EMPIRE One Street; Many Stories: Queen

Soldier boy


Liberty, Trinity, Niagara

York's fort;
Toronto's reserve

The Garrison: birthing,
briefly losing, & long shaping
a very British town


Simcoe Place

Tent city mistress
Monument to founder John & wife Elizabeth (her words below) at Simcoe Place, midway between the spot where they first pitched canvas & the turf where their town would rise.

Elizabeth Simcoe

"The Queen's Rangers are encamped opposite to the ship. After dinner we went on shore to fix on a spot whereon to place the canvas houses, and we chose a rising ground, divided by a creek from the camp, which is ordered to be cleared immediately. ...

"We went in a boat two miles to the bottom of the bay and walked thro' a grove of oaks, where the town is intended to be built. A low spit of land, covered with wood, forms the bay and breaks the horizon of the lake, which greatly improves the view, which is indeed very pleasing. The water in the bay is beautifully clear and transparent."

-- Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe, in her diary, York, Tuesday, July 30th, 1793

In deep downtown Toronto, near the foot of a gleaming glass office tower finished not very long ago, this unfinished city gives belated thanks to one very formidable lady. It is her husband John who gets credit for founding the town, but it is to Elizabeth Simcoe we have turned, ever since, for our sense of this place as they found it more that 200 years ago.

Undaunted at what a later lady, Susanna Moodie, would call "roughing it in the bush," Mrs Simcoe wandered the landscape -- sketching, painting watercolours, and diligently keeping a diary. Her words above appear on a plaque, sheltered by stiff plastic moulded to seem stretched canvas, on turf called Simcoe Place.

The name can seem new, lately applied to the courtyard between that office tower (which shares it) and the big red white & black box of the CBC Broadcast Centre, plunked there in the early 1990s. But Simcoe Place was born on maps of the late 18th century. Nine acres bounded by John, Simcoe, Front, and Wellington, it was from 1829 site of the Legislature of Upper Canada; from 1867 to 1893, of Ontario. Government House, residence of the lieutenant governor, was up at Wellington Street; farther north at King, Upper Canada College.

That corner, also marked by St Andrew's Presbyterian Church and a tavern, was long known in local lore as "Legislation, Education, Salvation -- and Damnation." The latter remain, a later St Andrew's and not a few nicer places to drink, joined in 1982 by Orchestration: Roy Thomson Hall.

But elite educators, provincial legislators, and lieutenant governors have long since fled north. The old legislative building saw brief use as a mental asylum; in 1900 it fell to freight sheds and marshalling yards of the Grand Trunk Railway. Then to dereliction. Now we have John, Elizabeth and (more or less) their tent.

It is not the spot where they first pitched that "canvas house," once the cargo of Captain James Cook. That lies nearly a mile west.

Fort York aerial

Tent-site garrison
Fort York, seen from the air c 1973, hemmed in east (top) by Bathurst, south by the Gardiner Expressway -- which nearly ran it over.
Below, route from the Bathurst bridge: white blockhouses built in 1813, the brick East Magazine, 1814.

Fort from Bathurst


Tall towers;
Georgian banner

Downtown & the CN Tower rising east of Fort York. Foreground right: the Stone Magazine, 1815, bombproof storage for gunpowder -- 900 barrels holding nearly 37 tonnes.
Below, one of two flags the Fort flew (& still does): until 1801 without the red Irish cross of St Patrick set in Scot St Andrew's white X; thereafter the modern Union Jack.

Union flag


Food & fortifications
The 1815 Officers' Brick Barracks & Mess Establishment (the city's oldest surviving residential structure, much later ones behind), seen past one of two less grand brick digs.
Below: earth berm walls backed by stone; stone wall at the western gate.



There, now, we find Fort York. It's not the camp Mrs Simcoe saw in 1793: most of the current Fort dates from late August 1813. Accounts vary as to which side of that dividing creek the Simcoes chose to set up housekeeping. Some say the west, where in 1800 the first Government House would rise (well, the second if we count that canvas one). Carl Benn, the Fort's curator and chief historian, says it was on the east.

Husband John had both sides fortified, if mostly the west -- and modestly: two barracks, by the next year 28 more and maybe a stockade, all of green logs likely to rot. He did not expect his works to stand for more than seven years.

They would fall sooner, torn down in 1797 (Simcoe then gone to another outpost of Empire), replaced on the east by a blockhouse and 19 huts serving as barracks, hospitals, a bake house and a canteen, ordered by his successor Peter Russell. The creek's other side got two new works in 1811: the west wall, still there, and the Government House Battery, facing south, rebuilt in 1813 as the Circular Battery.

Even then it was not, in name, Fort York: people more often called it "the Fort at York," or "the Garrison at York" -- or, mostly, just "the Garrison." The stream between became Garrison Creek.

Early Fort York
The Garrison & its creek: Painting by Sempronius Stretton, May 13, 1804: blockhouse & barracks on the stream's east side, Anishnawbe spearfishing from a canoe beneath its steep banks. Native people were ubiquitous "local colour" in paintings of the period, many meant for domestic consumption "back home."

The Fort York we know began as a repair job, much needed: on August 1, 1813 American forces -- on the second of three visits that year (the first is detailed below; on the third, August 6, their fleet was fired on and sailed away) -- burned Russell's Garrison. Just 25 days later rebuilding began, all on the west side of Garrison Creek, the east abandoned.

The oldest buildings we see today -- Blockhouses Number 1 and 2, white with overhanging second storeys to let soldiers shoot down through the floor onto the heads of onrushing attackers (who in fact never again rushed in) -- date from that 1813 reconstruction.

The East Magazine went up in 1814 as secure storage for gunpowder. Its walls proved too weak to support its vaulted roof, bombproof: in 1824 it was removed, another storey added in its stead. The Stone Magazine, with walls more than two metres thick, was built in 1815.

The Brick Barracks also date from 1815: two were for enlisted men, some with wives and children; each could sleep 100 dependent souls. The Officers' Barracks and "Mess Establishment" held fewer, including servants and, for those of high rank (like a few of York's ranking gentry, the Jarvises and Peter Russell among them), perhaps the occasional slave. Its Mess was, for a mess, quite elegant.

The British Army held the Garrison for 77 years -- but for two brief breaks. Imperial troops were withdrawn from Canada in 1854, sent to fight the Crimean War, staying away two years. The first withdrawal, earlier and less orderly (as we'll see), lasted just 11 days, its war much closer to home.

In 1870 British forces (but for the Royal Navy at Halifax, "Warden of the North" through World War Two, and at Esquimalt, BC) left Canada for good. Troops under Canadian command, many of them British Army veterans, first took Fort York in 1872. They would be there another 60 years, after 1903 as tenants: the City bought the Fort, if letting the army stay on.

But even before that it had become "Old Fort York," by the 1970s "Historic Fort York" -- in short a theme park. Of sorts. Beginning in 1932 the City restored its crumbling structures; on Victoria Day 1934, to mark Toronto's centennial (York and the Fort some 40 years older), it opened as a museum, the Right Honourable Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough, then Governor General of Canada, presiding.

The Fort, if no longer an official fort, saw military use as late as World War Two. The City cleaned it up again afterwards, reopening it to the public in June 1953. Fort York is now a designated National Historic Site, run by Heritage Toronto under the City's Culture Division (rather a military ring, that).

It might have become a true theme park: not a real historic site but its replica. In 1958 the Metropolitan government said they wanted to tear down Fort York: it stood in the path of their planned Gardiner Expressway. They offered to rebuild it "where it belonged," on the lakefront -- since pushed by fill nearly a third of a mile south -- to "create a sense of the fort's original geographic context."

Actual history was to fall for a "sense" of history; authentic barracks, blockhouses, and blooded ground to the pathetic ersatz -- '50s style. Metro, the provincial Tories, and the local media (ever boosters of "civic progress") pushed the plan; the Toronto Civic Historical Committee, with allies across Ontario, pushed back.

The Battle of Fort York, 1958, was won by history, not "heritage." The Toronto Star, its editorial finger ever in the wind, switched sides -- shamelessly running a map of the Gardiner's new route in 1959 with an arrow aimed at the 18th century site tucked beside: "Old Fort York will not be touched." The Garrison, though under the roar of a monster on stilts, did not (this time) surrender.

Toronto's Garrison is now held by the Fort York Guard. They are not real soldiers -- but they do not seem fake ones. Their uniforms, if of modern manufacture, are scrupulously true to history: their buttons (each regiment had its own, distinct) have been specially cast; the odd bit of lace (each, too, using threads of distinct colours) carefully ordered up. And they know how to muzzle load a musket without blowing off their heads. Or yours.

Toy soldier boys?
Soldier boys (not toys)

Fort York treats tourists to fine uniforms & real musket fire, some of its "soldiers" (like the sentry at ease atop this page) mere boys -- as were many of the Fort's real ones. But they are more than tourist toys: their guns, powder, shot & uniforms are true to history -- many well versed in that history. Producers of the CBC's Canada: A People's History had high praise for military "re-enacters," insistent on faith to the finest details.

I got a guide not in British uniform, done up like the local militia -- his tunic so modest he might have slept in it (as they likely did). I was, by chance, his sole tourist, so got to ask lots of questions. He knew his stuff.

The Guard, formed in 1955, has as its core university graduates in history; most part time Guards are history students. And all of them teach history -- on the very spot where it was made: all summer, from Victoria Day, school tours are the Fort's primary (even secondary) focus. Women also offer history there -- if dressed for roles historically filled by women in the early 19th century.

We get to see not just boys with guns but girls in kitchens, messing up for real from ancient cookbooks (and yes: you can eat it; for the finer dishes you can book a dinner in the Officers' Mess Establishment). We see women in barrack rooms where women, their husbands, and children shared big wooden bunks -- in 1815, as many as 32 people in one room. A single regiment once had 15 wives and 60 children attached. (And yes: kids today can sleep over.)

The Summer Student Guard gets to show off musket play (carefully trained, often by military re-enacters who know the hardware) and stern regimental display. Here it helps that they are not real soldiers: the British Army's 18th century drill was not quite that of the Canadian Armed Forces in the 21st.

It can be -- even for me, having seen my last fort as a high school kid: one much too real, American, and maybe my future if I hadn't escaped -- quite impressive. And great fun.

But we gambol -- if a bit earnestly, murmuring between musket displays -- where arms were once borne in dead earnest. The ground beneath our feet has been (as Americans are more inclined to say than we) sanctified by blood.

The War of 1812, when the United States invaded Canada, is the war Americans mostly forget. Topped in domestic divisiveness only by the one in Vietnam (the only one America ever lost, they say), this second battle with Britain ended, at best, in a draw. Canadians count it a victory, if for no more than the fact that Canada is -- as Americans then hoped it would not be -- still here.

Declared by Congress on June 18, 1812 -- angered at the Royal Navy's fondness for Americans on the Atlantic, "pressed" into service on Limey frigates to save King George from Napoleon -- this war for freedom of the seas would be fought solely, but for the Great Lakes, on land.

The US had nearly no navy: Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's famed cry -- "I have not yet begun to fight!" -- had yet to be uttered. They could hardly attack the British Isles. But British North America was just next door, often allied with First Nations still free, standing in the path of Manifest Destiny. The American West, and South, were 1812's Hawk hotbeds.

New England was Dovish, closely tied to Old England by trade (unhalted even by federal law: the "Non- Intercourse Act"), often subverting "Mr Madison's war," even threatening to secede from the Union. Canada would see divided loyalties as well: of the 75,000 people in its (then) western half, Upper Canada, most had just lately arrived. From the United States: their one true allegiance was to free land.

General Isaac Hull urged (from Detroit, which in August 1812 he would surrender without a fight to Major General Sir Isaac Brock, backed by very scary Mohawks): "Raise not your hands against your brethren.... You will be emancipated from tyranny and oppression and restored to the dignified position of freemen."

To not a few Upper Canadians, his appeal would have no little appeal. Many sat out the war; some came to the aid of their "brethren."

American attack, 1813

Battle of York plaque

York's War of 1813
Plaque at Fort York, final site of the Battle of York, where British General Sheaffe, in retreat, blew up the Grand Magazine -- & some of his own men (maiming more); 38 Americans were killed on the spot, 222 wounded.

"The flotilla of the enemy." Painting by Owen Staples (1866 - 1949): US ships just west of the entrance to York's harbour, guarded by Gibraltar Point to the south (right) and Fort York. Drifting smoke on the shore marks the Western Battery. Most sources say there were 14 ships: 12 schooners, a brig & a corvette; others 15. Staples showed 16.

On the night of April 26, 1813, Rev John Strachan was summoned to his door by a messenger in rather a hurry. "Sir, it's from Major Givins. An express has just arrived. The flotilla of the enemy is standing towards the harbour."

No one was likely less tempted by Hull's offer of emancipation from "tyranny and oppression" than Strachan (pronounced "strawn"): fiercely proud Scot, Doctor of Divinity, Anglican deacon, British Army chaplain, and Rector of York. He likely cried (very much his style): "Vile knavery!" In the battle soon to begin, since cast by some as comic opera, the Reverend would play prima donna.

The Americans had hoped to split Canada by taking its lynchpin: Kingston, at the confluence of the St Lawrence and Lake Ontario. But it was heavily defended. By comparison, as we're told in The Story of Toronto, "York was a sitting duck."

The town itself was barely defended: the focus had long been the harbour, its sole entrance on the west, guarded by guns at Gibraltar Point (now Hanlan's Point, on Mrs Simcoe's "low spit of land," become in 1858 an island) and at Fort York. Barely fortified: there were just two cannon on each side of its creek. Its walls were mere mounds: one 400 yards west had no guns; the Western Battery, 400 yards farther, had either one or two. Accounts vary, if agreeing that its condemned cannonry, fixed in place, could not be aimed for fire.

There were 300 regular troops in town, British with Canadian fencibles (locals, if trained as regulars). Backing them were fewer than 500 "unsteady militiamen, dockyard workers and Indians," the last, said to number 50 to 100, Chippewa and Mississauga (tribes of the Ojibwa, the latter calling themselves Anishnawbe). Bold Brock was not in command: he had been killed at Queenston in October 1812.

The US forces arrived in 14 ships with 60 cannon, manned by 900 sailors under Commodore Isaac Chauncey, carrying 1,700 soldiers commanded by Brigadier General Zebulon Pike (he of later Peak fame). The whole operation was overseen by Major General Henry Dearborn, who had battled the British in the American War of Independence.

At 7:00 the next morning they were reported landing west of Fort York, at a small clearing once site of the old French Fort Rouillé. The Glengarry Light Infantry and native warriors under Major Givins of the militia were sent to meet them.

The Glengarries got called back up to Lot Street (now Queen) by Aeneas Shaw of the militia, to back his men there (perhaps near what is now Shaw Street) on guard against a flanking American move. The Royal Newfoundland Fencibles were sent in their stead: taking to the woods, even though "there was a road of sorts" if along the shore and under fire, they got lost.

The Americans had too. Set on that convenient clearing, they got blown west more than half a mile, forced to scale a steep wooded slope up to what is now Parkdale. Covering fire boomed from their fleet, first heard at 8 am. From above came sniper fire: the Ojibwa, and Givins, alone until the regulars found their way.

But by then nearly 800 Americans had landed, leaving behind many dead on the beach. Fresh forces would follow, pushing past skirmishing Glengarries south of Lot Street, marching east past their intended landing point, to the Western Battery. By 11 am -- playing "Yankee Doodle" on fife and drums -- they reached it.

There, Major General Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe hoped to make a stand, reinforced by more of York's militia marching from town. They had yet to arrive. Then cannon sparks flying into a powder magazine set off a blast: the battery was blown apart. Thirty of Sheaffe's men were wounded, some fatally.

He ordered an orderly retreat: regulars complied; most militiamen scattered. With US troops hot on their heels, they headed for Sheaffe's last stand: the Garrison.

Death of Pike

Pike piqued (& pillowed)
The death of General Zebulon Pike: crushed by a rock sent flying from the Grand Magazine; dying later aboard ship. The captured Royal Standard, his last pillow, later rested at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

General Sheaffe knew he could not hold the fort. Pike's troops were inside its berm, not far from the main stockpile of gunpowder: the Grand Magazine, its stone walls six feet thick. He did not want to surrender it, his men, or himself. He ordered the magazine blown up.

The explosion sent a cloud "the shape of a vast balloon" billowing so high it was seen for miles. Also seen: bodies flailing in the air, many Sheaffe's own men, some killed. But that blast killed and maimed many more Americans. The magazine's stonework, tonnes blown sky high, crashed down. General Pike, his back fatally crushed, died later that day.

Sheaffe led his meagre force east, in retreat to Kingston, burning along the way the Royal Navy ship Sir Isaac Brock, standing nearly finished in drydock (near what is now Union Station, the shore then far north of where we know it).

York stood abandoned. John Strachan, who had urged Sheaffe to head the other way -- to Niagara's Fort George, for reinforcements -- standing with friends, Fort York in view, suddenly said: "Oh, the imbecility of it. Look! Look there gentlemen. It breaks my heart to see." Over the garrison flew the Stars and Stripes.

The Battle of York had lasted six hours. It had cost the Americans 55 dead, 265 wounded; the British regulars and Canadian fencibles 66 killed, 77 maimed. The militia lost ten, five dead; the Ojibwa eight, how many dead I did not discover.

The Grand Magazine blast left a crater long marked on maps of the later Fort York, just south of its modern wall. A grassy plot just inside the wall is now specially marked: "Memorial Area."

That republican banner would flap over York for just 11 days. The Americans had little reason to hang around, but for a bit of loot: most local gentry had not stuck around, packing their wagons and fleeing town, in fear of "fearsome looking men from the hills of Kentucky."

The Rev Dr Strachan was not among them. Scorning the flight (of General Sheaffe in particular) he stayed, shepherd to his flock -- "visiting the sick and wounded, pacifying the frightened citizens, petitioning and pestering the American officers." He, along with a few remaining gentry, got them to agree to control looting (which they did, by US soldiers if not "frightened citizens") and to spare public buildings.

That they did not. "Our government buildings have been set on fire and our church robbed," Strachan railed to an American major he cornered every day. "Next our houses will be pillaged and innocent women and babies burned in their beds." He demanded to see General Dearborn; refused, he caught him coming ashore. "Keep off, sir. Do you not see who I am?" The Bishop shot back (as reported in Sylvia Boorman's "semi- novelistic" biography) "I willna be poot off any longer."

General Dearborn did put off. Mrs William Dummer Powell, wife of the honourable chief justice (in the moment well out of town) was soon able to write him: "the Fleet so hostile to our comforts departed on Saturday morning."

It was May 8, 1813. The US squadron had been packed up to go six days before, set to sail for a bigger prize: Fort George. They were delayed by bad weather, so bad that most aboard their ships, so crowded only half the men could go below, came down with diarrhea and dysentery. With a crew "sickly and depressed," Commodore Chauncey sailed past Niagara, taking a pass on Fort George.

The Americans had not come for the tiny Town of York. They were after the Sir Isaac Brock with its 30 guns, the Prince Regent too, and the Duke of Gloucester. The Prince had escaped before they arrived; the Duke they got, unfinished: towed back to the US, Dearborn declared it unfit for service. They got no titled ships: they got the Reverend Doctor Strachan -- not about to take him with them.

They took no prisoners at all, their ships too full, leaving their POWs paroled. But among their loot was a more symbolic hostage: the Legislature of Upper Canada's ceremonial mace -- sign of those parliamentarians' fealty to the sovereign Crown. It would be returned, if not until 1934.

The Americans would pay a brief return visit on July 31. Local ladies (honourable husbands again wisely off elsewhere) had officers in for tea. As Sylvia Boorman tells us: "the conversation was of a polite, drawing- room nature. After which the Americans burned York garrison and left."

York, 1820

Left in peace
"View of York, 1820," attributed to Robert Irvine. The Gibraltar Point lighthouse, built 1806, still stands (if a bit taller) on the Toronto Islands.

The occupation of a British, imperial, capital city (well, town; its population then 640) by an army of the republic too nearby was, in fact, of little significance. York was of no strategic value to the Americans, nearly indefensible against overland attack, and not a fit base for forays inland: their vital supply lines ended across a lake they never fully controlled.

The Americans did take much of Upper Canada, coming up from the southwest, Detroit (once recaptured) securely at their backs. They got past London, unchecked even by fierce native warriors Hull had so feared at Detroit. The Shawnee chief Tecumseh fell at the Battle of Moraviantown, if only after its British commander had fled the field.

The Battle of York was dramatically cast in local lore. Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto tells of clerk Billy Roe, disguised as a woman, carting government gold east of the Don for secret burial, later turning his treasure directly over to the good Rev Strachan. Many retail troops falling through surprisingly late spring ice on High Park's Grenadier Pond.

As ever, accounts vary (the phrase an apt title for many "histories"). But those two are high buncombe: no force ventured over the pond; the gold was, no doubt with burning politesse, surrendered to the Americans.

In more general if less colourful histories, the Battle of York is often reduced to a line or two. Or less: Canada: A People's History, giving the War of 1812 lots of airtime -- as a pivotal moment in Canadians' sense of themselves as British North Americans -- didn't bother with it at all. It was not, after all, the Battle of Queenston Heights, where Sir Isaac Brock fell (and stands high today), Mohawks among those saving the side for "Our Father the King in London."

Nor the Battle of Lundy's Lane, fought in darkness amidst the headstones of an old burial ground become by morning a mass grave wide open, strewn with bodies in red coats and blue mixed in heaps: young, dying, dead. American forces would not again tempt fate beyond their Niagara frontier.

Victoria Memorial Park

Vague memory
The Garrison Burying Ground, tucked away in the little- known Victoria Memorial Park.

Despite all the blood spilled in the War of 1812, neither side finally gained ground. After July 1814 and Lundy's Lane, the struggle froze to stalemate. In the Treaty of Ghent the US bargained away that stretch of Upper Canada they'd seen as "a sword plunged deep into the heart" of the (North) American continent -- for more vital turf: British occupied Maine, and vast reaches south and west of the lakes, later called their "Old Northwest."

Canadians, forced to war, had hoped to reclaim that turf: part of Canada for nearly 250 years, ceded by Britain to the US in 1783, settling their Revolutionary spat. Tecumseh had hoped, as promised by Brock, to see Michigan made part of a vast Indian Confederation he'd envisioned, the early capture of Detroit suggesting his dream might come true.

But that dream and, as Desmond Morton has said, the "interests of British North America were once more sacrificed on the altar of Anglo-American understanding." The issue that had started the war, impressment, was moot: Napoleon had been defeated. Britain wanted peace -- and US trade. The Americans went home with no more than they'd come with. So did Britain. Their valued allies of the First Nations were left with no home at all.

In a way, nothing changed. But for the people of Upper Canada one thing did, and vitally: for the first time they saw themselves, truly, as Canadians. Lower Canada, born as and becoming again Quebec, had long been clearly Canadien -- a term long applied only to French Canadians, their sense of themselves bolstered by language and culture -- and by a history of resistance to preserve them.

Their Anglo compatriots west of the Ottawa River had at last caught up, given their first rich if costly taste of themselves, too, as a distinct society.

April 27th is not a date marked by the people of modern Toronto. We take no holiday to recall the Battle of York; many of us, I'm sure, have never heard of it. Few know where its dead rest in some peace: Victoria Memorial Mark, tucked south of Wellington behind Bathurst's east streetscape, an obscure green patch that, but for the hum of traffic, stays quiet.

Much of the park was once occupied by the Garrison Burying Ground. Elizabeth Simcoe's daughter Katherine, age 15 months, was the first person interred there, in 1794; the last was Private James McQuarrick, in 1863.

The dead of that ground and a few headstones naming them, many worn beyond legibility, have since been gathered in one small plot, fenced, beneath a monument erected in 1902 by local veterans of the British Army and Royal Navy. A bust sits atop: a soldier, his regimental cap not on his head but cradled in his arm, his face a mask of grief. He is not named.

Few see him. Few ponder the war that laid many of the dead beneath him. Yet in some deep if rarely spoken way, we do not forget.

Burial ground plaque

City plaque, put up in 2000 (with Megacity's coat of arms: beaver & bear the same size & squat, supporting a highly imaginative "T"), marking the burial ground once part of the Garrison Reserve.

A 1793 map of the land that would become Toronto shows all of it south of what is now Queen Street -- but for ten tiny blocks hugging the lake -- marked "Reserved." For the military.

To the east of those ten blocks, the original Town of York, reserved land came to be called King's Park. Heavily wooded, it was held as a source of naval timber, used to build the likes of the Prince, the Duke, and the Brock. But it did not last long in that role: a map of 1827 shows it laid out with lots for sale.

In 1797 the little town spread beyond its first limits, taking in land north to Queen (then Lot Street, to its north the Park Lots, reserved for local gentry) and west to Peter Street. But beyond Peter, all the way to modern Dufferin Street, remained military land.

On its rebirth as the City of Toronto in 1834 its western bound was set at Bathurst, taking in part of what was still the Military Reserve. Some lots there were granted to officers, encouraging them to settle. But settlement would come more slowly to the land lying farther west.

Much reserved: Toronto's lakeshore, drawn by Capt R H Bonnycastle & Lt E T Ford of the Royal Engineers, 1838; redrawn from a copy of the original at the Archives of Canada by James Madill, 1973. Like many 19th century maps of this area, it now seems upside down: south at the top, east at the left. Grey area top left: the sandy shoal around Gibraltar Point.

From the east: street grid of the City of Toronto (Simcoe Place nearest the lake), ending at Peter St, York's west limit. Beyond the City's 1834 limit at Bathurst: Fort York and Garrison Creek; the "Proposed New Work" just past the Western Battery; and the "Old French Fort." Beyond that: "Brock's Land" -- not Sir Isaac's but his cousin James's, now part of Parkdale. US troops landed, April 27, 1813, on the wooded shore just west.

Military Reserve, 1838

1827 Fort plan

Stars in their eyes
"Plan of a Pentagonal Fort containing a casement Fortified Barrack for 200 Men proposed to be constructed at York U.C." An 1827 plan of the Garrison straddling its creek -- based on a standard British model exhibiting the Royal Engineers' usual subtlety with local landscape.

Maps made in the 19th century (and even now) often reflect history and hopes: remembrance of things past and plans for the future -- at the cost of fidelity to the mapmakers' present.

Those lots shown at King's Park on that map of 1827, for instance, were laid out along King Street east of Berkeley, angled off the Town's usual grid (as it still is), flanked by parallel streets named North and South Park -- streets of dreams in the minds of real estate speculators, not really there then or since.

Looking at old maps, comparing them with each other and evidence beyond, I was surprised to learn that many displayed dreams as cartographic reality. (That's when I began casting wary eyes on modern maps as well.)

That elegant rendering of the Military Reserve, 1838, shows some things not there. The "Old French Fort," a familiar point of local reference, was in fact "five heaps of charred timber and planks": troops in retreat had burned Rouillé 79 years before. Other fortifications shown above (and at the left) lived only on paper. Some things already there, at least in the logs of local surveyors, do not show up at all.

What appears on that map but was not on that land's 1,000 acres -- and what does not appear, but was -- begins to tell the story of the Garrison Reserve, its dubious role in defence of the Empire, its curious relations with the Town of York, and its place in the history of Toronto.

John Simcoe wanted to see a very strong fort at York, linked by a web of military roads with naval bases he hoped to set on the shores of Georgian Bay and Lake Erie. "A little wild in his projects," a local once said; in unfortunate agreement was Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester, Governor General of Canada -- and John's boss.

Dorchester, doubting the strategic significance of Upper Canada's thinly settled backwoods, refused to designate York an official fort funded by the British Army. Simcoe, and Peter Russell after him, had to tap the provincial treasury (which they controlled) to finance their Garrison's meagre defences. On April 27, 1813 that meagreness told, even though Fort York had got Army blessing in 1798 -- and heard American rumblings as early as 1807.

Reconstruction begun in 1813 did inspire plans more grand (like that star straddling Garrison Creek above). In 1833 Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colbourne opened lots for sale between Bathurst and the creek, hoping to fund construction of that "Proposed New Work" shown above near the Western Battery. By 1836 all those lots were taken up: street layouts are shown on city maps, if not the one above.

Blue Barracks

Late addition
The Blue Barracks: built during the City's restoration of the 1930s -- Fort York's only full replica.

But British officials again were reluctant: in 1833 the inspector general of fortifications said that York was "in no way connected with the Military Defence of the Province," meant only to mind its own harbour. Sir Francis Bond Head, the next LG, got the Imperial government to offer the province the entire Reserve in exchange for 10,000 pounds he might put to those "New Works." No deal.

A few barracks did go up in 1841, if not the fortifications planned around them. Even so the "New Fort" appeared, as above, on maps as late as the 1870s, its only reality the Stanley Barracks, later wrapped by the Canadian National Exhibition -- which, in what Carl Benn calls "an astonishing act of architectural vandalism," tore down all but three in the early 1950s.

The province did get the Garrison Reserve -- if only after a battle with the City, granted a 999 year lease on 287 of its acres (for all of a penny a year), given up for 55 acres held as parkland. Some would go to the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, forebear of the CNE; 50 provincial acres would house its Lunatic Asylum. Their stories are told elsewhere.

In 1861, the United States again a threat (if just its states still united, battling Confederates finding British sympathy), the Stanley Barracks got ten new guns. But American invaders would get no closer than Fort Erie -- not during the Civil War but in 1866, and not US forces but Irish Fenian raiders taking on the British Empire, as before, by the most convenient route.

Fort York got its last fittings some seven decades later: the Blue Barracks, built during the City's restoration. It is the fort's only modern structure, built of course to look not modern. The city would see other wars, before that and later; the Garrison Reserve would, in other guises, play its part. But after April 1813, local ground was never again bloodied by armies locked in combat.

Still, Toronto was long content to remain a garrison town.

Private / General

Gent / Lady

Ladies & gentlemen
Well, the private maybe no gentleman, if good enough for some ladies. Local fashions, 1812 (military) & 1834 (civilian), drawn by C W Jefferys (1869 - 1951), with Owen Staples (above) among the foremost creators of "Canadian heritage" illustration.

"For more than seventy years British soldiers were in garrison at Toronto and the officers' mess was a social centre. ... The subalterns, with senior approval, followed the usual custom of entertaining themselves, formed friendships with the gentlefolk of the town, danced, fell in love, sometimes fell out again, organized horse races, did a little in the way of amateur theatricals, hunted ducks and deer, shot passenger pigeons, and in general conducted themselves as garrison officers in all parts of the world were wont to."

-- Jesse Edgar Middleton, in Toronto's 100 Years, 1934

Toronto is not known as an armed town. Its few armouries are barely noted but for kids in fatigues sometimes seen at bus stops nearby. Most are cadets. Their big brothers and sisters among the very few members of the Canadian Armed Forces -- Canada one of the least militarized nations on earth -- have been most famed as UN peacekeepers. They more often make news now as minions of a US jihad, four lately killed by "friendly fire."

But this city, and York before, was long a garrison town. Its sense of itself, its values, its entertainments and, early on, its economy were profoundly shaped by Fort York. In fact the fort was a town in itself, for a time more vital that its civilian annex. In the winter of 1796 food from the Garrison's stores was all that kept Little York, hard by frigid woods on a frozen bay, from starving to death.

The town set its clocks by the Garrison's noon gun. It has its own school, teaching both children and enlisted men to read and write, from 1841 its own library. It had its own medical facilities, even for Garrison women giving birth. The Officers' Mess outclassed any club in town, "civilians of the right sort" welcome to "pay their shot and dine." They did, almost every night. The Fort was famous for parties, unmarried ladies of the town's leading families very much favoured guests.

Soldiers even took the party to town, joining civilians in cricket, horse racing, ice skating. In 1833 a regimental band played two public concerts a week. In 1841 the 32nd Regiment of Foot hosted 200 locals at two Peter Street ballrooms -- swords, muskets and drums in artful display, candles stuck on bayonets all around glowing to "singular beautiful effect."

Truth be told, they often had little else to do. And -- as is the wont of bored, restless, and randy young men gathered in gangs anywhere -- they were out for what fun they could find. Soldiers "drunk and disorderly" were often seen on the streets of Toronto. In 1843 a group of officers had "a jovial time going around the town serenading" -- until dawn.

Petty crime was common (the boys not well paid); so were disputes with merchants over unpaid bills. In 1849 soldiers beat up city police sent to scare prostitutes away from the Garrison. That incident we likely know from official records; they record some engagements less often noted by historians.

In 1838 a maid at the Legislature in Simcoe Place warned George Markland, age 48 and Inspector General of Upper Canada: "Your Movements about this Building in the Evenings are being watched, and have become the Subject of conjecture." He had been seen with soldiers, some boys in the regimental band. Markland pleaded innocent connections, helping them with financial affairs: he was apparently known for "procuring the discharge" of young men -- from the army.

Word got out, an investigation ensued. Witnesses noted odd comings and goings, strange sounds behind closed doors, Markland walking from the Garrison at night, his hand on the arm of a soldier -- and an "intimacy subsisting between them which I thought extraordinary considering the relative rank of the parties." Markland was allowed to resign; he left town, dying in complete obscurity 24 years later.

George Markland's encounters were hardly unusual: soldiers factor in records of intimacy "extraordinary" among men as far back as New France. A Montreal drummer boy of 1648 was spared death for "a crime against nature" only by the absence, perhaps temporary, of an authorized hangman.

In 1840, local dancemaster Richard Yeo spent a year in jail after he had allegedly "seized a soldier around the waist and took the most horrible, indecent liberties." Yeo was lucky: the punishment for "buggery" in British law of 1840 was death. Markland was luckier still.

The inspector general's case offers us rare evidence of the Garrison's social history, its lands perhaps this town's first cruising ground. But it is also telling of more proper history: George Herchmer Markland had been a key member of the Family Compact, Upper Canada's ruling oligarchy. Among his investigators, judges, life- saving banishers -- and friends -- was the Reverend Doctor Strachan.

Bishop Strachan

Lord Bishop
"John Toronto: The Honourable & Right Rev. John Strachan, D. D. Lord Bishop of Toronto," engraved above; the painter's name does not appear.

The Palace

Lord Bishop's Palace
Strachan's house, just west of Simcoe Place, shown here after he was gone. By 1894 it was the Palace Boarding House, torn down two years later.

John Strachan's career had barely begun when he saw York's US occupiers off in 1813. He would see another 54 years in this town and, after 1834, the city it became. Arriving a deacon he would die, at 89, a bishop; in that role and relentlessly beyond, he more than earned his episcopal tag: John Toronto.

John long awed local historians, often calling him Bishop Strachan well before he was made one in 1839. Fierce in his faith, he was no respecter of others'. Fellow Scots Presbyterian he viewed with Scot suspicion; High Church in taste, he was fond of "smells & bells" ritual -- but real Catholics were Papists disloyal to the King. Methodists were beyond the pale, their roving "saddle bag preachers" no doubt agents of Yankee republicanism. And their revivalist fervour was dreadfully excessive -- surely not in good taste.

On any issue of the day Strachan stood firm: "his conviction," a biographer says, "was argument enough." Like so many clerics then (and since), he was often a sanctimonious busybody. And an avid social climber.

The good rector married better, wife Ann the widow of Andrew McGill, brother of James, of the founding McGills -- marrying into not just family riches but the Family Compact. Welcome at its tables, on the Executive Council advising the lieutenant governor, and of course a Man of God, Strachan was soon a favoured son of that (very compact) family.

A Doctor of Divinity, his degree granted in 1811 by the University of Aberdeen "without any great prompting [or, it seems, much work] on his part," he called his house, even before he was Bishop, "The Palace." Its entertainments were said to rival His Excellency's own at Government House, just up Simcoe Street.

Brother James, on a visit from Scotland, dared venture: "But Joch, was it a' come by honestly?" John Strachan was ever in debt, borrowing heavily to finance (like the rest of the Family) speculation in real estate. Over his less laudatory biographies hangs the spectre of one Mr Street: obscure, if said to be the richest man in the province. In 1842 he had Strachan on the hook for almost 8,000 pounds -- more than six times the Bishop's salary and wife Ann's dowry combined.

On his marriage in 1807 John had written a friend: "My wife has an annuity of 300 pounds a year during her life, a great share of beauty, is in her 22nd year and has as good an education as this country could afford which by the way is not great." On that last point, he would get very busy.

King's College was Strachan's baby. It was he who sailed to London in 1826 bent on securing it royal charter, granted by George IV (famously vain, likely flattered by "King's"); he who dreamed of collegiate splendour set in a sylvan field -- and set securely Church of England.

Strachan was its first principal, long in charge of nothing at all but that field and the two grand avenues cut to it through the bush -- if spending many public pounds to maintain them. King's' first building, of many planned, was begun only in 1842. Once open it admitted no Unitarians or Jews as faculty; Papist of course need not apply. Its resolute Anglicanism put off even other Protestants; Presbyterians and Methodists set up colleges of their own.

In 1849, under a government of "impious people" as he put it, surely not Family, Strachan lost his Anglican institution to "the anti- Christian University of Toronto." (That tale is linked to below.) But, as ever, he would not be poot off.

In 1850, age 72, Strachan sailed off to London yet again, this time pestering Prime Minster Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. He came back with 15,000 pounds and a new charter, from Queen Victoria, to back a new college: Trinity. (Queen's was already claimed by Presbyterians, Victoria by the Methodists).

Sites were on offer in Cobourg, Hamilton, and Niagara. But John stayed close to home, buying 20 acres north of Queen Street from one Mrs Cameron of Gore Vale, just next door and quite sympathetic: her family would later donate more.

He stayed close to family, too. Son James -- like Papa, borrowing (from Papa) to buy real estate -- owned 100 acres nearby, bought undeveloped in 1843 on spec it would soon sprout: the new Asylum, hence doctors needing houses, was about to set up on Queen just west. And now (what luck!): professors too. Papa made no small plans: his new college was set to be big.

Lord Bishop's College
Right: Trinity, standing north of Queen St, begun in 1851 to a design by Kivas Tully, shown here in 1898 with later wings to the north & chapel to the east, by another architect, Frank Darling. Below, an 1858 plan by yet another, William Hay: a new chapel in an older Gothic style, never built.

Trinity 1858 plan  

Trinity 1898

Trinity College rose in 1851, its Perpendicular Gothic inspired (if executed in yellow brick) by Oxbridge, particularly Wren's Tom Tower at Christ Church College, Oxford. Its curriculum was no less English, its faith resolutely Anglican.

Trinity still stands, if in stone, not brick. And not here. Anglicans, like Methodists, Presbyterians, even Catholics would end up joined, if in distinct denominational colleges, with the secular (if not quite "anti- Christian") University of Toronto. On its campus in 1925 a new Trinity rose -- if, at the insistence of Anglican governors who, as Eric Arthur wrote, "showed singular lack of imagination" -- designed to look just like the old one.

Old Trinity stood, seeing other uses, until torn down for Trinity Bellwoods Park in 1956. Its Gothic gate remains as entrance to the park, still bearing the mark of its history: "Academia Collegii Sacrosanctae Trinitatis: Johannes Strachan Fundator A. D. MDCCCLI."

That gate is best seen from a boulevard laid out twice the width of most downtown streets, once grandly lined with trees whose offspring still stand, leading up to it from the south: Strachan Avenue.

The Bishop ordered his tomb be set in the crypt of St James' Anglican Cathedral, where he rests (perhaps not in peace, given his town's new life) beneath worshipful daughters, among others no doubt, of the modern elite: educated at Rosedale's Bishop Strachan School.

Fort and city

"Among the principal cities of the lost British Empire, Toronto has been one of the most casual (rather than the most ruthless) in discarding the physical remnants of its colonial past. In Sydney, in Melbourne, in Wellington, even in Capetown, not to mention the cities of India, the imperial memorials remain inescapable, sometimes even dominant. In Toronto they are all but overwhelmed...."

-- Jan Morris:, "Toronto: Second Prize" (1984),
in O Canada: Travels in an Unknown Country, 1990

Travel writers have professional licence to say the sort of things tourists so often do: sometimes silly, laughable to the locals, even embarrassing. ("Your city is so clean!" -- if lately less so.)

Jan Morris is not immune to the usual silliness (too often taking odd bits of exotica as characteristic) but, a true traveller, she has an eye for evidence many locals have stopped seeing; an informed eye, cast more than once on Toronto. In 1954 "it had seemed to me a small provincial city of almost absurdly British character," its people "almost incoherently polite." In 1984: "Nobody could possibly mistake this for a British city now.... On the other hand, there is no mistaking this for a city of the United States, either."

Toronto had become a world city. If maybe not scoring First Prize in the "World Class" Sweepstakes, we are the very model of a city multicultural. "The melting- pot conception never was popular here," Morris wrote, "and sometimes I came to feel that Canadian nationality itself was no more than a minor social perquisite, like a driving licence or a spare pair of glasses."

That feeling is one some locals might share. But she also said, perhaps to some local surprise, that "the real achievement" of this town "is to have remained itself."

"Toronto is the capital of the unabsolute," Morris said then. "Nothing is utter here" -- even as we sit on the doorstep of Utter Empire. To every shock broadcast over Lake Ontario or blared off our US swamped newsstands, we react (fundamentally, if not always in the moment) with an apparent reserve so cool we can seem, at best, polite to the point of absurdity -- at worst a city of wimps.

"It is as though," Morris wrote, "some unseen instrument of restraint were keeping all things... within limits." It's true: Toronto may have bid farewell (fondly or not) to Bishop Strachan -- but fervour is still seen as, well... a bit excessive.

Politeness, civility, manners decently (or just merely) respectable: it can all seem rather a joke. In this once very British town good manners gently obscured -- and sternly enforced -- petty pretensions, class distinctions, casual if sometimes brutal oppression. After all, that's what manners were invented to do: protect us, and subject us -- if some of us seeing more subjection than others.

Some are not meant to be seen at all. On her 1984 visit Jan Morris noted "punks and Boy Georges" hoping to shock Yonge Street "downright touching in their bravado, so scrupulously are they ignored." But there are worse fates than being ignored.

The politics of multiple cultures and insistent identities ever ring with calls for acceptance -- not "mere" tolerance. Yet there's something to be said for knowing when to leave well enough alone.

Cool? Reserved? Yes. But consider the more passionate engagements those Yonge Street punks -- among other urban "exotics" -- might face. Not just rudeness, but our famed "niceness": social workers fretting their safety or health (oh my: drugs?); punk wannabes or trendspotting liberals rushing in (wow! drugs!) to coast on borrowed style -- if, to disappointment all around, maybe no drugs at all.

Tolerance, even mere, is a civic virtue: often necessary and, quite often, sufficient. Other people are not fodder for one's own desires -- to help, to hurt, to co-opt (or, as it's been said, "culturally appropriate"). They are not there to be "made sense of," neatly tagged for "appropriate" treatment as threat, victim, or spectacle. They are themselves, just there, in the world. Your world, and theirs.

Behind Toronto's notorious, even embarrassing reserve, there is sometimes true decency: not mere "respectability" but real, if reticent, respect.

Fort and city

That "Second Prize" in Jan Morris's story of Toronto was the city itself. She bestowed it upon a woman she spotted -- in fact couldn't miss -- near the luggage carousel at Pearson International Airport.
"She was burdened with many packages elaborately stringed, wired, and brown- papered, she had a sheaf of travel documents generally in her hand, sometimes between her teeth, and she never stopped moving, talking, gesticulating."

An immigrant, she looked -- amidst future fellow citizens: "Calm, dispassionate, patiently they waited," edging in "almost apologetically" as they saw their bags slide into view. (Not that we can't take our own pokes at Canadians' famed niceness: in a Dan Ackroyd film a frantic American flails madly through a Toronto crowd -- "Sorry." Pardon me." "Oh, sorry." "My apologies." Not his. Theirs.)

That airport throng -- "so unflustered, so reserved" -- was, Morris imagined, not the new polity that harried woman likely had in mind. She had made it to Canada, not fabled America; she had grasped Second Prize: Toronto. Cool, reserved; even cold and repressed. It is hard to imagine, Morris wrote, "anyone waking up on a spring morning to cry 'Here I am, here in T.O., thank God for my good fortune!'"

Well, Ms Morris: I know one immigrant who has. More than once.

This city's usual (if not universal) tolerance -- of American renegades; of former colonials of the (second) lost British Empire; of peoples who once never dreamed of living under a Maple Leaf, let alone a Union Jack -- has, I'm sure, no little to do with it being born a small town long absurdly British.

See more on:
Elizabeth Simcoe, husband John, son Frank (who got a "castle") & lost daughter Katherine; the founding of York, the area's original peoples, & Tecumseh's lost dream, are covered in Accidental city? not on preview here. For slavery in York, see World city.

Upper Canada's first legislature, burned by the Americans in 1813, in Government's house, & housing the governed, a tour of Parliament St (for which it was named). For the Town of York, see "Streets of 1793" in the main tour along Queen past Moss Park, Trefann, & Corktown.

Land marked "Reserved" for the military in 1793 (& beyond), & the Park Lots, in A line on a map. For later civilian encroachments on the Garrison Reserve, see Not at liberty, a side tours of Liberty, Trinity, & Niagara.

The birth of the University of Toronto, its grand boulevards, & other Family Compact real estate deals in Dreams of grandeur. For St James' Cathedral (in four incarnations, all seen by John Strachan) see Streets of faith.

Earlier reflections on "mere tolerance" vs demands for avid "acceptance," in Citizenship: In the city & on the street, a chapter of my online memoir Promiscuous Affections.

That fort of my youth, gladly escaped, in a chapter on my home town, Ayer, Massachusetts, in An American Education (Short of Yale).

Sources (& images) for this page: Jesse Edgar Middleton: Toronto's 100 Years (The Official Centennial Book), The Centennial Committee, 1934 (C W Jeffery's 1812 & 1834 couture). Eric Arthur: Toronto: No Mean City, University of Toronto Press, 1964 (Bishop Strachan's Palace; Trinity College plan, 1858). Sylvia Boorman: John Toronto: A Biography of Bishop Strachan, Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1969. Eric Wildrid Hounsom: Toronto in 1810, Ryerson Press, 1970. G P deT Glazebrook: The Story of Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1971. Art Gallery of Ontario ("View of York, 1820," from an AGO calendar, 1976). Robert Burns: "'Queer doings': Attitudes towards homosexuality in 19th century Canada," The Body Politic, Dec 1976 / Jan 1977. Leslie Hannon: Redcoats & Loyalists, 1760 / 1815, Canada's Illustrated Heritage, v 13, Natural Science of Canada Ltd, 1978 (Garrison & its creek, 1804). Willima Dendy: Lost Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1993 (first published by Oxford University Press, 1978; Trinity College, 1898). Rick Bébout: "Stashing the evidence," The Body Politic, Aug 1979; & Stephen MacDonald: "Diggers," The Body Politic, Nov 1984 (both on the Canadian Gay -- now Lesbian & Gay -- Archives). Jan Morris: O Canada: Travels in an Unknown Country, Harper Collins, 1990. Carl Benn: The Battle of York, Mika Publishing Company, 1984; & Historic Fort York, 1973 - 1993, Natural Heritage / Natural History Inc, 1993 (death of General Pike, & 1827 plan of Fort York; from the National Archives of Canada). My thanks as well to Carl Benn for information by phone, Jun 25, 2002. Ontario Heritage Foundation: "The Battle of York 1813 (historical plaque at Fort York). Toronto Reference Library: Picture Collection (modern Fort York soldier boys; Owen Staples's painting of the US attack, Apr 1813); Map Collection (Military Reserve, 1838). City of Toronto, Culture Division: "The Old Garrison Burying Ground" (historical plaque), 2000.

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This page: http://www.rbebout.com/queen/libtrin/2pgarr.htm
June 2002 / Last revised: November 13, 2002
Rick Bébout © 2001 / rick@rbebout.com