Londonizing the Landscape
Earth’s ‘New Homes’ & the Emergence of ‘Simcoe City’
London in 1781 was filled with the many regular and other-worldy activities which an Empire or great nation causes in its Capital. And so, the early preparations for a New London that occurred that year went unnoticed by the public and the press. At around noon one day former military commander John Graves Simcoe attended an auction at which numerous possessions belonging to Captain Cook would be sold. Mr. Cook had traveled the entire world and lore of his adventurism helped power the English enterprise into future phases. Cook had sailed the globe, setting up camp nearly everywhere. That’s how it read in the Capitals. At most places, Cook erected great canvas tents that acted as ‘home base’ within a ceaseless flow of foreign environments. Cook and mates setup bitchin’ Tent Cities.
That afternoon Mr. Simcoe made a successful bid for Cook’s famous tents. Purchase of them was likely prompted by family connections to Cook (Simcoe’s father learned to sail under the apprenticeship of Cook in Canada). But Providentially, it seems, acquisition of the tent was in anticipation of Simcoe’s ‘Big Assignment’. In a few years time, history would hand to Simcoe a very delicate set of tasks for which few in Britain were prepared: oversight of separation of Lower Canada, the founding of a great new capital, Toronto, and the initiation of a mega-regional road grid permitting the progressive settlement of Upper Canada. Newark (Niagara) would become the founding tent city and Fort but not the capital. Kingston was already a big town but the Toronto geography was rich and its port offered equal dispatch by boat to either Kingston, Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Buffalo region, and with Yonge Street, connection to Huron and on.
Simcoe presided over Upper Canada (present-day southern Ontario) from 1791–1796. During that time the territory was divided into four governing districts, Lunenberg (Eastern) Mecklenberg (Midland), Home (Nassau), and West (Hesse). Under Simcoe and chief surveyor Augustus Jones an American-style County/Township system was introduced into Ontario, differentiated from the English system by straight, long roads and the division of land into standardized Concessions. Many people involved in the early efforts to settle Ontario knew first hand the problems that capital cities succumb to when the spread of individuals and industry is unnecessarily constrained. Many also had intimate knowledge of the territories surrounding 18th century London which by then were marked by a novel type of ‘suburbium’ (outer territory) whose rings of residences slowly expanded in concert with the intensification of activities in the City centre. To the sharp-eyed Peer traveling England’s landscape by carriage, growth of the capital region was becoming algorithmic. London, therefore, represented a type of “New Home” on Earth with the inherent capacity to ceaselessly expand and thereby accommodate all the people and processes emerging in Modernity. Ways of development and commerce that hurt regional ecosystems are gradually corrected, even in the case of London. The point isn’t that new global centres are literally ‘unlimited growth spaces’ but that a sentiment emerges about the mega-regional capacities to sustain millions of people and businesses over the long-term.
“a situation eminently calculable for the metropolis of Canada”*
E.B. Littlehales, Journal of an Exploring Excursion from Niagara to Detroit in 1793
Every region has its natural growth boundaries. But the defining aspect of so-called New Homes is that city-region growth seem unlimited, in order that national and international populations feel assured they will find footholds within the general vicinity of the capital. A region is a delineable area often bounded by special geographies. But global cities, New Homes like London, grow and spill across many small regions bounding distinct geographies together through a great matrix of social and commercial processes. This “region of regions” is best described as a national “Realm” whose sub-provincial boundaries represent a major global unit of human habitat. In the wake of American Independence, the British were anxious to setup shop north of the Ohio in present day Ontario. But this region west of Montreal lacked a suitable Capital. Niagara was a good start but its proximity to the Americans meant that a New Home would need to be established soon and substantially further north, in order to secure the Empire’s interests in North America and guard against American invasion.
From 1792–1793 Governor Simcoe was continually directing Augustus Jones, other surveyors and Queens Rangers in the creation of an Ontario road system. In their exploring and State business they traversed the lengths of the Province and Simcoe was firm in his recommendation of London, Ontario as the new Capital. He envisioned a New London to rival the original founded around the same “360” growth principle as Londinium. Lord Dorchester insisted Toronto be the base. Whereas London offered direct access to Huron and Erie, Toronto connected into the St. Lawrence and Erie. Connection into northern Canada was vital, thus choosing Toronto meant the speedy construction of a great County Road stretching from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe into Huron — Highway 11 aka the Yonge Street. Construction began around present day Eglinton Avenue.
July 29, 1793, John Graves Simcoe, disembarked from the British schooner MISSISSAUGA , and landed somewhere near the foot of present day Bathurst Street, where he was greeted and piloted to shore by French Canadian trader St.Jean Rousseau.
Yonge Street served to divide Home District into east and west territories. Instead of growing in a curvilinear fashion, Toronto was fated to first grow south to north by means of a well-planned County — York. During this same period Toronto was christened York through a diversely attended ceremony. In debating Toronto’s name change many urbanists fail to bring attention to the special City-County relationship. The use of the same name for the City and County was deliberate and more than just a reference to the capital. The notion of York (City) and York (County) was an advanced 1:1 notion between the urbanism of the Capital (the City) and the evolving suburbanism of the County (the new Realm’s Core). Today’s York Region and City of Toronto remain the core of old Home District. The continued settlement of York Region and adjacent communities like Peel and Durham shouldn’t be seen as regional sprawl. Our Capital region (Home District) is in a special league of cities . Greater Toronto Hamilton Area doesn’t quite express the idea of “the Canadian metropolis” which Littlehales transcribed. Simcoe City is a new Home District on Earth and it’s still making room for every type of peoples and processes. As intended and anticipated by Simcoe and the British Crown, our region has been steadily Londonizing by forming a global super community connected socially by speedy rail and motorways.
In the 1950s, the Londonizing of Greater Toronto meant the switch to federated forms of municipal governance distinct from autonomous municipal management as practiced in most Counties. The Government of Ontario along with Toronto area municipalities instituted the first modern Regional Municipality to cover present day Toronto, then still just the southern municipalities of York County. With the growth of today’s York Region, peoples attention is being turned again to the long-term persistence of a development phenomena called York which seems to travel up Yonge Street from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe through Barrie with growth occurring rapdily to the east and west of the corridor. The wall of uncleared forest at Gravenhurst caps this major Ontario plain. The establishment of Fort York signaled a commitment to a special locality and a strategic regional hinterland. Ottawa is Canada’s national Capital but Toronto the mega-region has become a Global Capital whose size and commuter shed must now be measured at the 100, 200, and 300 kilometre scales.
Simcoe City is a view of “the Toronto Realm” that spans from Dundas to Collingwood, to Greater Orillia and to Norwood, doubling back to Hamilton by way of Trenton, Presquile, Cobourg and Oshawa. Oddly enough, the Greater Toronto Real Estate Board covers roughly the same area as old Home District while also including Grey and Wellington Counties.
When you travel back to Toronto from Detroit you pass through London region before hitting Kitchener-waterloo. To your southeast you can sense Buffalo, the closest major commercial connection to the US economy. Once you stare at the region long enough an older image starts to appear, one more complex than Tourism brochures illustrate. The selection of Toronto as capital left room for immigrants and religious agrarian families to till and toil in West District free from the Empire’s noxious and clamorous activities in Home District. This old notion of Fergus and Shelburne as “edges of Empire” has never been something widely discussed but represents a growth boundary as real as the Province’s greenbelts. Simcoe’s preference for London demonstrates its regional uniqueness and its role as the ultimate western edge of the new Global Capital Region (“the Toronto”) whose original name seems to have referred to a critical territory centred somewhat on Lake Simcoe, but seeming to include all the land around the Humber River, Don Valley and Oakridges Moraine down to Oshawa and over to the Credit River, ie the middle ground between groups like the Missisauga, the Ojibiway, the Mohawks and the Iriqous. It is no coincidence that York County came to occupy roughly the same territory denoted by this geographical notion of Tkaronto. To give a better sense of where Simcoe City fits within southern Ontario, let’s take a look at a map characterizing the main zones from Ottawa to Windsor. The Golden Horseshoe is the traditional term that best approximates the notion of Simcoe City developed in this article, except that Golden Horeshoe emphasizes the areas south and southeast of Hamilton to the exclusion of areas east of Oshawa. The expansion of the term to include the Northumberland and Hastings areas to the east of Toronto returns us conceptually and logistically to the original notion of Home District, what I’ve been describing for lack of a better term as “Simcoe City”.
Below is a map illustrating the rough boundaries of today’s Simcoe City with Kingston and London area “caps” in purple. These areas are geographically and socially distinct from the Capital but are still within the region’s gravity. They form important bookends, acting as edge areas pushing back against the unthoughtful spread of housing and commercial development beyond the originally established borders of Earth’s New Home — TORONTO.
Mrs. Elizabeth Simcoe was the Wife to the Governor of Upper Canada, an intelligent English woman in her own right, a Journalist, Wilderness Explorer, Painter, and keen observer of landscapes.
Mon. 18th — I was so oppressed by the heat that it diminished the pleasure of driving on the mountain of Montreal. A mile from the town it rises in the midst of a plain, like the Wrekin, one of the highest points in Shropshire. The view from it is remarkably fine, commanding a vast extent of river diversified by islands. The towns of Longueuil, on the right bank of the river, and L’Assomption, etc., are opposite, and the distance terminated by the Blue Hills of Chambly.
The town of Montreal is large, and the spires of the churches, covered with tin, give a brilliancy to the scene and look like mosques. The country around is much cultivated, and orchards cover nearly all the top of the mountain. Capt. Stevenson carried us two miles beyond the fine prospect towards La Chine (Lachine), which is three leagues above Montreal, I think merely to show how bad the road was, and we returned about nine o’clock to Mr. Frobisher’s villa on the side of the mountain, and drank tea there.
In going from hence to Montreal we saw the air filled with fire flies, which, as the night was dark, appeared beautiful, like falling stars. I dined at Mr. Frobisher’s house in the town, where the chairs were the same as I have seen sold in London for four guineas each.
Mr and Mrs. Simcoe stayed in Quebec awhile before taking residence in the new Upper Canada. All along the way Elizabeth Simcoe recorded descriptions of places and painted portraits that brought the geography of the new capital to life.
Sun. Aug. 4th — We rode on the peninsula opposite Toronto, so I called the spit of land, for it is united to the mainland by a very narrow neck of ground. We crossed the bay opposite the camp, and rode by the lake side to the end of the peninsula.
4th — We met with some good natural meadows and several ponds. The trees are mostly of the poplar kind, covered with wild vines, and there are some fir. On the ground were everlasting peas creeping in abundance, of a purple color. I am told they are good to eat when boiled, and some pretty, white flowers, like lilies of the valley. We continued our ride beyond the peninsula on the sands of the north shore of Lake Ontario till we were impeded by large trees on the beach. We then walked some distance till we met with Mr. Grant’s (the surveyor’s) boat. It was not much larger than a canoe, but we ventured into it, and after rowing a mile we came within sight of what is named, in the map, the highlands of Toronto. The shore is extremely bold, and has the appearance of chalk cliffs, but I believe they are only white sand. They appeared so well that we talked of building a summer residence there and calling it Scarborough.
Mon. 5th — The children came on shore; this afternoon we walked two miles to the old French Fort, but there are no remains of any building there. It rained very hard, and I was as completely wet as if I had walked through a river, for being in a shower in the woods is quite different from being exposed to it in an open country; every tree acted as a shower bath, as the path was just wide enough to admit of one person. We passed some creeks and unhewn trees thrown across, a matter of some difficulty to those unaccustomed to them. I should think it might be done with less danger of falling with moccasins on the feet.
Tues. 6th — Having been wet thro’ these last two days, I declined going with the Governor to see a mill on St. John’s Creek, six miles towards the head of the lake. The Governor brought me some very good cakes. The miller’s wife is from the United States, where the women excel in making cakes and bread.
Fri. 9th — Some Indians of the Ojibway tribe came from near Lake Huron. They are extremely handsome, and have a superior air to any I have seen; they have been living among Europeans, therefore less accustomed to drink rum. Some wore black silk handkerchiefs, covered with silver brooches, tied right round the head, others silver bands, silver arm bands, and their shirts ornamented with brooches; scarlet leggings or pantaloons, and black, blue or scarlet broadcloth blankets. These Indians brought the Governor “a beaver blanket to make his bed,” as they expressed themselves, apologized for not having done it sooner, and invited him to visit their country.
Sat. 10th — I went to my favourite sands; the bay is a mile across. The Governor thinks, from the manner in which the sandbanks are formed, they are capable of being fortified so as to be impregnable; he therefore calls it “Gibraltar Point,” tho’ the land is low.
Sun. 11th — Lt. Smith of the 5th Regiment who is here as Acting Deputy Surveyor-General read prayers to the Queen’s Rangers assembled under some trees near the parade. This evening we went to see a creek which is to be called the River Don. It falls into the bay near the peninsula. After we entered we rowed some distance among low lands covered with rushes, abounding with wild ducks and swamp black birds, with red wings. About a mile beyond the bay the banks become high and wooded as the river contracts its width.
Sun. 25th — I persuaded the Governor to ride this evening. We had not ridden a mile before there came so violent a shower that we were wet through in three minutes, and the claps of thunder were so loud as to make the horses start. After changing our clothes we sat down to tea, and agreed with Mr. Talbot that the rain had been the pleasantest mode of taking a shower bath, and the extreme violence with which it fell rendered us less liable to catch cold than we should have been under a gentle shower.
The following verses were found in the MSS. of the diary. They are dated “Kingston, January 1st, 1795,” and were evidently composed by Governor Simcoe in anticipation of his wife’s return to Upper Canada.
“Kingston, January 1st, 1795.
“Twice six revolving years have run their course thro’ yonder azure plains, diffusing joy. Gladness and light has discontinuous mov’d, Since thou, Eliza, overflowing source of happiness domestic, dost employ My wedded thoughts, most honour’d, most belov’d. And if the gathering clouds of fleeting life Besides, thy presence soon illumines the scene, And pleasure draws from elemental strife; And now when Night and Absence intervene O may my wishes wing thy speedy way; Return, thou source of joy; return, thou source of day.”
Thurs. 9th — I saw very grand rocks in going towards the mountain and passed three water falls, the first sombre and beautiful from the water falling from various directions over dark, mossy rocks. The second was pretty from the fine scenery of tall trees, thro’ which it shone — the third, just below an old saw mill, falls smoothly for some feet, and is a bright copper color, having passed through swamps; it then rushes into white foam over regular ledges of rocks spreading like a bell, and the difference of color is a fine contrast. The course of this river is a series of falls over wild rocks, the perpendicular banks on each side very high, covered from top to bottom with hemlock, pines, cedars and all forest trees of an immense height. By camping near the bank the water is seen below. There are stones in this water which appear like petrified shells, but Green was not at home and I could not get any fetched to me. Returning we noticed a scene of rocks, the lake below towards Burlington Bay, and half a mile to the east an extensive distant view towards the Genesee River and overlooking the country from hence to Niagara. I saw a cream-colour’d hawk, with back-tipp’d wings and a scarlet tail.
View from the King’s Head Inn, 1796.
(From a Drawing by Mrs. Simcoe.)
We saw a rift in the rocks, a narrow pass where wolves descend from the mountain to commit depredations on the sheep below. The woods are full of sarsaparilla. I gathered some wild flax at Green’s. In his garden he has quantities of melons near the river, and last year cut 800 pumpkins from three-quarters of an acre of land; they are esteemed excellent food for cows, making the butter particularly good. We dined to-day at our encampment and slept at Green’s.
Sat. 11th — At the King’s Head Inn. This house was built by the Governor to facilitate the communication between Niagara and the La Tranche, where he intended to establish the seat of government, and its situation was not without reference to a military position.
In 1787 Lord Dorchester decided that the settlements of Loyalists near Niagara and those east of Cataraqui needed to be connected so he directed Sir John Johnson to purchase “a free and amicable right” for the government to the adjacent lands not yet acquired on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Accordingly on September 23rd, 1787 at the Carrying Place on the Bay of Quinte, John Collins, Deputy Surveyor-General, purchased on behalf of the government from three Mississauga chieftains a tract of land known afterwards as the ‘Toronto Purchase,’ for which the Aboriginals received 1700 pounds in cash and goods which included shrouds, hoes, shot, powder, guns, brass kettles, tobacco, knives, looking glasses, linen, laced hats, pieces of ribbon, fishhooks, gun flints, flowered flannel, blankets, broadcloth, serge and rum.
The Governor proposed fortifying the western tip of the “spit of sand” with a storehouse and blockhouse to be armed with sufficient fire power to deter any enemy vessel either from entering or remaining within the harbour. Constantly cautioned by London to be as economical as possible, Simcoe was forced to seek out weapons wherever they could be found. Among the armaments he used to fortify the harbour were two “good guns,” twelve and eighteen pounders that had lain beneath the lake where they sank”after the last peace.”
The Simcoes’ two-roomed tent, which was sheathed by boards against the coming winter, was pitched in the small clearing where years before a French trading post had stood. The canvas house served as the nucleus of the new community and it became known both for the genial hospitality of its gracious host and for its peculiar structure. From the clearing in which it was located an Aboriginal path led through the trees to the upper lakes. Down this path on August 26th, a group of Native chiefs came calling for a council with the English governor. The Aboriginals, who had come from the shores of Lake Huron, recalled that some time before a great French leader had come to the same spot where fur trading had been carried on. Here the French had “kindled a fire,” which to the great surprise of the Aborigines had long since been extinguished.