The mid-summer holiday in August is always glorious anticipated. Though we are aware the summer is half spent, we revel in the lazy days of sunshine. Even if it rains, we find an umbrella and stubbornly barbeque. It is rare that we think of the man whose name is attached to the first Monday in August, especially since the name “Simcoe Day” only applies in Toronto. Other than the holiday, few traces remain today to remind us of John Graves Simcoe, the province’s first Lieu. Governor. Simcoe Street also has his name. It is a north-south street that is one block west of University Avenue. There is Simcoe Hall within the grounds of the University of Toronto, and also a statue of him at Queen’s Park.
The Statue of Simcoe at Queen’s Park, the work of Walter Allward, the creator of the memorial at Vimy Ridge.
Statue of Simcoe when it was erected in 1903. The photo is from the City of Toronto Archives
However, a direct connection to Simcoe can be found near Portland and Stewart Streets, in the King/Bathurst area of the city. This public square, the oldest in Toronto was also the city’s first cemetery. It is where Simcoe’s daughter is buried. The small open space known as Victoria Square was larger in the nineteenth century than it is today. The boundaries of the burial ground within the square formed a rectangle, with the corners pointing to the four cardinal points of the compass. This was unusual as it was the custom of the day to align plots parallel to the grid. Almost all streets were also planned according to the grid lines. The reason for the unusual configuration of the cemetery is today unknown. At that time, the only other site in the community that was positioned in a similar manner was “Bell Vue,” the home of the Denison Family, located in Denison Square in the present-day Kensington Market area.
When completed in 1794, the cemetery was entirely surrounded by dense forest. The trees were cut down by Simcoe’s troops. Those existing in the square were planted in the twentieth century. In the 1830s, when the land was surveyed and the streets were laid out, the small square was bounded on the north by Stewart Street, the south by Niagara Street, the east by Portland Street, and to the west by Bathurst Street. During the years ahead, houses were erected on its western section (on Bathurst Street), reducing the size of the Square. Wellington Place ended at the east side of the cemetery. Eventually a street named Douro was cut through the Square. This new street as well as Wellington Place were eventually combined and renamed Wellington Street West, as it is today.
Governor Simcoe’s daughter Katherine, who was only fifteen months of age when she died, was the first interment in the cemetery. During the following years many more were buried, including at least one of the soldiers who perished defending York in the American invasion of 1813. During the War of 1812, York was a medical centre where they brought those who had been injured in battles on the Niagara frontier. Reverent John Strachan reported that in 1813 he officiated at the funerals for six to eight men a day.
It is estimated that from the time of its inception in 1794 until the final interment in 1863, about four hundred bodies were placed within the grounds. In the years ahead citizens of the town were also buried here, though after 1807 many were placed in the churchyard of St. James, on King Street East. With the closing of the First Garrison Burying Ground, another cemetery was created to the northwest of Fort York, on Dufferin Street, near the present-day Canadian National Exhibition grounds.
Victoria Memorial Square today. It was the Garrison Burial Ground and is where Simcoe’s daughter was buried. It is now a public park. It is where the Walter Allward’s Statue, erected in 1908, stands as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the War of 1812. The grave monuments in the park are to the early-day residents of York who are buried within the grounds.
The figure of an old warrior from the War of 1812, as depicted by Walter Allward. It sits atop the memorial statue in the park.
I have spent much of my adult life researching Toronto. Despite the traffic jams and daily congestion, I find Toronto an exciting and vibrant city in which to live. I enjoy exploring the city’s past through my writing. One of the books, “The Villages Within”, was nominated for the Toronto Heritage Awards. If interested in novels with a Toronto setting, descriptions of the books are available by following the link: https://tayloronhistory.com/2012/03/22/toronto-author-publishes-seventh-novel/
They can be purchased in soft cover or electronic editions. All books are available at Chapters/Indigo and on Amazon.com. The electronic editions are less than $4 on Kobo and Kindle. Follow the links:
There Never Was a Better Time: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000056586/THERE-NEVER-WAS-A-BETTER-TIME.aspx
Arse Over Teakettle: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000132634/Arse-Over-Teakettle.aspx
The Reluctant Virgin; http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000188306/The-Reluctant-Virgin.aspx
The Villages Within: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000175211/The-Villages-Within.aspx
Author’s Home Page: https://tayloronhistory.com/
Authors can be contacted at: [email protected]