Christmas at Mackenzie House, 1963

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Over the holiday season of 1963, Mackenzie House was spotlighted in at least two home magazines as a venue one could enjoy old-fashioned Christmas scenes.

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First up was an article in the December edition of Ontario Homes and Living, “Holiday traditions live on in historical Mackenzie House,” photographed by Peter Varley (apart from this photo and the next one).

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The article declared that the home, as restored and furnished by the Toronto Historical Board, “looks so authentic that it would not seem at all odd if the Mackenzies appeared at the door and sat themselves down at the table for a Christmas roast duck dinner.”

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The museum was decorated for the holidays by the Junior League of Toronto. “Only the simple decorations that the frugal Mackenzie family would have made themselves were used, including such things as popcorn and cranberry gardlands, paper chains, eggshell tree ornaments, evergreen boughs, a kissing ball, and the traditional yule log.”

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The original caption: “Cozy fireplace corner of family room suggests the feeling that here was the heart of the Mackenzie home. Everywhere are signs of industry–hand-hooked rugs, patchwork pillows, and embroidered chair cushion.”

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Canadian Homes Magazine, December 1963.

Mackenzie House was also featured in a two-page spread in Canadian Homes Magazine.  These recipes were served that season at the museum’s Victorian Christmas celebration, where visitors were also taken on tours of the house by members of the Kinette Club.

For 2019’s lineup of holiday events at Mackenzie House, check out their website.

 

An Early November Night’s Walk

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Once upon a time, I wrote a lot about my walks through the city. Whether they were solo strolls or psychogeographic excursions, I snapped many pictures along the way and summarized the trip in old-fashioned blog posts.

Friends have asked over the years if I would ever return to writing about walks. So I am. If nothing else, going for these strolls takes me away from my work desk.

I think I got a look of approval from Toronto’s first mayor from his perch at Queen station (though I swear he also mumbled something about muskets).

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Originally I was going to wander along Danforth through Greektown, peering in at the early Christmas displays, such as this one at Kitchen Stuff Plus. Feeling there was more walking in me, I hopped on the subway at Broadview and headed downtown.

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It was five minutes to closing time when I entered the Queen Street Bay. This cow didn’t seem bothered by the customers scurrying to leave the store. It was also proud to show off their holiday wreath, which at least one cutting board approved of.

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Heading into the Bay Adelaide Centre, I had a feeling that I was being watched…

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…and they weren’t the watcher from the wall.

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Is the use of the word “path” intentional, given this is a busy corridor in the PATH system? Is it the path to financial well-being? Consumer satisfaction? Enlightenment?

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Given the early Christmas decorations I had seen earlier, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” lodged itself in my brain.

As for seeing what they saw, all I could see was a row of closeups of eyes staring at me. Which, for some people, might be unnerving.

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Time to move on to another complex.

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Recent wayfinding installed in the PATH not only directs you to nearby attractions and buildings, but lets you know how long it takes to get to your destination.*

*Not valid during lunchtime, especially during inclement weather.

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First Canadian Place, like much of the PATH after business hours, takes on a quiet character. The hustle and bustle of bankers and lawyers gives way to the occasional wanderer. It’s a great place for reflection while walking.

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Heading into the Toronto-Dominion Centre provides one of the last glimpses of the uniform signage that, until the early 2000s, dominated Mies van der Rohe’s original design for the shopping level of the complex.

From Shawn Micallef’s book Stroll:

The Toronto-Dominion Centre was long an exception to the generic look of much of the PATH. Architect Mies van der Rohe laid out a mausoleum of a mall down there, a place of order, clean lines and polished travertine marble. Even the store signs were uniform: white letters on a black background using a font Mies designed specifically for the TD Centre.

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The remaining black elements give the centre more character than its neighbours, making it one of the most atmospheric to stroll after hours. The loud partying sounds from the Duke of Devon felt out of place.

From Patricia McHugh and Alex Bozikovic’s book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Also, this is where Mies did the city the dubious favour of pioneering the the underground shopping concourse. The Miesian signage and detailing are now gone from underground, but the PATH system continues to grow, turning office-dwellers into moles and emptying the streets.

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One of the most interesting signs points to the King & Bay Chaplaincy, a spiritual retreat whose corridor was under construction. It feels like a necessary amenity for people to cope with the pressure of working in the Financial District.

From the February 2, 2008 Globe and Mail:

Hope comes in the form of a door handily emblazoned HOPE. Inside, Pat Kimeda sits quietly behind the desk of the King-Bay Chaplaincy, an interdenominational Christian chapel tucked below escalators in the TD Tower. Ms. Kimeda says many downtown workers come to deal with relationship issues, others in a daze after being dismissed. “All types of people come, and sometimes the problems are not so different,” she says. “Whether it’s family or work, often people are dealing with stress for one reason or another.”

But is it odd, expecting people to find faith in the heart of the country’s biggest financial district? Ms. Kimeda pauses. “It’s Bay Street. It’s money, money, money,” she says. “[But]not every person walking down here is like that. A lot are very, very deep.”

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Compared to the Toronto-Dominion Centre, walking into Royal Bank Plaza feels like you’ve entered just another office/shopping complex. It doesn’t live up to the promise of the exterior, as described in Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Any building in Toronto that makes it look as if the sun is shining on a dreary winter day has a lot going for it. The faceted gold-enriched mirror-glass of Royal Bank’s Late-Modern jewel seems to reflect a warm sunny glow no matter what the weather. This is a very showy building all around.

One of the biggest mistakes: closing off public viewing access to Jesus Raphael Soto’s ceiling sculpture Suspended Virtual Volume, which can sort of be seen through the front windows.

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Also available (for the moment) in Royal Bank Plaza: a vending machine dispensing $8.99 cake slices shipped in from Hoboken.

Given all the great bakeries in the city, I’ll pass.

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Artwork on the wall next to the cake machine. Aww.

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My feet needed to rest, so I headed out of Royal Bank Plaza into a building with more atmosphere…

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…but first, the small shopping centre in the Royal York Hotel.

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At the barber shop, a fine display of after shaves…

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…and shaving products usually spotted at my local Italian grocery store.

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A bank of elevators waiting to whisk guests to their rooms for a night of romance, or people attending functions throughout the hotel.

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From Andrew Hepburn’s The Toronto Guide 1966-67:

The hotel, one of the the most celebrated hotels in the world and the largest in the British Commonwealth, has 1,600 guest rooms and suites and some of the most interesting public rooms in Canada, particularly a series of private dining rooms, each one decorated to suggest the character and history of a Canadian province.

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The Royal York’s lobby is one of my favourite places to rest in the city. Easing into one of the comfortable chairs sends you into a state of relaxation, along with the classic decor. I’ll sit for 15-20 minutes to collect my thoughts, typing into my phone or writing in a notebook ideas to be saved for later.

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The constant stream of activity makes it a great people-watching spot. On this night, there were attendees of a black-tie function roaming around, along with young tourism, couples out for a drink, and happy Leafs fans savouring a victory over Vegas.

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Musically, a live pianist in Reign restaurant blended with dance music blaring from a speaker somewhere behind my chair.

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An abandoned issue of O waiting for the next guests to flip through it.

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Feeling recharged, it was time to head across the street…

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…into Union Station.

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First stop was Luis Jacob’s Toronto Biennial of Art exhibit The View from Here. According to the artist statement, the exhibit pairs Jacob’s photos with selections from his rare map collection, “representing different yet overlapping narratives of the same places. The tension between these views invites a reconsideration of Toronto’s identity and presumed cohesion as a city.”

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I thought the reflected glow of a nearby TD logo added something to this picture taken in The Junction.

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Another TD offering nearby: seating.

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I headed into the new York Concourse, but it was packed with Leafs fans waiting for their GO trains home. Back into the Great Hall…

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Who wants VIA merchandise?

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While waiting for the Leafs fans to disperse, I wandered into Brookfield Place. While Royal Bank Plaza hid its sculpture to add more office space, Brookfield embraces Santiago Calatrava’s work in the Allen Lambert Galleria.

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From Toronto Architecture: A City Guide:

Inside is a real architectural gift to the city: a galleria and “heritage square” by the Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. Built to satisfy the city’s public art requirement, this bravura arcade of white steel evokes by turns whale bones, an ancient forest, and Victorian engineering feats such as the Eiffel Tower.

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Looking down at the food court.

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The steel fountain at the centre of Sam Pollock Square.

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Near the entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame is a corner of pucks spanning all levels of hockey…

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…including franchises that never played a game, such as the WHA’s Miami Screaming Eagles.

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The night’s final image: a display of fall gourds on the Yonge Street side of Marché Mövenpick.

Toronto Cemetery Sojourns: York

As Halloween approaches, we are surrounded by images of death. Most focus on the ghoulish aspects, from bony skeletons to creepy tombstones with punny names for the deceased. But the mock graveyards decorating residential lawns bear little resemblance to Toronto’s real cemeteries. Instead of depressing, scary final resting places, these spaces are full of life.

During the Halloween seasons in 2011 and 2012, I wrote a series of articles for Torontoist on the city’s cemeteries. This year I’m mixing those pieces with updates and new stories. This piece was originally published on Torontoist on November 1, 2012

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A block west of Mel Lastman Square, the greenery of York Cemetery provides an escape from the endless concrete of North York’s central strip. Amid its gardens and monuments reside tales of heroes, rebels, and royalty.

History

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The property was settled around 1805 by Joseph Shepard, one of several people Sheppard Avenue may have been named after. The site passed to his son Michael, a farmer who operated a mill near the present-day North York IKEA. Michael and his brothers were prominent supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto’s first mayor and leader of the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.

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The Shepards are said to have hidden the rebel mayor before he fled to the United States after his uprising fizzled. When Michael and his brother Thomas were released from jail after a brief stay, they followed Mackenzie south. Michael was pardoned in 1843, and he returned to the farm. By 1850, he had completed the farmhouse that currently serves as the cemetery’s office.

The property was purchased in 1916 by the Toronto General Burying Grounds, the forerunner of the Mount Pleasant Group, but no one was interred until July 1948. Some of the Shepard land, between Beecroft Road and Yonge Street, was later sold to build the North York Civic Centre and its associated projects.

Grounds

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The entrance from Beecroft Road is a divided boulevard dominated by a massive war-memorial cenotaph, dedicated in 1963. It bears a quote from 19th-century politician Joseph Howe:

A wise nation preserves its records—gathers up its muniments, decorates the tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs its great public structures and fosters national pride and love of country by perpetual reference to the sacrifices and glories of the past.

In 1986, the width of the roadway prompted then-city controller Howard Moscoe to ask North York council to study turning it into an extension of North York Boulevard, as a way of relieving traffic. Deemed an “intolerable desecration” by a fellow controller, the idea was quickly rejected. An apology letter was sent to cemetery officials.

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The grounds are dotted with special memorials ranging from a section devoted to the military to a monument to the Hungarian community. Near the office are a waterfall-laden “Garden of Remembrance” and a recently built columbarium, powered by solar and geothermal energy.

Like Mount Pleasant Cemetery, York is divided in half by a busy street. While the section east of Senlac Road is flat, hills dot the western portion.

Notable Names

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You won’t find stacks of coffee cups or empty doughnut boxes placed beside the grave of Tim Horton. What you will see is the epitaph “T.T.F.N. Daddy-O.” (That is, ta-ta for now.) Architect Uno Prii, also buried at York, was responsible for the curving modernist apartment buildings of the Annex. Broadcaster Barbara Frum’s gravesite bears an ornate gate and is lined with red stones. Percy Saltzman’s tombstone recognizes his role as “Canada’s First TV Weatherman.”

Favourite Spots

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Not far from Tim Horton’s gravesite lies genuine royalty. Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was the youngest sister of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and cousin of King George V of England. Forced to marry an older duke, she had the unconsummated marriage annulled by her brother in 1916 to wed her true love, Colonel Nikolai Kulikovsky. After the Russian Revolution, the Kulikovskys fled to the Crimea, which prevented them from being murdered by the Bolsheviks alongside the Tsar’s family. There were close calls on their flight out of Russia. (After being arrested, they were saved when officials argued at length over executing the couple.) They stayed in Olga’s mother’s homeland, Denmark, until 1948, where the duchess was often called upon to debunk pretenders, like the woman who claimed to be her niece Anastasia.

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Fearing assassination by the KGB to extinguish the her claim to the Russian throne, the Kulikovskys moved to Canada in 1948. They settled in Cooksville, where the duchess preferred to be known as Olga. She developed a reputation as cat lady, and showcased her art at Eaton’s College Street store. Before her death in 1960, Olga briefly lived with friends above a beauty salon on Gerrard Street East. She is memorialized with a sizable cross and a special plaque.

Sources: The Final Word: The Book of Canadian Epitaphs by Nancy Millar (Victoria: Brindle & Glass, 2004), the November 25, 1960 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the July 4, 1986 and August 26, 1996 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Globe and Mail, November 25, 1960.

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Toronto Star, November 25, 1960.

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“Last farewell: Carrying Tim Horton’s casket to burial plot in York Cemetery yesterday are pall bearers (clockwise) Dave Keon, Bobby Baun, Allan Stanley, Billy Harris, George Armstrong and Dick Duff–all former Maple Leaf teammates of Horton.” Photo by Ron Bull, originally published in the February 26, 1974 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Star Archive, Toronto Public Library, tspa_0055643f.

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Toronto Star, February 26, 1974.

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Gravesite of architect Uno Prii, noted for his space-age, curvy apartment towers in the city

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More photos from my 2012 stroll through the grounds. 

Toronto Cemetery Sojourns: Potter’s Field

As Halloween approaches, we are surrounded by images of death. Most focus on the ghoulish aspects, from bony skeletons to creepy tombstones with punny names for the deceased. But the mock graveyards decorating residential lawns bear little resemblance to Toronto’s real cemeteries. Instead of depressing, scary final resting places, these spaces are full of life.

During the Halloween seasons in 2011 and 2012, I wrote a series of articles for Torontoist on the city’s cemeteries. This year I’m mixing those pieces with updates and new stories. This piece was originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on October 29, 2011.

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Bloor and Yonge: subway junction, pedestrian scramble, long-term construction hoarding, gateway to Yorkville’s high-end shopping. While waiting on the northwest corner for the traffic light to turn, you may notice a silver plaque on the side of 2 Bloor West. Long before the beautiful people entered the neighbourhood, this was a site where the city’s pioneering outcasts received a respectful final rest. As the first cemetery in Toronto that wasn’t tied to a particular religious faith, it set the course for future burial grounds where almost anyone could be buried.

By the mid-1820s, burying the dead was becoming an issue in “Muddy York.” As people moved into small dwellings, graves on personal property grew rare. Cemeteries existed, but only for particular faiths. If you were a good Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic, there wasn’t a problem. But if you didn’t subscribe to those branches of Christianity, suffered from mental illness, embraced a dissipated lifestyle, or had committed murder, your remains were bound for rejection out of fear they would foul consecrated ground.

This raised the ire of prominent local figures like the ever-fiery William Lyon Mackenzie. “We think that to perpetuate sectarianism even beyond the grave,” Mackenzie wrote in a December 1825 edition of the Colonial Advocate, “is very preposterous in a Christian country, and are sure that the majority of the liberal and well-informed throughout the earth, think as we do on this subject.” Mackenzie urged the government of Upper Canada to create legislation so that in “some convenient part of each township” of the colony, land would be set aside for a publicly operated non-denominational burial ground.

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Grave of Thomas Carfrae Jr. in the Necropolis

Mackenzie was among those present at a meeting held the previous month for “inhabitants of York friendly to the purchasing of a public burial place for all classes and sects.” Another attendee was merchant Thomas Carfrae Jr., who shared Mackenzie’s Scottish background but not his radical politics. Carfrae’s campaigning for a petition to support an open cemetery resulted in a parliamentary act approving the creation of such a site in January 1826. Five months later, six acres were purchased for 75 pounds by Carfrae and four other men, all of whom served as the new cemetery’s first trustees.

Sadly, the first burial was Carfrae’s infant daughter Mary, who was laid to rest on July 18, 1826. Four more members of his family joined Mary in the cemetery over the next seven years. Despite these many causes for grief, Carfrae was a busy man—besides his role in establishing Potter’s Field, he was also involved in the founding of the York Fire Company, St. Andrew’s Church, and the York Mechanics institute (the forerunner of the Toronto Public Library). He served as an alderman on Toronto’s first city council in 1834, was appointed customs collector in 1835, and was named harbour master in 1838. He reunited with his family in Potter’s Field following his death from a stroke in June 1841 at the age of 44.

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One of the surviving Potter’s Field tombstones at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Throughout its existence, the cemetery was known by a variety of names. The official name was the York General Burying Ground (which was changed to Toronto after the city renamed itself in 1834), but was alternately known as the Strangers’ Burying Ground, as those tended to be the types who made up the early burials. The name that caught on, Potter’s Field, was a biblical reference to the fate of Judas and his blood money in Matthew 27:7, which was used to buy a “potter’s field, to bury strangers in.”

Burials were light during the early years, until a cholera epidemic hit during the summer of 1832. Besides the heavy toll that disease claimed, burials increased as the new village of Yorkville grew around the cemetery. When compiling the causes of death for those buried in Potter’s Field, genealogist Elizabeth Hancocks was struck by “the nature of the bare-fact entries, many of which seem to possess an eloquence that carries well beyond the grave.” Among the frequent forms of death that caught her attention: “felled by tree.”

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The original tombstone for hanged rebels Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews. A larger memorial was built beside it in the Necropolis in 1893.

By the end of the 1840s, the cemetery neared capacity. As the population grew in Toronto and Yorkville, there was concern that Potter’s Field would run out of space for future burials. The trustees successfully lobbied the colonial government for legislation that widened their ranks and allowed the purchase of more land. The Necropolis, which had been established independently of the trust in 1850, relieved the pressure on Potter’s Field, but not enough for the residents of Yorkville. Just as bohemians and hippies were redeveloped out of the neighbourhood a century later, the dead were given the boot in 1855 after the government honoured a petition to close the cemetery.

The trustees were given the power to sell the land once all 6,685 people buried there were moved elsewhere. Families of the deceased were offered the choice of moving their loved ones’ remains themselves or having the remains transplanted to new plots in the Necropolis. Among those moved east were the Carfrae family and 1837 rebellion martyrs Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews.

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Plaque at the corner of Sumach Street and Winchester Street noting the move of remains from Potter’s Field to the Necropolis.

One problem: there were plenty of remains that nobody claimed. To the consternation of Yorkville residents, and presumably those eager to redevelop the land, the cemetery sat for two more decades. By 1874 everyone’s patience had run out, so the Ontario government gave the trustees the right to remove any remains that were still in Potter’s Field 20 years after it had officially closed. When the anniversary passed, the unclaimed were moved to both the Necropolis and the new Mount Pleasant Cemetery. As the Globe noted when Mount Pleasant officially opened in 1876, “In a mound here lie the bones of about 3,000 persons which could not be identified. The remains of old and young persons of every Christian denomination, coloured and white people alike, here rest together in one common grave.”

By 1881, moving was finished and the site was soon built over. “Where the marble columns once stood, and the house to receive the departed was once erected,” wrote the anonymous scribe of an early 20th century guide to Toronto’s cemeteries, “now stand the splendid villas of the living.” Though the silver plaque is the only reminder of Potter’s Field’s existence within Yorkville, grave markers survive in Mount Pleasant Cemetery and the Necropolis. The trust that operated the cemetery went through numerous name changes before adopting its current identity as the Mount Pleasant Group. Some graveyards that had been strictly denominational, like the Anglican-run St. James, gradually began permitting burials of those who didn’t subscribe to the operator’s faith. Though sectarian cemeteries continue to exist, the inclusive visions of Thomas Carfrae Jr. and William Lyon Mackenzie that created Potter’s Field were realized throughout Ontario.

Additional material from Historical Sketch Toronto, Canada 1826-1905 (Toronto: Toronto General Burying Grounds Trust, 1905), Potter’s Field Cemetery 1826-1855 otherwise called The Strangers’ Burying Ground compiled by Elizabeth Hancock (Toronto: Generation Press, 1983), the December 8, 1825 edition of the Colonial Advocate, and the November 6, 1876 edition of the Globe.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Colonial Advocate, December 8, 1825.

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York Commercial Directory, Street Guide, and Register 1833-4 (York: Thomas Dalton, 1833)

Toronto Is Born

Originally published on Torontoist on March 6, 2014. Note that the title refers to the incorporation and naming of the city, not when it was settled.

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Map of Toronto, 1834, drawn by Alpheus Todd, who was 13 years old when he sketched the city’s layout. Toronto Public Library.

Flipping through the pages of the March 6, 1834, edition of the Advocate newspaper gives you few hints a momentous occasion would occur that day. The first two pages feature details of debates in Lower Canada over improving colonial governance—not until the fourth column of page three, after pieces on political reform gatherings and odes to leather tanners, do you encounter a story about the provincial legislation [PDF] that created the City of Toronto on that day 180 years ago.

By the dawn of 1834, York was growing fast. Its population had quadrupled in six years, going from around 2,200 residents in 1828 to 9,200. Such growth, unfortunately, magnified the flaws of the existing governance structure: the Town of York was part of the larger Home District, which by 1834 consisted of portions of present-day Durham, Peel, and York Regions. The district was governed by an appointed committee of part-time magistrates known as the Courts of Quarter Sessions of the Peace. Becoming a magistrate was a reflection of one’s social status, which meant the ranks were dominated by the Family Compact and its allies.

As York grew, the magistrates found they couldn’t keep up with its infrastructure demands. Unable to raise tax rates above absurdly low levels, they borrowed money to build courthouses, jails, and markets. Police funding was scant, and volunteers were recruited to provide fire service. Inadequate attempts to build a sewer system contributed to several outbreaks of cholera during the 1830s.

York needed help.

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A sense of what the sharp-dressed Torontonian may have looked like in 1834. Illustration by C.W. Jefferys, Toronto’s 100 Years 1834-1934 (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1934).

By 1830, provincial attorney-general Henry John Boulton had proposed that York be incorporated as a city with an elected municipal government possessing increased powers of taxation. The usual unproductive partisan bickering between Reformers and Tories delayed the process until a committee drafted a bill in 1833. The bill’s preamble contained a significant change to York’s identity:

And whereas the name of York is common to so many towns and places that it is desirable for avoiding inconvenience and confusion to designate the capital of the Province by a name which will better distinguish it, and none appears more eligible than that by which the site of the present town was known before the name York was assigned to it.

Renaming York as Toronto angered some provincial legislators. During a March 1, 1834 debate in the assembly, detractors like William Jarvis claimed the change would cause confusion. John Willison felt it disrespected the memory of the most recent Duke of York, and pointed out that neither the state nor the city of New York had changed its name. Proponents of Toronto pointed out the name’s aboriginal origins and its meaning, which was then believed to be “meeting place,” and so was well suited to the seat of provincial government. Some legislators, such as William Berczy, felt Toronto rolled off the tongue better than York (“the sound is in every respect better”).

The new city was split into five wards, each of which elected two aldermen and two councilmen. The difference between the two positions was that aldermen possessed more personal property, and could sit on a new city court. The mayor would be chosen by city council from the aldermanic pool. General voting rights were given to male property holders.

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Illustration of William Lyon Mackenzie by Charles Comfort. Toronto’s 100 Years 1834-1934 (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1934).

The local Reformer press attacked the new bill. Among its harshest critics was the ever-volatile William Lyon Mackenzie, who saw it as a Tory scheme to raise taxes and restrict who sat on city council. “We oppose it because on a careful consideration of its bearings,” Mackenzie wrote 180 years ago today in the Advocate. “We are convinced that it will be injurious to the peace and prosperity of our fellow townsmen.” The Canadian Correspondent observed that “one would scarcely imagine that things could be so disposed of on the continent of North America … that a man’s poverty should be decisive of his despicability, whilst rascality with a few paltry pounds [the currency of the time] may exercise the municipal franchise and be installed LORD MAYOR.”

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Anti-Mackenzie election broadside, 1834. Toronto Public Library.

When it was clear incorporation was going to come to pass, Mackenzie adopted an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude. Along with other prominent Reformers, Mackenzie ran for city council when the first municipal election was held on March 27, 1834, and he was among the 12 Reformers who gained the majority of seats. This victory may have seemed like sweet revenge against the Tories to Mackenzie, who had spent the previous year repeatedly being escorted out of the provincial assembly whenever he tried to take his seat. Historian Jesse Edgar Middleton summed up the mood of the electorate:

These voters were not a miscellaneous lot. They were all householders, mostly heads of families, and might be counted as the solid citizens of the community. For the time being they were red-hot because, obviously Mackenzie had been bilked of his constitutional rights. They knew him to be an able man. He had given proof a hundred times of his knowledge of public finance, parliamentary practice, and constitutional law. He had courage to no end. He was sincere, he was incorruptible. While he was inclined to allow his criticism to trail off into coarse abuse, the people remembered that the provocation had been great, and made allowances.

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Toronto’s first year was rocky—another cholera epidemic, deadly political riots, Mackenzie alienating people galore—but it was because of the framework established during that time that Toronto grew into the city we celebrate today.

Addition material from Toronto to 1918: An Illustrated History by J.M.S. Careless (Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, 1984); The City of York 1815-1834, edited by Edith G. Firth (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966); The Story of Toronto by G.P. deT. Glazebrook (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971); The Firebrand by William Kilbourn (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1956); Toronto’s 100 Years 1834-1934 by Jesse Edgar Middleton (Toronto: City of Toronto, 1934); Toronto of Old by Henry Scadding, edited by Frederick H. Armstrong (Toronto: Dundurn, 1987); the March 6, 1834 edition of the Advocate; and the February 8, 1834 edition of the Canadian Correspondent.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Fothergill’s Follies

Originally published on Torontoist on November 1, 2011.

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Colonial Advocate, February 16, 1826.

It’s rare to see an advertisement accompanied by a large image in an early-19th-century newspaper. Ads of the era were usually a narrow column of text that occasionally featured a small illustration—pages from this period resemble a modern classified section more than a collection of eye-grabbing enticements to buy merchandise, return lost horses, or read government bulletins. But the person whose home was up for grabs in today’s ad was embroiled in a controversy at the time that merited an unusual notice.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography’s entry on Charles Fothergill is blunt about his professional shortcomings:

Fothergill’s career was an unbroken sequence of failures that were largely of his own making. He was well read in both general and scholarly literature but vitiated his promise by espousing projects far beyond his financial, if not his intellectual, means. He bemoaned his lack of patronage in Britain, and in Upper Canada he found it galling to be denied preferment by a clique of officials whom he thought beneath him in both breeding and education. In neither country, though, did he adopt any rational plan to achieve by his own efforts the wealth and leisure he needed for his scholarly projects, and in Upper Canada he squandered his one bite at the cherry of public patronage. His self-destructive risk-taking is probably traceable to an obsessional neurosis akin to that of the compulsive gambler.

Born in England in 1782, Fothergill gained an early reputation as a naturalist and might have led a more successful life had he devoted himself entirely to ornithology. Instead, he immigrated to Upper Canada in 1817 and soon piled up debts via businesses he operated in Peterborough and Port Hope. Fothergill moved to Toronto (then called York) to assume the job of King’s printer in January 1822.

Elected to the colonial assembly to represent Durham County in 1824, Fothergill caused endless grief to Lieutenant-Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland in both his elected and his patronage positions. Originally a loyal Tory supporter of the government, he gradually fell into a leading opposition role and voted with the Reformers in the assembly. By January 1826, Maitland had had enough of both Fothergill’s attacks on government policy and his inefficient, debt-piling operation of the official print. Though fellow Reformer William Lyon Mackenzie was not a personal fan of Fothergill’s, he defended his colleague’s work in improving the quality of the official newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette. A week after Fothergill got the boot, Mackenzie wrote in the Colonial Advocate that he lost his position due to “his open, candid and independent conduct in the assembly.” Mackenzie saw the dismissal as a warning to other assembly members that “if they exercise the faculty of thinking and speaking, they must succumb to the opinions of the powers that be, or lose their bread.”

At a public meeting on January 24, 1826, prominent Reformers voted to raise funds to financially support Fothergill during this rocky period. We suspect they also decided to help Fothergill sell his home—note Mackenzie’s role in the ad. Fothergill returned to Port Hope, where he once again demonstrated his lack of business acumen. He also gradually alienated his Reformer colleagues in the assembly as his conservative impulses reawakened. He launched an anti-government newspaper, the Palladium, two weeks after the rebellion of 1837, but, as Early Toronto Newspapers 1793-1867 notes, “The paper died a natural death from its publisher’s lack of business sense in 1839.” The final insult came a month after he died penniless in 1840: personal papers and materials he long planned to incorporate into a “Lyceum of Natural History and Fine Arts” went up in flames.

Additional material from the January 12, 1826, and January 26, 1826 editions of the Colonial Advocate.