had for the roaring of frogs, or for the effluvia arising from stagnated waters and putrid vegetables, can certainly have had no very great regard for preserving the lives of His Majesty's subjects. The Town of York," he half-graciously adds, "possesses one great advantage, which is that of a good, but defenceless harbour."

The contrast between this picture and what would be sober truth, in describing the Toronto of to-day, each one can draw for himself. As the city has improved aesthetically, it has improved sanitarily; and in this respect the modern resident has cause to be grateful for the transformation which time and labour have produced. Not by enchantment, we may be sure, but by the toil of brain and muscle, and the slow evolution of weary, years, has the change been brought about.

And what has been done for the cities has been done at large for the Province. The whole face of the country has undergone change. What, emphatically and universally, was a wilderness, is now, in large measure, a cultivated garden. Nature has yielded up its tyranny, and the soil is yearly giving of its abundant increase. At what cost this change has been brought about, and how much of individual toil it represents, only the pioneers of the country adequately know. Nor was the toil alone that of the labouring man: often, indeed, it was that of the delicately nurtured, and the privation fell hardest on gentle blood, The work we have just referred to supplies signal proof of this. In a passage dealing with the Talbot Settlement the writer gives us this picture of its celebrated founder ; and its local reference must plead excuse for our quoting it: "The Colonel" (Talbot), says his relative, "is perhaps one of the most eccentric characters on the whole continent. He not only lives a life of cheerless celibacy, but enjoys no human society whatever. So great was his aversion to the fair sex, that, for many years after his arrival at Port Talbot, he refused to hire a female servant, but milked his own cows, made his own butter, and performed even other function of kitchen-maid, cook, and dairy-woman. Is it not strange, that a British officer of such high rank in the army, and respectable connections in civil life, should be induced to settle in the pathless wilderness. where he is totally excluded from society, unless he should associate with a class of people whom he considers entirely beneath him, and with whom he has never yet in any respect confederated? Being a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada, he goes to York once or twice in the year ; these visits, and an occasional one to England at intervals of five or six years, serve to rub off the rust contracted in his lonely cottage, and to remind him that the world is still as merry as il was when he figured in its gayest circles."

Before closing these social pictures of the time, and as a sort of antidote to Mr. Talbot's depreciatory sketch of the capital, let us quote another authority in regard to the condition of York under the regime of Sir Peregrine Maitland. In Bishop Strachan's memoirs, published m 1870, by Bishop Bethune, his successor in the Toronto episcopate, we find the following reminiscences of York in 1820. Says the Bishop: "Though inferior in size and condition to many of our present villages, York took a high rank as to social position. From its being the seat of Government, the society was excellent, having not less than twenty families of the highest respectability, persons of refinement, and many of high intellectual culture. To these were added a small sprinkling of military. For the size of the place there was a large amount of hospitality exercised, and on a handsome and bountiful scale. ... Sir Peregrme and Lady Sarah took the lead, of course, in the hospitalities of the place. They had their regular dinner parties during the Parliamentary Sessions, and once or twice a year there was a grand evening party with dancing, which gathered m all the respectability of the community in a mass. Sir Peregrine was reserved, but courteous and agreeable; had not a shade of superciliousness ; and would at times be very animated in conversation. . . . Lady Sarah was of a more lively temperament, but remarkably gentle and amiable. She held her position as became a Duke's daughter ; but, like a genuine member of England's nobility, had no pride, and maintained an intercourse on very kindly and familiar terms with the ladies of the place.

"The unpretending, old-fashioned wooden house of Chief Justice Powell, with its two-storied verandah facing the bay, was a great attraction to residents and visitors; because it contained a lively, amiable, and hospitable family. And the residence of the rector of the parish—then the best in the place, and afterwards by courtesy " the Palace"—was renowned for us frequent and elegant hospitalities. So, too, the abode of Attorney-General Robinson, then of small dimensions ; but whose inmates possessed, what they ever after maintained, the esteem and love of all who knew them.

"The public buildings were not out of keeping with the modest pretensions of the town in general; they presented no envy-provoking contrast with the abodes of individuals. The Court-house was a small, unpainted wood fen building, a little to the north of King and east of Yonge Street — the site, and sunburnt aspect of which, some of our old inhabitants may remember; and the jail was a homely and rickety structure on the south side of King Street, where now some of our proudest shops are exhibiting their attractive wares. The Parliament House was a cottage-looking edifice, near the intersection of York and Wellington Streets; afterwards transformed into public offices, and subsequently into a private residence, with neat and tasteful grounds around it. The district schoolhouse was a capacious wooden budding, standing on an open common a little in rear of St. James's Churchyard.

There was at that time throughout Upper Canada but a mere sprinkling of clergymen; though the members of the Church bore a large proportion to the general population, and everywhere its ministrations were very cordially accepted. There were m those days but few Presbyterian places of worship—not one either in York or in Kingston; and the ministers of that body were correspondingly few. . . The Methodists were a more numerous body, and had at that time a large chapel in York, which was pretty well filled on Sunday evenings.

"To extend our view as regards the position of the Church of England in Upper Canada, it will surprise many to hear that, in 1820, the first clergyman you came to west of Toronto was at Ancaster. On the Niagara peninsula there were three—at Niagara, Chippewa, and Grimsby. Going westward from Ancaster, you found none until you reached Amherstburg and Sandwich. All that vast interval—now comprehending a large diocese with nearly ninety clergymen—was, as regards the ministrations of the Church, a blank. Going eastward from York, the first clergyman we came to was at Cobourg; and north of this, in Cavan, another was settled. Then a blank, until we reached Belleville, then Bath, then Kingston. The next was at Williamsburg, and the last at Cornwall; sixteen in all. There was, besides, a chaplain to the forces stationed at Niagara, a chaplain to the navy at Kingston, and a clergyman at the latter place in charge of the Grammar School. . . . They had but a small revenue to deal with— merely the rents from the (Clergy Reserves) leased lots; but it was considered the hopeful beginning of good days for the extension and strength of the Church."


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