Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Photo: Toronto Had Craaazy-Bad Smog in 1912

Oh boy. So that's what our skyline looked like around about 1912. Not exactly the kind of place you want to be spending time if you have asthma. Or, you know, lungs. A little more than 100 years before this photo was taken, the whole shoreline was covered by a forest that had been there for thousands of years, full of ancient oak trees and deer and wolves and eagles and bears. We started cutting down the trees as soon as the Town of York was founded. And we thought nothing of chucking our garbage and dead animals and piss and shit into the lake. Which we then drank from. Things only got worse as the Industrial Revolution kicked into high gear. In the mid-1800s, we got railways along the waterfront and with them came massive coal-burning factories like the ones in this photo. They say that by the early days of the 20th century, all the walls in downtown Toronto were black — brick walls hidden beneath a thick layer of toxic soot.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"O my tiger city!": A Few Neat Paragraphs From Morley Callaghan

Morley Callaghan
Oooh, cool new discovery. Kevin Plummer is one of the two fellows who writes the always awesome Historicist columns over at Torontoist. And it turns out he's also got a new Toronto history blog, Second Drafts, where he shares tidbits that didn't make it into his Torontoist pieces. He's already got some neat stuff up: super-old aerial photographs of the city here; bits about the old Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team here; a photo of Toronto's old downtown slum, The Ward, here. But I think my favourite post so far is a passage written by Morley Callaghan, which I'm going to shamelessly re-post.

I wrote about Callaghan in the very first story I told on this blog. He was a Toronto writer who became good friends with Ernest Hemingway while they were both living here and working for the Star. They were both in Paris in the '20s, too. That's where Callaghan and Hemingway had a famous boxing match which ended the friendship between Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (You can read my post about it here.) But after that, Callaghan ended up back in Toronto, where he grew old in Rosedale.

These paragraphs come from an essay he wrote in 1954 called "Why Toronto?":

"To the professor from St. Louis who asked me why I lived in Toronto, I tried saying casually, ‘Why, I was born in Toronto.’ For a moment he was silent and I thought I might have found the right easy answer. ‘How odd,’ he said finally. ‘You’re the only writer I know who lives in the place where he was born.’

The English-speaking people of Montreal are pretty much like the people of Toronto, in fact, walking along the Montreal streets I’m always meeting somebody who used to live in Toronto, and they all swear they are much happier than they were in the Ontario Athens; but they look just the same to me and they talk just the same and they have the same ideas and the intellectual structure of their lives was clearly shaped in Toronto and they can’t get away from it.

But they don’t fool me–Toronto is on the mind. The notion that Montreal has a dazzling intellectual life like that of Paris, which makes the intellectual life of Toronto seem pathetically provincial, is a myth.

[...] but the truth is that the English-speaking people of Montreal and Toronto think the same thoughts. This they refuse to believe.

There is one other aspect of the matter. I have tried wandering into other cities, and pressing on to distant shores, and have found after a few weeks in a strange place, the urge to move on grows strong, the old weariness gripping me, makes me believe that each new place will be charming because it is new. Well, a writer can stand only so much of this restless boredom; he will go and on, once he starts wandering, seeking the unexpected scene, the new lovely face, with the charm of novelty always pulling him on and finally wearying him to death. If you stay in Toronto, the longing remains deep in the soul, and since it can’t be satisfied you can’t be wearied, and your mind and your imagination, should become like a caged tiger. O Toronto! O my tiger city!"

You can check out the original post on Second Drafts here and should absolutely head on over here to check the whole blog out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photo: University Avenue in 1907


So here's what University Avenue looked like in the early 1900s. It's an old road, around since Toronto's early days. (I was recently reading about how William Lyon Mackenzie considered marching part of his army down it during the Rebellion of 1837. It was known as College back then, which makes things totally freaking confusing.) In 1907, University would have only stretched as far south as Queen Street, which I think is about where this photo was taken from. We're looking north up the road toward Queen's Park, which you can see off in the distance. (Queen's Park had already been there for almost 50 years at that point.)

Also interesting to note: 15 years before this picture was taken, in one of the houses on the east side of the street, Mary Pickford was born. She started acting on stage as a little girl in theatres just a little south of there, at King Street, before going on to become one of the most famous people in the world. (I told her story in an earlier post, which you'll find here.)

I found this photo thanks to Derek Flack at blogTO. It was part of a great post of photos of Toronto from the early 1900s. You can read that article here.


This post is related to dream
04 The Silver King
Mary Pickford, 1900

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Revolution! ish!

John Rolph
This is the fifth in a series of posts about William Lyon Mackenzie and the birth of Canadian democracy. Part one here. Part two here. Part three here. Part four here.

It was only Saturday, but John Rolph was already worried. On Thursday, he was supposed become our very first President. William Lyon Mackenzie had personally asked him to do it. After the rebel army marched down Yonge Street and triumphantly seized power, they were going to "spontaneously" ask Rolph to lead them until they could hold elections. Rolph was a famous doctor, one of the leading figures of the Reform movement. He'd almost been picked over Mackenzie as our first mayor. And he — along with another Reformer, Robert Baldwin — had famously been picked by the dumbass conservative Lieutenant Governor, Bond Head, to sit on his Executive Council when he first got to Toronto. They only made it three weeks before they resigned in protest because he wasn't listening to them. It had been one of the most important moments in the build-up to the revolution. But now, with only five days left until the Reformers were supposed to seize power, Rolph felt like it might all be slipping away. As the rebel army gathered north of Toronto, he was still downtown. And he didn't like the look of things down there. It kind of looked like the government was finally starting to get organized.

Rolph knew about the emergency Executive Council meeting where Colonel FitzGibbon had burst in with news of the rebel preparations. He figured they were bound to have already seen Mackenzie's handbills calling for revolution; people had been coming in from the countryside to warn them. There were rumours that they were finally preparing the militia. And that the militia was going to be armed with the weapons stored at City Hall— the very same weapons the rebels were planning on stealing to use themselves. Worst of all, bad news from Quebec: the revolution in Lower Canada was falling apart. Two days after their first victory, the rebels had been overrun, massacred by British troops. Louis-Joseph Papineau and Wolfred Nelson had fled to the United States. Many of the other Patriotes were in prison. Rumour had it that a warrant for Mackenzie's arrest had been issued, too. The way things were going, it could all be over before Thursday.

So Rolph sent word to the rebels north of the city. They were gathering at Montgomery's Tavern on Yonge, a couple of blocks up from Eglinton. If they were going to do this thing, he told them, they needed to do it soon. Like on Monday. Otherwise, it might be too late.

But changing the date of the revolution was not such an easy thing to do. Things were already getting pretty confused up at the tavern. No one, for instance, had thought to tell John Montgomery, a big Reform guy, that they were going to use his place. And he'd leased it out to another guy who didn't give a crap about the revolution. He gave a crap about getting paid for all the food they wanted to eat. The rebels didn't have much money; so they didn't get much food. There weren't enough weapons either. And hell, until Sunday night, Mackenzie wasn't even there yet. He was still traveling around, telling people to show up on Thursday. When he finally did get there, he was furious. He wanted to stick with the original plan. He wanted to wait for more men. And he especially wanted to wait for Anthony Von Egmond, the Dutch dude who was going to lead the army, who had real experience, who had fought in the Napoleonic wars, and who was going to meet them there on Thursday.

Finally, on Monday night, John Rolph rode up from the city to convince Mackenzie in person. Eventually, all of the rebel leaders were on the same page. New plan: they would let the men rest overnight and then march in the morning. The Canadian Revolution was being moved up to Tuesday.

Robert Moodie gets shot
But they couldn't even wait that long to start killing each other.

The first to go was Robert Moodie. He was a retired army officer. And a conservative. He lived in Richmond Hill, where he'd heard all about Mackenzie's plans. And he was ballsy, too, so as far as he was concerned, he was going to go right ahead and warn Bond Head. That night, he and a couple of other guys rode straight down Yonge Street at the rebel barricades. They had blocked the road and were making prisoners out of anyone who might warn the city. But Robert Moodie wasn't going to be taken prisoner. He charged right at them screaming, "Who are you, who dare to stop me upon the Queen's highway?" He fired his pistol above their heads to drive them off.  They fired back.

People say that while he lay there bleeding on Yonge Street, he moaned, "I am shot—I am a dead man." He was right. The rebels lifted him up out of the road and into the tavern. It took him two hours to die.

Now, William Lyon Mackenzie wasn't there for that. He'd been all antsy and nervous; he couldn't just wait around all night without doing anything, so at about ten o'clock he'd left with a scouting party. He rode south with four other men: Captain Anthony Anderson (who was going to lead the troops in Von Egmond's absence),  Joseph Shepard (who I'm really only mentioning because his family owned a farm near  Yonge and Sheppard — the street is named after them with an accidental second "p") and two other dudes who we don't really care about.

Meanwhile, down in Toronto, FitzGibbon was also antsy and nervous. He didn't sleep at home that night, worried that the rebels would come kill him in his sleep. Instead, he set up shop at the Parliament Buildings on King Street and before calling it a night, he too led some men out on a scouting mission. A couple of them were sent on ahead. One of them was John Powell. He was a pretty famous judge and politician, a hardcore Tory. He was the one who let Samuel Jarvis off scot-free after Jarvis killed Jean Ridout in their famous duel. That was about a year before Jarvis married Powell's daughter. It was exactly the kind of conflict of interest bullshit that drove the Reformers crazy.

The second death of the night came when the two scouting parties ran into each other. Mackenzie's men caught Powell by surprise and took him prisoner. But the way that Mackenzie made sure that Powell wasn't carrying any weapons was by asking him politely if he was carrying any weapons and then taking his word as a gentleman. Powell lied. And then, once Mackenzie had turned him over to Captain Anderson to be taken back to the tavern, he pulled the pistols he was carrying, shot Anderson in the back and escaped. The bullet severed Anderson's spine. He died instantly. The rebels had lost their back-up commander.

Toronto was in chaos for the rest of the night. Powell rushed downtown to warn Bond Head; Bond Head rushed to get his family on a steamer out of town and then ran around like a lunatic for a while. While he was doing that, the students of Upper Canada College went to ring the school's bells in warning. But their headmaster told them to go back to bed. When FitzGibbon went to ring the bells of St. James Cathedral, no one could find the keys to the bell tower. He was about to break down the door with an axe when they finally found them. In the end, a couple hundred men answered the call, taking up arms and rushing to King Street to defend City Hall and the Parliament Buildings.

The March of the Rebels Upon Toronto
By morning, on what was supposed to be the dawn of their glorious revolution, the rebels were feeling more than a little discouraged. They could hear the bells ringing in the city below. They'd lost the element of surprise. Plus, they'd heard about what was happening in Quebec. That very day, martial law was declared in Montreal. Von Egmond wasn't showing up until Thursday, Anderson was dead, and Mackenzie's next pick for commander, Samuel Lount, was a blacksmith who didn't really feel up to the challenge of leading an entire army. So when the men — 500 strong now — finally did start marching down Yonge Street just before noon, it was Mackenzie who was at their head, riding a white horse and wearing as many jackets as he could possibly squeeze into, apparently trying to make himself bulletproof. A lot of the people who marched with him that day agreed: he was acting even crazier and more erratic than usual. Which was saying something. It seems Mackenzie might have been coming a bit unhinged.

It was a long, slow march. They'd only made it to St. Clair before Mackenzie had them stop for lunch. He went to the postmaster's house and forced the postmaster's terrified wife to make a meal for his troops. Some never bothered marching any further south than that — they just hung out on the lawn eating boiled beef and drinking whiskey. Then came the emissaries from Bond Head. The government was trying to stall the rebels by getting them to talk about a truce. But since they had to send men who the rebels wouldn't shoot, they chose Robert Baldwin and John Rolph. Not exactly the crown's most loyal subjects. Rolph warned the rebels to hurry the fuck up; the government was still disorganized. But Mackenzie didn't really listen: he paused again near Bloor to burn down the house of a Tory who had pissed him off once. And then he tried to burn down the house of the sheriff, who was yet another member of the Jarvis family: William Botsford Jarvis. His wife had named their flowery hillside estate Rosedale. Lount was barely able to talk Mackenzie out of it.

So with all of these delays, it was dusk by the time the army had gotten all the way down to College. And  it was there, for the very first time, that the rebels would face off against government troops. FitzGibbon had sent the sheriff and 26 other men there — against Bond Head's orders — to hide 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 was no use.

Sheriff Jarvis and his family
Luckily for the loyalists, the rebels were just as inexperienced. When the front line of their ranks dropped to one knee to reload their guns, the guys behind them figured they'd all been shot. So they ran away, too. Most people seem to think that if the rebels had kept marching south into the city, they'd have captured it that night. But they also seem to think that if they had, things might have gotten really bloody. Once the monarchy-loving army in Quebec was finished with the rebels there, they could have easily marched west to attack Mackenzie in Toronto. That could have been a horrifying mess. Not to mention that Mackenzie had already started vengefully burning things to the ground. But instead of marching south, most of the rebels headed back to the tavern to regroup. Some kept going all the way home.

And that brings us to Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the rebels didn't do very much. They decided to wait for Von Egmond after all. Mackenzie did lead some men out to rob a stagecoach and a tavern to help pay their bills. And John Rolph decided it was time to save his own skin. One of the other big-name Reformers in the city was arrested for treason that day. Rolph escaped. He made it to the States by pretending he was going to visit a patient. It be would another six years before he could come home to the city that had almost made him President.

But Wednesday went much, much, much, much better for the government. Their reinforcements arrived. They came from Hamilton and from Pickering and from Niagara and from Peel and from a host of other towns. By morning there were more than a thousand of them. Enough to go crush the rebels. So that's what they decided to do.

That Thursday was a clear, bright day in an unusually warm December. The army's muskets and cannons glinted in the sun. Bond Head climbed up on his white horse in his white uniform and led his army north. It was commanded by some of the richest, most powerful men in the history of our city. John Strachan, our first Anglican bishop, Toronto's great hero from the War of 1812, the guy who sort of founded U of T and was the figurehead of the Family Compact, rode at Bond Head's side. Samuel Jarvis, one of Strachan's former students, whose family had been here since allllll the way back in 1798, whose incompetence and corruption had been pissing Reformers off pretty much ever since, and who had even broken Mackenzie's newspaper press and thrown the typeface into the lake, well, he headed up a group on one of the flanks. Colonel FitzGibbon, the guy who had received Laura Secord's legendary warning in the War of 1812 and helped us defeat the Americans, who had once saved Mackenzie's life and had, until a couple days ago, been the lone voice calling for the government to take the threat of revolution seriously, led another group. Judge Jones, who had scoffed at FitzGibbon's warnings to the Executive Council, was there, too. Even Bond Head's aide-de-camp was a future mayor. And as the army marched up Yonge Street out of the city, loyalist citizens cheered them on. They leaned out their windows waving flags. A military band joined the troops, with the drone of bagpipes filling the air.

Up at Montgomery's Tavern, the rebels were just plain not ready. Von Egmond had finally arrived that morning, took one look at his men, and declared Mackenzie's plan to immediately attack the city  "stark madness". Mackenzie almost shot him for that. Instead, they sent a farmer, Peter Matthews, off with some men to burn a bridge over the Don as a decoy. It didn't work. Bond Head's army kept coming. Soon, the rebels could see the metallic gleam of their enemies' guns as they crested the hill down at St. Clair. At the spot where Mount Pleasant Cemetery is now, the government's cannons let loose with their first volley. The cannonballs crashed through the woods. They were still too far south. But soon, they were close enough.

The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
The second volley smashed through the tavern's dinning room window and brought down three of the building's chimneys. Men scattered and poured of the building. The government troops surged forward and opened fire with their rifles and muskets. A few rebels were hit. A few would die. Mostly, they ran away. Fifteen or twenty minutes after it started, the Battle of Montgomery's Tavern was already over. The government had won. The rebels had lost. The Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837 had failed. Democracy would have to wait.

As Bond Head's men began to loot the area, the Lieutenant Governor ordered the tavern burned to the ground. Some rebels were arrested. Others just got a stern lecture and were sent home.  As for Mackenzie, he was one of the leaders lucky enough to escape to the United States. With a price on his head, he slipped across the border and settled on Navy Island in the Niagara River. He declared a new Republic of Canada and led an irrelevant government in exile. It would be more than a decade before he could come home. 

The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern marked the beginning of a dark time for Torontonians who believed in democracy. Bond Head and the Tories cracked down. Even people who had never supported the rebels were denounced as traitors. Some were fired from their jobs. Some were arrested.  Some were deported to Australia. Von Egmond was captured and died of pneumonia in a shitty jail cell. Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews were tried and convicted and sentenced to hang. Lount's wife personally delivered a petition with thousands of signatures and begged for her husband's life. Even Sheriff Jarvis was moved to tears. But she was ignored. "I'm not ashamed of anything I've done," Lount declared on the gallows just before the rope snapped his neck. And he was the fortunate one. Matthews kicked around for a good minute before the last of his life drained out of him.

The Reform movement was left in tatters. The next mayor of Toronto would be super-Tory John Powell — hailed as a hero for having shot Anthony Anderson in the back of the neck. It would be nearly ten years before another liberal ran the city. In just about every single way you could possibly imagine, the revolution had been a complete and total failure.

But here's the thing. The fight for democracy in Canada was far from over. And the Reformers were going to win it. Mackenzie's ridiculous, poorly-planned, poorly-executed disaster of a rebellion actually ended up being one of the major catalysts for change. After more than fifty years under dictatorial British rule, we were finally going to seize power over our own affairs. Canada, you see, was about to get responsible fucking government.


Continue reading with Part Six, The Bloody Aftermath of the Bloody Rebellion, here.

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There a million great resources to learn about the events during the Rebellion of 1837. I leaned especially heavily on a few of them. There's a great book about it all, written in the late-1880s, that you can read online here. I also took a lot from The Toronto Story and Toronto: The Place of Meeting. There's also some information here and here and all over the Wikipedia pages of the people involved. You can see the poster offering a reward for Mackenzie's capture here.


This post is related to dream
10 The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern
William Lyon Mackenzie, 1837

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12 John Rolph's Beard
John Rolph, 1867

Monday, August 1, 2011

So What's The Deal With This Simcoe Guy?

John Graves Simcoe
Today is Simcoe Day in Toronto. Better known as that day we get off in August. So it seems like a natural time to tell you a little about John Graves Simcoe and why he's such a crazy-big deal that we name holidays after him, not to mention streets and lakes and stuff.

In short: he's the dude who founded Toronto.

He was born in England, in the mid-1700s. His dad was in the navy and had sailed with super-famous totally-important British explorer guy, James Cook. Simcoe followed in his father's footsteps and joined the army after going to rich British-people schools like Eton and Oxford and having joined the Freemasons. The army sent him to the United States during the American Revolution. He commanded troops on the British side. For the most part, it seems, he made a pretty good name for himself during that war. He won some battles. He gets points for having wanted to start an all-black regiment at a time when, it kinda goes without saying, most people in the States were super-fucking racist. But he also did some sketchy stuff. Like, say, the time he had his men bayonet a bunch of American rebels in their sleep. Or the time one of the young soldiers under his command tried to run away from the army. Simcoe had him kneel in front his coffin so that his corpse pitched conveniently forward into it when Simcoe shot in him the back of the head. Still, he managed to impress his bosses in the British government.

Now, this is just a few decades after the English had taken control of the land that Toronto is built on. It was the French who had first started to steal it away from the First Nations. We were, in fact, part of Québec originally. The French had even set up a trading post, Fort Rouillé, on a spot that's now on the Exhibition grounds. But as the British started winning the Seven Years' War, the French burned the fort to the ground and abandoned the whole area to the English. The Brits didn't do too much with it at first, since they were busy with the Americans. But after they'd lost the Revolution and the United States won independence, things started to change. 

For one, all of the people who had lived in the States but sided with the British needed somewhere to run away to. Their revolutionary neighbours had a habit of beating them and threatening their families and burning their houses to ground. So they came north to safety. Plus, the British were still all about extending their empire in the New World. And now all of their efforts were focused on Canada. One of the first things they did was to create a brand new province, which stretched across what's now called Southern Ontario. They named it Upper Canada because it was up-river on the St. Lawrence. And to run the whole thing, they decided to appoint a Lieutenant Governor. And their choice for the job? John Graves Simcoe.

He set to work looking for a place to build a new capital. The original one was at Niagara-on-the-Lake (then called Newark). And it was waaaaay the hell too close to the Americans, who were pretty open about their pans to invade us and conquer us in those days. Simcoe wanted to put the capital in London, in the middle of nowhere, so it would be hard for an invading army to get to it. Other powerful British government guys thought Kingston would be better. In the end, they compromised. About halfway between London and Kingston, there was a spot on the northern shore of Lake Ontario that had a natural harbour. You could only sail into through one narrow opening on the western end. It would be easy to defend. That's where Simcoe decided to start the brand new town that would serve as the capital for his new province. He named it York, after King George's son Frederick, the Duke of York.

Toronto Harbour in 1793 (by Elizabeth Simcoe)
Simcoe sailed into our harbour in 1793. In those days, the shore was covered by an ancient forest, thousands of years old. Enormous oaks stretched up into the sky. There were bears and wolves and foxes and deer and bald eagle and flocks of passengers pigeons so thick they blotted out the sun for minutes at a time. Creeks and rivers spilled out into the bay: not just the Don and the Humber, but the Garrison and Taddle Creek and Castle Frank Brook, which have all been buried underground now. Simcoe picked a spot at the mouth of the Garrison and had his men start building Fort York. Further east, he had them clear enough space on the shore for ten blocks of the new town, to be laid out in an anal British grid pattern. They're still there, just east of the St. Lawrence Market. From Front up to Adelaide. From George over to Beverley. On their eastern edge, he built our first parliament buildings. And he also ordered two new roads to be cleared out of the wilderness. One would stretch north and be called Yonge Street. The other would head west toward London and be called Dundas. The building of Toronto had begun.

Simcoe brought his family with him. In their first few days here, they set up a big tent with wooden floors (which had once belonged to James Cook). Simcoe's wife, Elizabeth, painted watercolours of the bay and of the forest and kept a diary. They're one of the most vivid sources of history from our city's earliest days. Eventually, the Simcoe family built a house overlooking the forested slopes of the Don Valley (near where Bloor is now). They playfully named it after Simcoe's young son, Francis. It was called Castle Frank.

To populate the rest of the new capital, Simcoe called upon the families of the men who had been running the government out of Niagara-on-the-Lake. They were almost exclusively staunchly British, super-Protestant, American-hating, democracy-loathing rich guys. In exchange for moving out into the middle of nowhere, they'd get even richer. Simcoe gave them free land in town and country estates north of the city. Many of the families who moved here in those first few years became the ruling elite of Toronto. People like the Jarvis family. Or Peter Russell. For the next few decades, they would fight to keep all the power and land and money they could. They were a tight-knit group. They tended to go the same schools. Give each other jobs. Marry their children off to each other. Before long, it was almost like one big family with a pact to amass all the power they could. That's why William Lyon Mackenzie nicknamed them the Family Compact.  The city would be more than fifty years old and home to tens of thousands of people before their reign ended.

Castle Frank (by Elizabeth Simcoe)
Still, in some ways York was a fairly liberal place. One of Simcoe's greatest accomplishments in those early years was his fight against slavery. People tend to say that he abolished it right from the start, but that's not strictly true. He did want to do away with it immediately but some of those conservative friends of his weren't so sure. The Jarvises and the Russells had already brought their slaves to town. And they were willing to fight to defend their "right" to "own" them. In the end, there was a compromise. No new slaves would ever be allowed in Toronto. But those already here would be allowed to stay. They say by 1810, slavery had finally been wiped out in all of Upper Canada. No person would ever own another person here ever again.

Life wasn't always easy for Simcoe while he lived here. His newborn daughter, Katherine, died. She was buried in a cemetery near Fort York. It's still there, sort of, as Victoria Square, on Wellington just east of Bathurst. You can still find some of our city's oldest gravestones in that park. And soon, Simcoe had fallen ill himself. He was forced to leave the New World and head home to England. That's where he died, a few years later, in Exeter. And so, his body lies thousands of kilometers away on the other side of the Atlantic. But it's here that we remember him best. Happy Simcoe Day.

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This post is related to dream
01 Metropolitan York
John Graves Simcoe, 1793