Title: The Toronto Book of the Dead.
Author: Adam Bunch.
Genre: Non-fiction, history, true crime,.
Publication Date: 2017.
Summary: With morbid tales of war and plague, duels and executions, suicides and séances, this book is an incredibly comprehensive history of Toronto — from before it was established to today. The book delves into these: from ancient First Nations burial mounds to the grisly murder of Toronto's first lighthouse keeper; from the bloody and difficult road to democracy and sovereignty, to establishing its first Health Board during the cholera epidemic; from the American invasion of 1812 to the disastrous fire of the SS Noronic that put an end to the luxury sailing industry of the Great Lakes. Toronto has witnessed countless lives lived and lost as it grew from a muddy little frontier town into a booming metropolis of concrete and glass. This book tells the tale of the ever-changing city through the lives and deaths of those who made it their final resting place. (Refer to PART 2 and PART 3 for the rest of the quotes.)
My rating: 9/10.
♥ Paradoxically, even as garden cemeteries found themselves surrounded by ever growing numbers of people, their popularity declined. For the Victorians who built them, death was still very much a part of daily life. But in the 1900s, as mortality rates dropped, religion became less popular, and parks and art galleries became more common, the number of visitors to garden cemeteries dwindled. Today, graveyards like the Necropolis still attract joggers, cyclists and flâneur — as well as some mourners — but they aren't the social hubs they once were.
In time, left increasingly alone in their walled gardens, the dead became easier to forget. Their graves were no longer a constant of everyday life; they weren't outside the church every Sunday as townspeople went to pray. The dead were now locked away in their own parallel cities, kept safe behind wrought iron fences, mortality contained.
And so, it became easier than ever to imagine the city of the dead and the city of the living as two distinct realms.
♥ Toronto — like every city — is a city of the dead. It's the collective creation of all those who have come before us. Their homes are our homes, their roads are our roads, their traditions are our traditions, their stories are our stories. The dead are all around us. They haunt our every waking moment whether we realize it or not.
And so, by understanding the dead — how they lived, how they died, how they mourned — we can better understand ourselves and our city. To know the Toronto of today, it helps to know those stories: of recently deceased loved ones with fresh flowers on their graves, of Victorians interred within the confines of their garden cemeteries, of early settlers laid to rest in small church-yards, of the First Nations and their ancestors who have been buried in the lands beneath our feet for thousands upon thousands of years.
You can tell the history of Toronto, from a time long before the first Europeans arrived all the way to the modern metropolis of today, through tales of its dead. After all, every story ends the same way.
♥ The Wendats believed every person had two souls. The Feast of the Dead allowed one of them to leave the body and begin the journey into the afterlife. The other would remain in the bones, resting beneath the earth with the souls of all of those who had been buried among with them.
By bringing so many together in one communal grave, the Feast of the Dead forged strong bonds between the living. "Essentially," Wendat historian Georges E. Sioui explains, "the Feast of the Dead was a gigantic ten-day ritual celebrating the people's unity and their desire to live in peace and to extend the bonds of symbolic kinship to the greatest possible number." It was, he says, "certainly one of the most remarkable and most pivotal features of this civilization."
♥ Today, the dead of Tabor Hill are still resting in the place they were buried seven hundred years ago. The mounds was never flattened for the subdivision; instead, the bones were reburied and the mound was preserved as a cemetery: a sacred green space in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. The hill towers over the bungalows that surround it — it's the highest point for miles in every direction. At the top sits a stone inscribed with a memorial to the dead below. From that spot on a clear day, you can see all the way across the eastern half of the city: from the cliffs of the Rouge Valley that mark the eastern border of Toronto all the way to the gleaming skyscrapers of Yonge Street ion the west. Millions of people go about their lives in the shadow of those dead souls.
Tabor Hill is far from the only ancient grave in the city. At least twenty ossuaries have been found within the borders if the Greater Toronto Area (the GTA). And preserved in the earth are countless other signs of the people who lived here in centuries gone by — many of them from long before the modern city was founded. Eighty percent of all the archaeological sites in Ontario are Indigenous sites. The remains of entire villages have been discovered beneath Toronto. There are longhouses, hunting camps and portage routes, shards of pottery and ornate bracelets, arrowheads and spear points, and many other remains from the daily life of those who lived in this place hundreds and thousands years go.
Tabor Hill reminds us that Toronto is not a blank slate. The land beneath our feet is not empty. It has stories to tell, if we'll listen.
♥ The Humber and the Rouge were at the southern end of a vital fur trade route: the Toronto Carrying Place trail, which gave the city its name.
♥ Then came the American Revolution. The British were overthrown in United States and those who were still loyal to the Crown were driven from their homes. A flood of Loyalist refugees fled north. Many of them ended up on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, where the British created a new province for them. They called it Upper Canada.
The new province would need a new capital. It would be built on a sheltered harbour between the Humber and the Rouge: at the end of the ancient fur trade route where the First Nations and their ancestors had been living — and hunting beavers — for thousand upon thousands of years. A place called Toronto.
..So when the British created a brand new province in what's now southern Ontario — a home of Loyalist refugees driven out of the United States by the victorious rebels — they chose Simcoe to run it.
Simcoe's military experience was key: another war with the Americans seemed not just inevitable, but imminent.
♥ In the middle of July, the governor sent a hundred soldiers northward across the lake to begin the work. They were the Queen's Rangers, a new version of his old unit; some of them were the very same men Simcoe had commanded during the Revolutionary War. They made camp at a spot near the entrance to the harbour, at the mouth of what would eventually become known as Garrison Creek. There, they got to work felling trees, hacking away at the ancient forest that towered over the shoreline. Great pines and oaks came crashing to the ground. In their place, a military base began to take shape: Fort York.
♥ The revolution in the United States had inspired an even bloodier uprising in France. The French Revolution was in full swing during the summer Toronto was founded. The Reign of Terror began that same fall. While the Simcoes were trying to bring aristocratic culture to their tents on the beach at Toronto, aristocrats in Paris were losing their heads to the guillotine.
Just a few months earlier, the new French republic had officially declared war on the British Empire. And the Sinmcoes worried the conflict might reach Toronto.
♥ During the first summer at Toronto, the Simcoes received a slow trickle of news from France. In August, they got word of an important British victory over the French rebels; the hero of the hour was King George's own son, the Duke of York. To commemorate the occasion, Simcoe ordered a royal salute: all the cannons on the shore, all the guns on all the ships in the harbours, all the muskets of Simcoe's soldiers were fired in honour of a man waging ware against French democrats half a world away. To top it all off, the governor announced that he was naming his new town in honour of the prince. The old Indigenous name Toronto was dropped. It woulds now be known as York.
♥ They buried her on Easter Monday, in a small cemetery not far from Fort York — the very first graveyard the settlers made for the new town. Today, it's Victoria Memorial Square Park, at the corner of Wellington and Portland. Some of Toronto's oldest gravestones are still there, keeping silent watch as condo dwellers play with their dogs.
♥ Torontonians know the name of Francis Simcoe — although they may not know they know it. He was only two years old when his family came to Toronto, but as the governor was handing out parcels of land to settlers, he made sure to reserve a prime lot for his young son. Francis was given a grant of two hundred acres along the western slopes of the Don Valley, from Bloor Street down into what we now know as Cabbagetown.
Soon, the Simcoes built a summer home on Francis's land. They picked a spot in the great pine forest near where the Blood Viaduct stands today. There, they built a big log cabin, with majestic columns made of towering white pine. it looked out over the green treetops of the valley, where bald eagles made their nests and flocks of passenger pigeons soared by on their migrations.
When it came time to choose a name for the cottage, the Simcoes had fun with it, giving their son's rustic cabin an illustrious name: Castle Frank. Today, the name lives on in a subway station, as well as some near by roads and a brook.
♥ The tiny new town was still only three years old — the Simcoes had made their final goodbyes just a few weeks earlier. In the time since they'd first sailed into the bay, more and more space had been cleared out of the forest. Trees came crashing down; their stumps were burned out of the way. Now, the first ten blocks of the future capital had been laid out: from Front Street up to Adelaide; from George over to Berkeley. On the eastern edge of town, the modest Palace of Parliament was being built of brick and wood. To the west, Yonge Street had been carved out of the forest as a rugged dirt road — a route to the Upper Great Lakes to replace the old Toronto Carrying Place trail. There was a tavern and a market, but York still had no church, no courthouse, no jail. Many landowners still hadn't moved onto their property.
♥ In the century since the Beaver Wars, the Seneca had been pushed out of the area around Toronto, moving back south across the lake. By the time the Simcoes arrived, it was the Mississaugas — one of the Anishinabek nations — who controlled the northern shore of Lake Ontario. In the early days of the fur trade, they'd lived in the lands north of Lake Huron (near where Sault Ste. Marie is today), but in the late 1600s, some headed south. Not all sources agree on the details, but Anishinabek oral tradition remembers a series of battles between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and their own Three Fires Confederacy. A peace treaty finally ended the conflict and established an alliance between the two groups. It was known as the Dish with One Spoon.
♥ The Royal Proclamation of 1763 — one of the most important documents in Canadian history, reaffirmed by the country's modern constitution — declared the lands to the west legally belonged to the Indigenous people who lived on them. It established a nation-to-nation relationship between the British Crown and those First Nations. Only the government could buy land from Indigenous communities, which they did through formal treaties. The British would eventually negotiate twenty separate land deals with the Mississaugas — and [Chief] Wabakinine's signature was on several of them.
It was called the Toronto Purchase that cleared the way for Simcoe's new city — at least as far as the British were concerned. A few years before the governor arrived in the province, the head of the Indian Department met with the Mississaugas to secure the land where the city of Toronto now stands.
..And as the British soon realized, in the case of the Toronto Purchase the legal document was utterly useless anyway. Just a year after York was founded, Simcoe and his bosses discovered the supposed treaty was nothing but a blank deed. It didn't even describe the land the British thought they had bought. The names of Wabakinine and the other chiefs had been signed on separate pieces of paper and then attached to the blank document after the fact. Even by the sketchy standards of colonialism, it was clear the British had no legal right to the land where they were building their new capital.
They decided not to tell the Mississaugas. The British waited more than ten years and then got the nation to sign another version of the Toronto Purchase — still failing to fully explain what the document meant and that it applied to even more land than the first one. The agreement was so poorly executed that the issues around the Toronto Purchase would remain unresolved for more than two hundred years. It wasn't until 2010 that the dispute was finally settled, with the Canadian government agreeing to pay the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations $145 million for the land (the estimated value at the time of the Toronto Purchase translated into modern dollars).
♥ In the years to come, the settlers would forget any of it had ever happened. The story of the founding of Toronto would be told as the triumph of Loyalists bringing civilization to an untamed wilderness and to their grateful First Nations allies. They would forget the betrayal of the Toronto Purchase, forget the blank deed, forget Chief Wabakinine and his wife, forget the night they were brutally murdered, and the day their killer was set free.
♥ It was a beginning of a long tradition of capital punishment in Toronto. And there was plenty of corporal punishment, too: petty criminals were flogged in the square at the St. Lawrence Market; some had their hands branded, or even worse, their tongues; others were put in the stocks. But those sentences were all for small offences. There were more than a hundred different crimes that were considered so vile they deserved the death penalty. It wasn't until 1962 — more than a hundred and fifty years after Sullivan's trial on King Street — that Canada's last executions were carried out on the gallows at the Don Jail. By then, hundreds of Canadians had been hanged for their crimes.
♥ But with his government full of slave owners, [John Graves Simcoe] was forced into a compromise — the exact thing he had promised never to do. Slavery would not be abolished immediately; instead, it would be gradually phased out. No new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, but any who were already in the province would spend the rest of their lives in slavery. Their children would be born into captivity, too; they wouldn't be free until they turned twenty-five. Finally, anyone who wanted to free a slave was discouraged from doing so: they would be forced to provide financial security to ensure the newly freed slave wouldn't be a drain on the resources of the state.
The bill was passed just a few weeks before the Simcoes headed across the lake to start their new capital. And so, the foundations of Toronto were laid with the help of slave labour. During the early years of York, there were fifteen black slaves within the borders of the town — and another ten just across the Don Valley.
♥ ..and the settlement's first church. St. James, was erected on the corner of Church and King (the modest, wooden precursor to the soaring Cathedral Church of St. James, which still stands on the same spot today).
♥ The warships dropped anchor a few kilometres west of the town (near where the Exhibition Grounds are now). Then, the first wave of American soldiers descended into big, flat-bottomed boats and towed toward the beach. Many others would follow: there were more than seventeen hundred American soldiers on those ships.
The First Nations warriors were the first ones there to defend Toronto. They fired upon the invaders from the edge of the forest as the landing party struggled to reach the beach and clamber up the steep banks. Soon, those Indigenous warriors were joined by the first wave of British troops. The American ships opened fire, hurling grapeshot at the defenders. It was there on the lakeshore, amid the crack and hiss of musket fire and the flash of bayonets, that the Battle of York claimed its first lives.
♥ But the summer of 1812 didn't exactly go to plan for the United States. At Fort Detroit, they managed to lose the first major battle of the war without killing a single enemy soldier. The military leader of Upper Canada, Major-General Isaac Brock, teamed up with the leader of his Indigenous allies, Tecumseh, to besiege the fort. The Shawnee chief had united dozens of First Nations to oppose American expansion into their territories — British support for the alliance was one of the reasons the Americans had declared war. But the siege of Fort Detroit ended almost immediately: Brock and Tecumseh bluffed the American general into surrendering on the very first day. They arranged to have Tecumseh's men march by the fort in a loop — making it seems as if he had many more warriors than he actually did. The Americans — terrified by their racist myths about the "savagery" of the First Nations — promptly ran a white flag up the pole. Brock and Tecumseh rode into the fort side by side as victors.
♥ The American Commander, General Dearborn, was still safe and sound on board his ship. He was old and sea-sick, so he'd stayed behind while his troops went ashore. Command on the ground was left to a brigadier-general by the name of Zebulon Pike. He was a famous explorer of the American West; one of the tallest mountains in the Rockies is named in his honour: Pikes Peak.
♥ The most notable was Reverend John Strachan. He was the rector of the town's oldest church, St. James, the spiritual leader of the small town, and the man responsible for the education of all the most respectable young men in the province. He would eventually become Toronto's first Anglican bishop. He was also a diehard Tory who believed passionately in Simcoe's vision of an anti-democratic province deeply opposed to American ideas.
As the invaders pillaged and burned in town, Strachan opposed them at every turn. He berated the American commanders, demanded they finally sign the articles of capitulation, and then did everything he could to hold them to those terms. He made sure the militiamen being held as prisoners in the blockhouse at Fort York were given food and medical treatment. He eventually secured their parole, and helped to carry the wounded to the hospital. He even confronted some of the looters himself, nearly getting shot in the process. And when the Americans returned in July to sack the town again, Strachan would berate them so thoroughly they agreed to return the library books they'd take the first time.
While the British army abandoned York to its fate, Strachan stood up to the American invaders. It made him a hero in the eyes of many. In the years to come, that reputation would help him to become one of the most influential figures in Toronto — indeed, in all of Canadian history.
♥ As the bloody war dragged on, it became clearer and clearer to more and more of the settlers in Upper Canadas that they were not, in fact, Americans. They were something else entirely. Something, perhaps, Canadian.
♥ But Chauncey had a bigger prize in mind. Immortality was within his grasp; he could taste it. This was the day he was going to defeat the entire British fleet on Lake Ontario. He wasn't going to be distracted. "All or none!" he cried, ordering his fleet to sail west, to chase down the British squadron and defeat them.
The race was on.
For the next hour and a half, all sixteen ships sailed west as fast as they could, speeding across the water south of where Oakville is today.
..From shore — not just along the Canadian beaches, but also far over on the American side — people strained to follow the movements of the distant ships as they jockeyed for position. Some joked that it was like watching a yacht race. That's how the battle got its name: the Burlington Races
♥ Still, the injured Pike and the rest of the American fleet sailed on, chasing the British fleet, cannons roaring. But try as they might, the Americans weren't catching up. They were running out of time. There wasn't much lake left. They were getting closer and closer to Burlington Bay, closer to shore, closer to safety for the British ships.
There are two different stories about what happened next.
The most recent evidence seems to suggest that Commodore Yeo picked a spot to make a stand. He had the British fleet drop anchor near shore — just to the east of Burlington Bay (which we call Hamilton Harbour today). Bunched together with their backs protected by the land, they presented a daunting target. Their cannons were ready. On shore, there were even more friendly guns nearby.
With the British in such a strong defensive position and the Pike already badly damaged — maybe even in danger of sinking — Commodore Chauncey realized it was all over. If he fought on, he risked beaching his ships in enemy territory. He'd missed his chance. The American fleet turned and sailed away into the storm.
But that's not the story we've been told for most of the last two hundred years. In the most famous version of the tale, Commodore Yeo and the British fleet kept sailing straight for Burlington Bay. If they did, it was a daring move. The waters at the mouth of the harbour were shallow; the Wolfe would be in danger of running aground, stranded and helpless as the Americans swooped in. But at the very last moment, riding the crest of the storm surge, they say the Wolfe swept into the bay and to safety. The Americans had no choice but to turn away.
♥ The very next summer, shipbuilders in Kingston built a new warship, one that changed everything. It took more than five thousand oak trees, two hundred men, and nearly ten months to make HMS St. Lawrence. It was by far the biggest thing that had ever sailed on the Great Lakes, boasting more than a hundred guns and a crew of seven hundred. It was bigger even than the flagship Admiral Nelson had used to beat Napoleon's navy at Trafalgar. The St. Lawrence was so big and so powerful that the ship's guns never had to fire a single shot. The Americans immediately gave up trying to conquer Lake Ontario. Commodore Chauncey and his fleet were stuck at home for the rest of the war.
It didn't last much longer. At the end of 1814, the peace treaty was signed. The War of 1812 was finally over. The American invasion of Canada had failed.
♥ The Prince Edward. The father of Queen Victoria. The prince that Prince Edward Island and Prince Edward County are named after.
Price Edward was a big fan of Canada. In fact, he's the very first person who ever used the word Canadians to refer both anglophones and francophones.
♥ Simcoe had picked Toronto as the place to build his new capital because it was easy to defend. The natural harbour created by the peninsula had only one way in: through a narrow gap at the western end. (It wasn't until the 1850s that a big storm made a second gap, on the eastern side, turning the sandbar in the Islands). Simcoe thought that one entrance would be so easy to defend he called the end of the peninsula Gibraltar Point — named after the rocky fortress at the entrance to the Mediterranean.
He also declared that one of York's first buildings should be a lighthouse — to be built right there on Gibraltar Point.
About ten years later, construction finally began. The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was the very first permanent lighthouse built anywhere on the Great Lakes and the first stone building in Toronto.
..Radelmüller, who had done more than enough to earn the trust of the government, was given the job as Toronto's first lightkeeper. He lit the lamp every evening and extinguished it every morning at dawn. He was also put in charge of signalling the city every time a big ship pulled into the harbour. He flew a Union Jack for every vessel arriving from Kingston and the British Red Ensign for ships sailing north from Niagara.
♥ It happened after dark on the second day of 1815. The story of that terrible winter night has been told over and over again, passed down from one generation of Torontonians to the next over the course of the last two hundred years. The details are vague; there are many different versions of the tale. But it usually goes something like this.
Radelmüller and his family weren't the only ones on the sandbar. Hunters and fishermen used it, too. Indigenous families occasionally camped nearby. And not far from the lighthouse, there was a new military blockhouse. To this day we still call that spot on the Islands "Blockhouse Bay." It was built during the War of 1812, armed with a gun designed to protect the harbour against the Americans, and occupied by soldiers from Fort York. Those men spent most of their time keeping watch and preparing for an attack, but they were also friendly with the lightkeeper. Sometimes, they'd row down Blockhouse Bay to visit the lighthouse and drink some of Radelmüller's beer.
On that cold January night at the very beginning of 1815, two of those soldiers came by for a visit. They were called John Henry and John Blowman. At first, everything seemed to be going well. They all drank together long into the night. But at some point, Radelmüller decided the soldiers had had enough. He cut them off. And that's when everything went horribly wrong.
The soldiers were angry; they got violent. One took off his belt, the other grabbed a rock, and together they attacked the lightkeeper. Radelmüller ran, bleeding and afraid, scrambling up the steps of the lighthouse in a desperate bid to escape.
The soldiers followed, relentless. They broke down the door and chased him up the narrow wooden stairs to the very top of the lighthouse. That's where the lightkeeper made his land stand: up there, high above the ground as his flaming beacon shone out across the dark lake. There was a final skirmish. Radelmüller was pushed over the railing and fell to his death. It was over. The lightkeeper lay still.
The two soldiers knew they were in deep trouble. The penalty for murder was death. They worked quickly to cover up theiur crime. They found an axe and used it to hack the body into pieces, severing the limbs. Then, they buried what was left of John Paul Radelmüller, bit by bit, in a series of shallow graves dug in the frozen sand. Their grisly job finished, they ran.
..It took more than two months for the case to come to trial. When it did, the soldiers were acquitted. There was little evidence. No one had ever found the body. There would be no justice for the lightkeeper.
His soul was doomed to haunt his lighthouse for the rest of eternity.
..The Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Advisory Board decided to include the ghost story as part of the official story of the [Gibraltar Point Lighthouse]. It was the final sentence on the new plaque: "The mysterious disappearance of its first keeper, J.P. Radelmüller, in 1815 and the subsequent discovery nearby of part of a human skeleton enhanced its reputation as a haunted building."
That line sparked a heated battle. .."I can't see it would make the place attractive to children," another councillor worried, completely misunderstanding children. Even the Metro chairman himself Fred Gardiner, the politician the expressway is named after, weighed in. "That," he declared, "would only scare people."
But the Advisory Board refused to back down. The plaque went up anyway and the story of Radelmüller's ghost was preserved.
..Today, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse remains standing, the oldest lighthouse anywhere on the Great Lakes. Some people consider it to be the older in all of Canada.
..For more than two hundred years, the city's first lighthouse has kept watch over the harbour. It's the oldest building in Toronto that still stands in the same place where it was originally built. It has borne witness to all of the city's greatest and most terrible moments. It saw the American invasion during the War of 1812. The raging storm that turned the sandbar into the Islands. The arrival of the first steamships and the first trains. It has helped thousands of sailors bring thousands of ships safely into the harbour, carrying countless new Canadians into the city. Once the tallest building in Toronto, the lighthouse has watched the city's skyline grow into a towering wall of steel and glass topped by one of the tallest towers in the world.
♥ Torontonians today ask him the very same question they've been asking the island lightkeepers for generations: "Is the lighthouse really haunted?
He gives them the same answer he gives everyone. An answer that couldn't be more true.
"It is," he tells them, "if you want it to be."
♥ The four young men waited for the storm to pass and for the sun to rise.
They had all been born into powerful local families: Jarvis, Ridout, Boulton, Small — some of the most influential founders of the new capital. They were part of a small group of conservative Tories who held most of the power in Upper Canada. They tried to keep the best land and government postings for themselves and imagined they would pass both down to their children. That group was the closest thing Toronto would ever get to the hereditary Canadian aristocracy Simcoe had imagined. They would become known as the Family Compact.
♥ It would prove to be one of the most notorious duels in Canadian history. The consequences of what was about to happen in that field would reverberate through the history of the city — and the history of the entire country — for decades to come. The fatal climax to the old rivalry between two of Toronto's most powerful conservative families would trigger a strange and circuitous series of events that would help turn Canada into a liberal democracy.
..As far as many in the province were concerned, the most honourable and dignified way to settle a dispute was by standing a few metres apart and shooting at each other. Besides, the Jarvis family were important members of the Family Compact. Samuel was acquitted.
But the controversy was far from over. The duel would haunt Samuel Jarvis and the Family Compact for years after Ridout was put to rest, giving their political enemies plenty of fodder.
♥ William and Hannah [Jarvis] packed their bags. They headed back across the Atlantic, where they would eventually become one of Toronto's founding families.
When they arrived at York, they were given some property at Sherbourne and Adelaide, along with one of the hundred-acre "park lots" just outside town (in a strip running between Queen Street and Bloor, where Jarvis Street is now). In return, all William had to do was to move to York with his family, build a road around his property, and be pretty terrible at his government job. It was all made easier by the Jarvises being one of the very few families in town who owned slaves: they kept at least six people enslaved at their mansion and on their country estate.
Having suffered through the horrors of the American Revolution and then the War of 1812, the Jarvis family — like many of the city's founding families — shared Simcoe's fear of what he had called "tyrannical democracy." They believed in his vision for Upper Canada: a province run by a powerful governor with the support of a small group of loyal Tories at the top of a strict class system. Loyal Tories like them. The Tories of the Family Compact.
As far as the Family Compact was concerned, democracy and diversity were dangerous.
..And while the population of Upper Canada was remarkably diverse right from the very beginning (40 percent of the early Upper Canadian Loyalists were of German descent, for instance), the official culture would be monolithic: stubbornly British and stubbornly Protestant. For the first few decades, with rare exceptions, Anglican ministers were the only clergy allowed to perform marriages.
♥ At one point, Mackenzie had to temporarily stop printing the paper altogether. And in the spring of 1826 it seems he was forced to hightail it out of town, fleeing to the United States to avoid his creditors.
That's when Jarvis struck. He rounded up a group of his young Family Compact friends and they headed down to Front Street, to the offices of the Colonial Advocate, which was also where Mackenzie lived. The publisher was out of town, but his family wasn't. They hid in the basement as Jarvis and his cronies broke into the office and started trashing the place. Mackenzie's entire operation was destroyed: his printing press broken, his stock of type thrown into Lake Ontario. The attack became known as the Types Riot.
..But in the end, the riot was going to backfire in spectacular fashion. Mackenzie sued the vandals. And even in a court system notorious for ruling in favour of the Family Compact, the newspaper publisher won his case. Not only did his winnings allow Mackenzie to resume publishing his paper, but now it was a bigger, more powerful operation than ever before. The Colonial Advocate continued to argue in favour of democracy, and against the Family Compact.
♥ Mackenzie would go on to become one of the most famous figures in the history of Toronto. Within a few years, he'd been elected as the city's first mayor and led a failed revolution in the name of Canadian democracy and independence.
Jarvis would be there when Mackenzie's army rose up against the government — he fought for the government side and won. But the victory was short-lived. Soon, democracy would come to Canada anyways and the power of the Family Compact would fade.
By then, Jarvis had already been forced to resign in disgrace from his position as the head of the Indian Department. He, like his father before him, was being accused of corruption and incompetence. In the end, he had to sell off the Jarvis family's estate in order to pay his debts. Their home was demolished to make way for the street that bears their name.
♥ York was changing quickly. By 1832, it was no longer a tiny little town, alone in the woods. During William Lyon Mackenzie's first decade in town, the population skyrocketed from sixteen hundred to nearly ten thousand. From those first few blocks around the St. Lawrence Market the town had spread all the way west to Bathurst Street. And with a new lieutenant governor, John Colborne, aggressively encouraging immigration, there were more people arriving all the time.
They were met by a disgusting mess. There was no sewer system or running water. People dumped their garbage wherever they liked. They emptied their toilet buckets into the road. King and Yonge and Queen Streets were a muddy soup of excrement and filth. There were no sidewalks, either; you'd just wade through it and track it into your home.
..Townspeople used the lake as a dump. In the winter, Collins reported, "All the filth of the town — dead horses, dogs, cats, manure, etc. [was] heaped up together on the ice, to drop down, in a few days, into the water."
That was York's drinking water.
♥ It all started in India, five years earlier and more than twelve thousand kilometres away. It began in the spot where the Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal, one of the most fertile places on Earth. The river widens out into an endless expanse of swamps and streams, of lush mangrove and bamboo forests. There are tigers, elephants, leopards, and pythons. And there's also cholera. It has been in the water for as long as anyone can remember.
..It was slow at first. People started to die farther up the river. And then all across India, wherever the trade routes led. It took a year to get to China and another to get halfway across Russia. But when it hit Europe and the Middle East, things sped up. Three thousand Muslims died on the pilgrimage to Mecca in 1831. Thirty thousand deaths were announced in Cairo and Alexandria. There would be a hundred thousand dead in Hungary. And in France. Bodies piled up in all the cobblestoned capitals of Europe.
..In England, they were shipping in cholera directly from the source. The British East India Company had been gradually conquering India for more than a hundred years. When they shipped tea back home, they scooped bilge water up from the Bay of Bengal, carried it halfway around the world, and dumped it into the Thames. More than six thousand people died in London; more than fifty thousand across the United Kingdom.
Ireland was hardest hit. In places like Dublin, Limerick, and Cork, terrified refugees packed into ships and set sail for North America. They crowded together in squalor, sharing chorea-ridden water and cholera-ridden piss-pots for weeks on end. By the time they reached the Canadas, some shops had already lost dozens on board to the disease.
Officials in Lower Canada, where the ships arrived first, did their best to screen passengers and quarantine anyone who showed signs of the sickness, but it didn't seem to do much good. Cholera devastated Quebec City that summer, killing more than two thousand people. In Montreal, doctors rushed through the streets all day and night. The apothecaries stayed open around the clock. The army fired blank artillery shells at nothing — a desperate attempt to drive the cholera out of the air. More than a thousand died in a single month.
..Eleven thousand immigrants came to York in spring and summer of 1832. Many of them were already sick. By the end of June, it had begun.
♥ Cholera bacteria are resilient; they can survive the acids in your stomach and make it all the way to your small intestines. There, they swim over to the intestinal wall and begin to produce a toxin. It sucks the water out of the rest of your body and forces you to expel it in an endless stream of watery diarrhea. You can spew out twenty or thirty litres in a day (provided you live that long), clear liquid with chunks of your intestine in it. Your skin changes colour — that's why they call it "The Blue Death."
And them, you die. It happens fast. You can can go from healthy to dead in just a few hours.
♥ By the time fall came to York and the plague finally died out, estimates suggest there were at least two hundred fresh corpses in town. One out of every twenty people who stayed in the city was dead.
♥ Scared by the plague and overwhelmed by the soaring population, the Tory-dominated, Mackenzie-hating, democracy-bashing legislature voted to turn the Town of York into the City of Toronto. There would be a city council elected by the people. There would be a mayor and a new Board of Health. They would all have real power: they could introduce taxes, pass bylaws, and make sure those bylaws were enforced. And they wouldn't have to ask the lieutenant governor first.
The city's inaugural municipal elections were held in the spring of 1834. The Reform Party won. They picked William Lyon Mackenzie to be the very first mayor of Toronto.
Mackenzie's year in power is best remembered for helping Toronto to establish its own new, Canadian identity. Mackenzie's time in office gave the city its own motto — "Industry, Intelligence, Integrity" — and its own coat of arms, which mixed British imagery (like three golden lions and the Union Jack) with local imagery (like a beaver and the figure of a First Nations chief). As the town was turned into a city, the old British name of "York" was abandoned in favour of the older, Indigenous name "Toronto." There would be no more calling the place "dirty little York" to avoid the confusion with New York or the city of York in England. "This city," as one politician put it, "will be the only City of Toronto in the world." It was distinctive, more historically appropriate, and had a much more pleasing ring to it. As one Reform leader claimed, "Toronto for poets — York for men of business."
♥ They would both load the dead onto the death carts, taking many of the victims to be buried en masse in a pit beside St. James Church. It was dangerous work. Mackenzie fell ill, nearly died, and was lucky to survive.
They're still there today, those victims, maybe as many as six thousand of them according to the highest estimates, buried together in the ground beneath St. James Park.
♥ It would take another worldwide breakthrough: in 1854, Dr. John Snow mapped out the cases in Soho and tracked the source to a water pump. For the first time, people realized that contaminated water was the problem. Still, there would be another four cholera pandemics after that one, the most recent in the 1970s. Cholera is easy to prevent: just don't drink any water with feces in it and you'll probably be okay. But more than a hundred thousand people still die from it every year because they just don't have that option.
♥ [Sir Francis Bond Head] had no intention of listening to his Executive Council; after just three weeks, all the councillors resigned in protest — even the Tories. When the Legislative Assembly backed them up, Bond Head dissolved the legislature and called an election.
It would prove to be one of the most corrupt elections in Canadian history. There were bribes, threats, and riots. Polling stations were purposefully placed in Tory neighbourhoods; returning officers were hand-picked for their conservative sympathies. Bond Head — who was supposed to be neutral — openly campaigned for the Tories; he called the election a battle between "the forces of loyalty, order, and prosperity" and the "selfish and disloyal." The Tories won in a landslide.
For Mackenzie, it was the final straw. In London, he'd met many of the Radicals and Reformers behind the British democracy movement. They believed the Canadian colonies should be independent from Britain; if the government refused to listen, they believed violence was an acceptable solution. As the situation in Toronto deteriorated, those ideas were making more and more sense to Mackenzie. By 1837, he was convinced: it was time for revolution.
♥ Toronto wasn't the only Canadian city in the grips of a struggle for democracy. Very similar things had been happening in Montreal. Lower Canadians had their own version of the Family Compact (Château Clique), their own reformers (les Patriotes), their own fiery leaders (like Louis-Joseph Papineau and Wolfred Nelson), and their own list of grievances (the Ninety-Two Resolutions). When the British government rejected every single one of their complaints and banned public meetings, les Patriotes responded with the biggest rally they had ever held. Six thousand people were there as Nelson roared, "The time has come to melt our spoons into bullets!" Within weeks, he was leading a makeshift army of volunteers through the countryside outside Montreal. They even won their first battle.
The government in Montreal asked Bond Head for help. He responded by sending every single soldier he had. Toronto was essentially left undefended.
This was it: Mackenzie's big chance. He declared independence from Britain, drafted a new constitution, and sent word to his followers: they would meet at John Montgomery's tavern (which was on Yonge Street just north of Eglington — a few kilometres north of the city back then). From there, they would march down Yonge, head over to City Hall, seize the weapons stored inside, capture Bond Head, and establish a new Canadian republic.
On the first weekend in December, they began to arrive. There were hundreds of them: farmers and blacksmiths and clerks and craftsmen. On Tuesday, December 4, 1837, they would march on Toronto.
♥ It was already dusk by the time the army neared College Street. It was there, for the very first time, that the rebels faced off against the government's defenders. Ignoring Bond Head's orders, FitzGibbon had sent Sheriff Jarvis and twenty-six other men to hid behind some shrubs and ambush the rebels. It worked. They fired a volley into the rebel ranks. They even hit a couple of them. And then, as the front line of rebels returned fire, the loyalists all ran away as fast as they could. Sheriff Jarvis called after them to stand and fight, but it wads no use.
..Most historians seem to think that if the rebels had kept marching south into the city, they'd have captured it that night. But it may have only been the beginning of a bloodbath. Once the government's army in Lower Canada was finished with the rebels there, they could easily have marched west to attack Mackenzie in Toronto.
♥ The Reform movement was left in tatters. The next mayor of Toronto would be John Powell, hailed as a hero for shooting Captain Anderson in the back.
♥ Just a few days after his harrowing escape across the border, Mackenzie and his supporters seized an island on the Canadian side of the Niagara River — Navy Island, just above Niagara Falls — and declared themselves to be the provisional government of the new Republic of Canada. They even had their own flag and currency. They used their island foothold and support from sympathizers in the United States to launch a series of border raids against the colonial government.
They called it the Patriot War. It dragged on for another year. There were battles and skirmishes near Windsor, near Prescott, on Pelee Island, and at other sites along the border. More than a hundred more men died in battle before Mackenzie's ware was done. More would be hanged for treason. And still more sent to Australia to die in the prison camps.
Finally, it was all over. Thew Family Compact had won.
♥ He was born into one of the most influential families in the new capital. His father, William Warren Baldwin, would leave a lasting mark on Toronto as a physician, lawyer, architect, and politician. He was the same doctor who had tried to save the life of his good friend Peter Russell with a cure of crushed deer antler and red wine. He was there during the American invasion in 1813, tending to the city's wounded defenders while his family was evacuated. And he was there again during the cholera outbreak in 1832, head of the Board of Health. He built the original Spadina House on his country estate on the hill overlooking Davenport Road, and carved Spadina Avenue out of the woods to the south of it so he'd have a clear view all the way to the lake. Baldwin Street, he named after himself; Phoebe Street, he named after his wife. He was one of the architects of Osgoode Hall, and he helped to establish the city's first library.
♥ In Quebec, the new moderate leader of les Patriotes — Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine — was facing violent opposition from the Tories. Armed conservative mobs blocked francophone voters from getting to the polls. So Baldwin invited LaFontaine to run for election in Toronto. He won by a landslide. The victory sent a powerful message, helping to cement the alliance: a francophone Catholic reformer from Montreal had won a seat in Protestant Tory Toronto.
Just a few years later, Baldwin and LaFontaine were swept into power with a huge majority — now they had their mandate. The government they led is remembered as "The Great Ministry." In just a few short years, they laid much of the groundwork for the Canada we know today. They introduced an independent judiciary, the jury system, and a system for appeals. They made sure that everyone — not just the rich — had access to the courts, and that anyone — not just the rich friends of Tory politicians — could be appointed to the civil service. They opened Canadian ports to ships from all over the world and helped to build the country's first railways. They introduced public education and took the religious King's College away from Bishop Strachan and turned it into the secular University of Toronto. They even won amnesties for many of the old rebels, including William Lyon Mackenzie. The rebel mayor was finally allowed to come home to Toronto, after more than a decade in exile.
♥ The Rebellion Losses Bill shouldn't have been controversial. It was simply going to pay damages to people in Lower Canada (Canada East) whose property had been destroyed during the rebellions. That seemed fair: when the Tories were in power, they'd already done the same thing for people in Upper Canada (Canada West).
..And so, the debate that raged in Parliament that spring was about more than just one bill — it was about two fundamentally different visions for the future of Canada: one, a monolithic British state; the other, a multicultural society, "The spring of 1849," as the philosopher John Ralston Saul has argued, "was the defining moment for modern Canada."
..Anger among Tory supporters grew.
They called on the governor general — Lord Elgin — to do what the appointed governors had always done when they were backed into a corner: step in on the side of the conservatives and dissolve Parliament, snuffing out the bill.
..Instead, Elgin did nothing. The Rebellion Losses Bill passed. Now all it needed was his signature. If he signed the bill, it meant the British were recognizing Canadian authority over Canadian affairs. It meant responsible government. It meant democracy.
..It was on a Wednesday in late April that Lord Elgin finally climbed into his carriage and headed into the capital. He pulled up to the Parliament buildings around four o'clock in the afternoon. He was escorted upstairs, where he resigned every single one of the bills waiting for him. Including the Rebellion Losses Bill.
..That night, a Tory mob buned down the Parliament buildings; some members of the legislature barely escaped with their lives. In the days to come, rampaging Tories attacked the houses of leading Reformers. There were gunfights in the streets of Montreal. "This city," according to Baldwin biographer Michael S. Cross, "was on the verge of civil war."
The unrest reached far beyond the borders if Montreal. As news of Elgin's decision spread, there were protests, riots, and death threats all over the Province of Canada. In Toronto, angry Tories took to the streets and burned Reformers in effigy. The mayor called in troops to keep things from getting out of hand.
..The struggle took nearly fifty years. Countless Canadians — in Toronto and across the country — had died fighting for democracy. They had been hanged for it, rotted in jail for it, been banished from the country they loved. But now, without firing a shot, Baldwin and LaFontaine had won. The new system was far from perfect: it would, for instance, be many decades before women won the right to vote and more than a century before Indigenous people in Canada could cast a ballot without sacrificing their status under the Indian Act. But it was a beginning: the head of the British government in Canada had just acknowledged the people of Canada as the true rulers of the country.
Canada was a democracy.
♥ [Robert Baldwin] took his final breaths in Spadina House in the winter of 1858. The crowd who came to his funeral was one of the biggest Toronto had ever seen.,
It was weeks later that the note was discovered in the pocket of one of his vests. A list of his final requests: among them, he asked to be buried with Eliza's letters and a brooch she'd given him as a gift. Their coffins should be chained together. And his corpse should be cut open — given the same abdominal wound as the caesarian section that had slowly killed his wife. He was very clear: even if the letter wasn't found until after his body was buried, he wanted his family to honour his wishes.
And so, on that January night in 1859, Baldwin's son, his brother, and his brother-in-law all descended into his tomb. They brought a doctor with them, armed with a scalpel. There in the cold and the dark, they fulfilled his grisly requests.
Today, the Baldwin family tomb has been moved from Spadina to sit beneath the grass of St. James Cemetery. A century and a half after Robert Baldwin was laid to rest, he still sleeps beneath the ground in Cabbagetown, one of the fathers of Canadian democracy, chained to the bones of the woman he loved.
♥ Even as they left the terror of the Great Famine behind, the starving refugees were subjected to new horrors. As they crowded onto the ships in Dublin and in other Irish ports, they were stuffed into the holds below deck, locked away in unimaginably inhumane conditions. Hundreds of people were crammed together for weeks on end, given little to eat or to drink. Many of them fell deathly ill: hidden away in their clothes were the lice that carried the deadly salmonella bacteria that cause typhoid fever. The disease spread like wildfire through the ships, taking advantage of the passengers' weakened condition. They were, as one refugee described it, "dying like rotten sheep thrown into a pit." On some ships as many as a third of the refugees died before they ever saw Canada, their corpses thrown overboard to the sharks. The death toll was so high they called them "coffin ships."
Those who did survive the crossing were screened as soon as they arrived in Canada, and anyone who showed signs of illness was sent into quarantine. The island of Grosse Île, near Quebec City, had first been turned into a quarantine station in order to deal with the cholera epidemic in 1832; now it would be the final resting place for thousands of the famine's typhoid victims.
♥ But the scale of what did come to Toronto that summer was beyond what anyone could have imagined. More than thirty-eight thousand Irish refugees would pour into the city in just a few months — twice the entire population of Toronto.
They began to arrive at the beginning of June: hundreds of them spilled off the ships that pulled into Toronto Harbour. By the end of the month, there were sometimes four steamers a day unloading refugees at Rees' Wharf (near the foot of Simcoe Street, where the Convention Centre stands today).
..A quarter of them were already sick. They were bundled onto wagons and shipped the two blocks up John Street toward the Toronto General Hospital for treatment. But there were fat more patients than the building could handle; as the refugees overwhelmed the wards, sixteen gever sheds were built on the grounds. The hospital stood on the northwest corner of King and John; today, that same spot is home to the glitz and glamour of the Toronto International Film Festival headquarters, but in 1847 it was where dying Irish refugees spent their final moments in agony.
Typhoid begins with a high fever. Over the first few days, it gets progressively worse. There might be headaches, nosebleeds, abdominal pains. Rose spots might begin to appear on the patient's skin. Eventually, the victims are too weak to stand. In the end, intestines begin to hemorrhage and develop holes. Excrement seeps out into the abdomen and the body begins to attack itself. It's a painful way to die.
More than a thousand refugees would pass away in Toronto that summer. Dome were Protestant; they were buried in St. James Cemetery. Most were Catholic. They were given wooden coffins and carried in horse-drawn hearses across King Street to the other side of the city, where they would be buried on the grounds of St. Paul's Church.
♥ Most of the famine refugees didn't settle in Toronto. They weren't welcome. The vast majority of them were Catholic; Toronto was still deeply Protestant and deeply suspicious of Catholicism — as the battle over responsible government was showing. And while the power of the Family Compact might have been fading, the city's relationship to Catholicism wasn't going to get any better: the Orange Order would come to dominate Toronto politics for the next hundred years.
The Orange Order had begun in Northern Ireland, born of the sectarian violence that still plagues cities like Belfast to this day. From the very beginning, it was designed to be staunchly British, fiercely Protestant, and profoundly anti-Catholic. It was named in honour of King William of Orange: the Dutch prince who was invited to invade Britain in the late 1600s and seize the crown from the Catholic King James in order to permanently establish Protestantism as the kingdom's official religion.
It didn't take long for the Order to cross the Atlantic and find a home in Toronto — another staunchly British city filled with Irish Protestants who shared bitter memories of the violence back home. The organization quickly became a major force in the Upper Canada capital. Orangemen filled positions of influence and kept Catholics out of them. For nearly a century — until 1954 — almost every single one of the city's mayors was an Orangeman.
♥ Before long, people were calling Toronto "The Belfast of Canada." And the nickname was well earned. It was "the most Irish of all North American cities" — with a higher proportion of Irish-born residents than even Boston or New York. The struggles of Ireland were regularly played out in the streets of Toronto.
♥ In 1866, an army of Irish Republicans — the Fenian Brotherhood — invaded Canada in an attempt to pressure the British into leaving Ireland. The first monument ever erected in Toronto remembers those who fought and died opposing the Irish invaders at the Battle of Ridgeway. It stands near Queen's Park.
♥ During the hunger, the British government purposefully limited their relief efforts in fear the aid would make the Irish dependent on charity. At the same time, many wealthy landlords seized the opportunity to evict starving tenants and increase the future profitability of their lands. The British response helped make the famine much more deadly than it otherwise would have been — and then they used the scale of the catastrophe as evidence of Irish inferiority.
In the years to come, racism against Toronto's Irish Catholics became one the defining features of life in the city.
..In the second half of the 1800s, sectarian riots between the city's Protestants and Catholics became even more common than they had been before. There were dozens of them. Even the Catholic bishop got stoned by a mob. Violence became so common that the St. Patrick's Day parade was banned for more than a century: it wasn't held again until 1988.
..The Orange domination of Toronto would continue well into thew 1900s. It wasn't until after the Second World War, when large numbers of immigrants began to arrive from all over the world, that the Orange lodges lost their power. As the city became a modern multicultural metropolis, it was forced to let go of its fiercely British identity.
♥ Today, Ireland Park stands on the Toronto waterfront. It's tucked away behind the old silos at the foot of Bathurst Street, near the island airport. You'll find them standing there next to the harbour: a group of haunting statues. There are five of them, all made of bronze — just like their cousins in Dublin. They are tall and terribly thin; their cheeks have wasted away, their eyes have sunk back into their heads. One has collapsed to the ground, unable to carry on any farther. They all look tired and scared. But at the front of the group, one of the statues has his arms raised in elation toward the skyline of the modern city: this is Toronto; they have arrived.