View of Toronto West from the top of the jail, circa 1854.

Toronto in the Beginning

[aesop_character img=”” name=”John Simcoe” align=”left”] [aesop_character img=”” name=”Elizabeth Simcoe” align=”right”]

The province of Upper Canada, now Ontario, was created by the Parliament of Great Britain in 1791 as part of the Constitutional Act of 1791. The Act divided the territory of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada, with Lower Canada being the French speaking portion now known as Quebec, and Upper Canada being the area now known as Ontario. The act provided for separate governments for each of the new provinces. A veteran of the Revolutionary War, John Graves Simcoe was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada which had become a haven for United Empire Loyalists who fled the United States at the conclusion of the American Revolution.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”November 1791″ title=”November 1791 – Arrival in Canada”]

Simcoe left England in September of 1791 with his wife Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe nee Gwillam, their son Francis and their daughter Sophia arriving in Canada in November. They left their four youngest daughters, Eliza, Charlotte, Henrietta and Caroline, behind in England in the care of a Mrs. Hunt and to keep in touch with them during the separation, Elizabeth Simcoe wrote an almost daily record of her experiences and regularly mailed them back to England. Her journal gives a fascinating glimpse into the very earliest settlement of Toronto as she describes the landscape, her excursions in the area and the people she met while her husband went about his duties as Governor.

While touring Upper Canada in search of a place to establish a suitable capital city, Governor Simcoe visited the site of Toronto for the first time on 2nd May 1793. The lands along Lake Ontario were purchased by the British crown from the Mississauga Indians of New Credit in the 1787 agreement that traded over 250,000 acres of land for some money, 2000 gun flints, 24 brass kettles, 120 mirrors, 24 laced hats, a bale of flowered flannel and 96 gallons of rum. 1The agreement was to be revisited in 1805 and then ultimately disputed in the twentieth century when the Indian band claimed that their understanding was that the agreement was only a rental of the lands, rather than an outright purchase. In a 2010 decision by the Canadian government, an additional $145 million was distributed to the Mississauga Indian band in compensation.

Map of York Harbour showing the peninsula
[aesop_timeline_stop num=”July 1793″ title=”July 1793 – Arrival at York”]

Finding Toronto much to his liking, John Graves Simcoe travelled back to Toronto with his family in July of the same year. From his wife’s diary, we know that Elizabeth Simcoe sailed from Fort Niagara, arriving in Toronto aboard the Mississaga under the command of Captain Bouchette, in the early morning hours. They waited near the harbour until first light until an Indian trader named St. John Rosseau could come out in a boat and pilot them safely to shore. They landed east of where Fort York now stands, and once on shore, the large canvas houses that were to be their home were erected on a piece of high ground.

Simcoe Home
From the Camps on the heights above Queenstown, July 1793.

The three or four canvas houses used by the Simcoes had previously belonged to Captain Cook the explorer and Governor Simcoe had purchased them at a sale in London before their departure. Divided by a canvas panel, the canvas house that Elizabeth used as her apartment had two rooms, a bedroom and a sitting room, both about thirty feet long. Another of the canvas houses was used as a winter dining room, when it was too cold to dine outside.

Almost immediately on their arrival, Elizabeth and her party set out to explore their surroundings. 2Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.  She later wrote in her diary:

We went in a boat two miles to the bottom of the bay, and walked thro’ a grove of oaks, where the town is intended to be built. A low spit of land covered with wood, forms the bay and breaks the horizon of the lake, which greatly improves the view, which indeed is very pleasing. The water in the bay is beautifully clear and transparent.

As they rowed east on Lake Ontario, they came to what was called the highlands of Toronto. The shore was lined with towering bluffs of sand that seemed to Elizabeth like chalk cliffs. The sight was so pleasing that the Simcoes talked of building a summer residence there and calling it Scarborough, although they later decide to build their summer home a few miles up the Don River at the place known as Castle Frank. 3Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.

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 road by the lake side to the end of the peninsula. We met with 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 colour. I am told they are good to eat when boiled, and some pretty white flowers like lily 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… The variety of scenes I met with this morning made the ride extremely pleasant. The wooded part of the peninsula was like a shrubbery. The sands towards the lake reminded me of the sands at Weymouth.

Elizabeth frequently rode or walked on the peninsula and watched the loons swimming in the lake. She commented that they made a noise like a man hollowing in a tone of distress. She mentioned meeting with Indians on her travels and described the Ojibway tribe as being handsomeOn September 7, she described them thus: 4Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.

They are extremely handsome, and have a superior air to any I have seen; they have been living amount Europeans, therefore less accustomed to drink rum. Some wore black silk handkerchiefs, covered with 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.

One evening later that week, the Simcoes went to see a creek that they named the River Don that emptied into the harbour near the peninsula. They rowed along its length for a distance, seeing lowlands covered with rushes and wild ducks and red wing blackbirds until the shores gave way to a wooded area further along. They dined that week on salmon from the rivers and creeks, it being in great supply in the area, although Elizabeth noted that the Indians told her that salmon were best in the month of June. Elizabeth wrote about a fever that was prevalent in the Niagara area and mentioned their plan to winter in Toronto since it was such a healthy place.

On Wednesday, September 11, Elizabeth wrote in her diary about a boat trip up the Don River to visit John Coon, who lived there with his family on a twenty acre farm. His land was later to be taken back by Governor Simcoe so that a mill could be built at this location. 5Muir, Elizabeth Gillan. “Riverdale: East of the Don.” Google Books. 2014. Accessed July 2, 2015.

We rowed six miles up the Don to Coons’, who has a farm under a hill covered with pine. I saw very fine butternut trees. The nuts are better than walnuts; gathered berries of cockspur thorns. I landed to see the shingles made, which is done by splitting large blocks of the pine into equal divisions. We found the river very shallow in many parts and obstructed by fallen trees. One of the lay so high above the water that the boat passed under, the rowers stooping their heads. It looked picturesque, and a bald eagle sat on a blasted pine on a very bold point just above the fallen tree. The Governor talks of placing a canvas house on this point for a summer residence.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”August 1793″ title=”August 1793 – Settlement Named York”]

On September 24, Governor Simcoe received an official dispatch detailing the victory by the Duke of York during a battle in Flanders where the French were driven out of Holland and he ordered a royal salute to be fired in commemoration while at the same time, proclaimed that the town was to be renamed ‘York’ in the Duke’s honour. 6This decision was to be reversed in 1834, when the name Toronto was officially reinstated.

A few weeks later, Elizabeth wrote that Captain Smith had gone with a hundred men to ‘open a road’ to be called Dundas Street that was planned to stretch from the head of the lake to the River La Tranche or the Thames River. By the end of October, she wrote: 7Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.

A road for walking is now opened up three miles on each side of the camp. I can, therefore, now take some exercise without going to the peninsula. Mr. McDonell arrived with the soldiers from Holland’s River. He brought some wild ducks from Lake Simcoe, which were better than any I have ever tasted; these birds are so much better than any in England from their feeding on wild rice. Capt. Smith is now returned from cutting the road named Dundas. It is opened for 20 miles. They met with quantities of wild grapes, and put some of the juice in barrels to make vinegar, and Cat. Smith told me it turned out very tolerable wine. They killed numbers of rattlesnakes every day, but nobody was bitten by them. Capt. Smith brought two in a barrel to show me, as had never seen any alive.

Even as November approached and the weather became colder, General Simcoe began searching for land on which to build a summer home. After many trips up the Don River, he settled on a lot of 200 acres and chose a location at the top of a steep hill. Elizabeth wrote that from the top of the hill, they looked down on the tops of large trees, and she hoped that the height of the location would afford some relief from the mosquitoes found at lower elevations. The following spring, the summer residence was built on the west side of the Don River facing south and named Castle Frank after their five year old son Francis.

Elizabeth Simcoe's Summer Home
Drawing by Elizabeth Simcoe, 1794

The building was about fifty feet deep, with a frontage of about thirty feet and featured four columns in front, fashioned from four large pine trees that supported the roof of the dwelling. Although the Simcoes did not take up permanent residence in the summer home, they visited often during Governor Simcoe’s administration.

By the end of December, the bay had frozen over and the cold settled in. Elizabeth wrote that some water, spilled by the stove, froze immediately and that, having gone for a walk on the frozen and snow covered Don River, that she found it so cold that she was benumbed and almost despaired of ever reach my own house. But as January came to a close, the cold abated and she was able to ride out for some air. 8Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.

The weather so pleasant that we rode to the bottom of the bay, crossed the Don, which is frozen, and rode on the peninsula; returned across the marsh, which is covered with ice, and went as far as the settlements, which are near seven miles from the camp. There appeared some comfortable log houses, inhabited by Germans and some by Pennsylvanians.

On one walk, the Simcoes saw the Indians ice fishing. With a blanket spread on poles above a hole in the ice, the Indians sat underneath, moving a wooden fish hung on a line in the water. As fish appeared in the hole, the Indians speared them. The catch included pickerel and what the Indians called maskalonge, a type of pike.

The winter wore on, sometimes cold and frosty, alternately damp, mild and dirty but there was little snow. The Indians, unable to track the deer on the frozen ground, were hungry and the women and children came to the Simcoe’s daily, in search of food. By the beginning of February, Elizabeth Simcoe was growing restless and began planning a journey to Detroit. They would ride on horseback to the Grand River and then to the La Tranche where canoes would be built and her spirits brightened at the thought of the journey. But by the middle of the month, Governor Simcoe received an express from Lord Dorchester, ordering him to go and establish a fort on the River Miami just below Detroit, as soon as the melt allowed him to navigate the waterways. As Governor Simcoe hastened towards Detroit, Elizabeth, disappointed, remained in Toronto.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”March 1794″ title=”March 1794 – Maple Sugar Time”]
Maple Sugar
elPadawan on Flickr

Towards the middle of March, the sun became warm through the day but the frosty nights persisted, ideal weather for the making of maple sugar. Slits were cut in the bark of the trees and wooden troughs were set below to collect the sap as it ran. Once collected, the sap was boiled in large kettles until it formed a hard cake, suitable for maple sugar. Later in the season, the best sap would be exhausted and the subsequent sap would be used to make a vinegar.

Throughout the rest of March, the weather became increasingly warm and the geese and ducks that had disappeared during the winter began to arrive back. With them came the promise of spring. By the end of the month, the ice in the harbour had gone, pushed out into the lake in two large sheets by a strong easterly wind.

There is a break in Elizabeth Simcoe’s diary from 18 April to 2 May as she mourned the death of her young daughter Katherine who had been only fourteen months old.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”May 1794″ title=”May 1794 – Back to Niagara”]

When Governor Simcoe returned from his trip in May, the family set off for Niagara in a boat on 9 May, making the journey in two days, arriving about noon on Sunday, 11 May. On arrival, Elizabeth wished to be back in York because of the overwhelming heat: 9Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.

We arrived at Niagara at twelve, and before two I wished to return to York; the heat here was so great, and looking on the land seemed to me to add to the heat, and was quite disagreeable after having been accustomed to look on the bay at York, and the river here, tho’ half a mile wide, appears narrow after leaving that expanse of water.

During the days that followed, Elizabeth renewed her acquaintance with the ladies she had met on her previous stay and enjoyed a more active social life than she had at York. Many evenings were spent dining with friends and residents near the Garrison. But throughout the summer there were rumours of pending hostilities between the United States and Canada and Elizabeth Simcoe was fearful of being caught in a conflict with her children.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”September 1794″ title=”September 1794 – Safety in Quebec”]

Accordingly, she left Niagara on 13 September 1794 aboard the Mississaga, bound for Quebec where she felt it would be safer, to await assurances that peace with the United States had been agreed on in England. On her arrival, she visited with many ladies from Quebec as she waited for her own house to be prepared. Although it was said in Quebec that peace was settled between Great Britain and the United States, Elizabeth was still waiting for official word and declined to travel back to Niagara with a party setting out.

from a drawing by Elizabeth Simcoe
The H.M. Schooner by Elizabeth Simcoe

By the beginning of February though, Elizabeth was satisfied that war was not imminent and she made the decision to return to York, despite the winter season. With the rivers frozen over, her only option was to make a land journey along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. She met up with her husband, Governor Simcoe, in New Johnstown, now Cornwall, where they stayed for a few days before setting out for Kingston. The Governor fell ill on arrival in Kingston and was unable to travel and so they remained there for some weeks, awaiting his return to health. Finally in mid-May they set off once more for York.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”May 1795″ title=”May 1795 – Return to York”]

Sailing aboard the Onondaga, they weighed anchor at noon on Friday, May 15 but five miles into their journey a head wind and a stiff gale arose and they returned to the harbour for two hours until the wind was more favourable. The journey was uneventful but wet and it wasn’t until early evening on Sunday when they arrived off Gibraltar Point at York. The wind was blowing extremely hard and Elizabeth wrote in her diary: 10Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.

The Captain chose to turn the Point without shifting a sail; he was supposed to be not sober, and the Governor ordered the English lieutenant to give orders, and he brought us safely into York Harbour. We were certainly in great danger, for the Onondaga is so built that she would overset sooner than carry away anything. I was unusually frightened, having dreamt twice following the other night that I was lost in the Onondaga. My servant came several times to tell me we were going to the bottom. I told her to shut the door and leave me quiet, for the motion of the ship made me sick.

The following day they went ashore and the family settled back into life at York, visiting and dining with friends. On Monday, June 1, Elizabeth noted that they journeyed by boat to the Castle Frank house and while there, she had tea at the Playter’s who were among the early residents of York. On the same side of the Don River as Castle Frank was the residence of Captain George Playter and on the opposite side of the river was the home of his son, Captain John Playter. Both of the Playters arrived from Pennsylvania after the Declaration of Independence.

Then on Tuesday, June 9, they sent the children and servants aboard the Onondaga to Niagara with the intention of following the next day in a canoe, but bad weather prevented their departure until the following Monday. Elizabeth wrote:

We set out in a canoe at seven, dined at the Sixteen Mile Creek, and arrived at Jones’, three miles beyond Burlington Bay, at seven in the evening. I was delighted with the canoe, the motion so easy, so pleasant, so quiet, like what I should suppose being in a palanquin. We sat on cushions in the bottom of the canoe. The Indians brought us strawberries not quite ripe. Jones’ sister put them in a saucepan with water and sugar, and boiled them, and I thought them very good with my tea.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”July 1795″ title=”July 1795 – 4th Session of Parliament”]

The Simcoes journey to Niagara was for the fourth session of Parliament which was held at Navy Hall between 6 July and 10 August 1795. Although York was the capital of Upper Canada, it had as yet no building suitable for the purpose. After the prorogue of the House of Assembly, the Simcoes dined with Mrs. Tice and made arrangements to stay a fortnight at her house, while their servants stayed in a tent on the property. Elizabeth described Mrs. Tice’s property as being peculiarly dry and healthy. It was on the mountain five miles from the Falls and with some oak trees on the property, it was always cool and shady, a welcome change from the heat at Navy Hall in Niagara. They enjoyed the area, one evening going for a drive in the carriage to the Falls, returning by starlight. On 14 August, Elizabeth wrote:

We breakfasted at six and called on Mrs. Hamilton (wife of Captain Hamilton) at the Chippawa. Our return stopped at Canby’s Mill. From thence the rapids above the Falls appear very grand. Near this mill, about a year ago, a burning spring was discovered, which, if a candle is held to it, will continue flaming a great while. I went to see it today, but it has not been cleared out for some time, and the cattle having trod in it and made it muddy, it did not deserve the name of the burning spring. We had our small tent and some cold meat hung under the carriage. We pitched the tent near the Falls and dined, after which, being fatigued by the heat, I lay down in the tent and slept, lulled by the sound of the Falls, which was going to sleep in the pleasantest way imaginable. After tea we had a very pleasant drive home.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Elizabeth’s journal entries were quite lengthy and described her excursions about the area in considerable detail. The fortnight spent at Mrs. Tice’s appears to have been almost a holiday and it is only rarely that Elizabeth mentions that her husband was absent. The heat, however, continued to vex her and she frequently complained of it.

Elizabeth Simcoe

Elizabeth wrote that she and the children enjoyed some Moravian bread made with rennet and whey and no yeast or water. The bread was baked in wicker or straw baskets and Elizabeth declared that it was as light as possible and rich like cake. She also wrote of eating two or three watermelons every day and of dining upon Indian corn boiled or roasted and many other fresh vegetables from the harvest.

Perhaps having made the acquaintance of someone with knowledge of herbs, Elizabeth also wrote of some common cures such as putting cat mint in tea as an aid to the stomach and sweet marjorie tea for headache. She also noted that sweet briar and boiling water was a good purifier for jars, milk pans and other dairy equipment. One evening, when feeling feverish, she took a saline draught in the effervescent state, a little salt of wormwood water and two teaspoonfuls of lemon juice.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”November 1795″ title=”November 1795 – Return to York”]

On her return to York, Elizabeth’s journal entries grew sparse and less descriptive  Still fascinated by healing potions, she commented on how the tough skins from the inside of wild pigeons’ gizzards were hung up to dry and grated to a fine powder as a infallible cure for indigestion. She briefly mentioned a boat that was ‘going to the Head of the Lake’ that ‘went to the bottom’ near the River Credit. Although the crew survived, the letters that were carried on the boat were all lost.

On 22 December, just in time for Christmas, the snow came and was deep enough to drive a sleigh. Christmas went unremarked by Elizabeth, other than a brief note that there had been a frost and that they dined with Mrs. Shaw. Two days later, on 27 December, Elizabeth wrote:

A slight shock of an earthquake was felt this morning about five o’clock by the Governor and almost every person in the garrison but myself. The weather is calm and there is no appearance of the lake having risen.

This was Elizabeth’s third mention of an earthquake in the Canadian diary. The first was on 5 December 1791 when a tremor was felt in Saint Louis Street in Quebec City during her stay there, and the second, remarking on reports of an earthquake the following day at St Paul’s Bay. 11“Important Canadian Earthquakes.” Natural Resources Canada. Accessed July 17, 2015. These were likely from the same seismic event. The reports from the Charlevoix-Kamouraska region on December 6, 1791 indicate a 6.0 magnitude earthquake with tremors continuing for many days.

Travel by any means other than by boat or canoe in the area around Toronto was exceedingly difficult because of the dense forest and one of Governor Simcoe’s priorities was to build roads to make overland journeys easier. With the omnipresent tension between Canada and the United States, Simcoe was concerned about the possibility of attack from the south and wanted to ensure that his troops would be able to manoeuvre in such an event. A fort had been established at the Holland River, named Gwillimbury in honour of Elizabeth’s family name of Gwillam and in late December 1795, Elizabeth wrote of a party of men who had set out to cut a road from Toronto all the way to the Pine Fort near Lake Simcoe. This was the beginnings of Yonge Street. Elizabeth later wrote:

Walked to Castle Frank and returned by Yonge Street from whence we rode. The road is as yet very bad; there are pools of water among roots of trees and fallen logs in swampy spots, and these pools, being half frozen, render them still more disagreeable when the horses plunge into them.

On New Year’s Day 1796, Mrs. Macaulay visited Elizabeth. With ten ladies living in Toronto by that time, the Simcoes could host a ball, since all the ladies could dance a reel. The month of January progressed with Elizabeth making few entries to her journal, perhaps occupied by Mrs. Macaulay’s visit. Toward the end of the month, she wrote briefly of having dined on bear meat which she did not like, on venison roasted over an open fire on twigs and on small red trout, caught through the ice which she declared excellent. In the beginning of February, they went to visit Mrs. Ashbridge, an early settler in York:

We drove three miles to the settlement below the town across the Don River, and at Mrs. Ashbridge’s saw calabashes, the fruit and the calabash tree, a vessel made of a dried gourd or shell – a gourd plant, which have holes cut in them as bowls to ladle out water, having a natural handle. I brought away some of the seeds, which are to be sown in March, in rich ground. Might not the use of these calabashes, which are in the shape like skulls, have given rise to the story of the southern Indians drinking out of the skulls of their enemies? I saw Mr. Richardson’s infant laid in a box, which he hod by a cord, and was skating up the bay; the gave the child air and exercise.

By mid-February, the ice in the harbour began breaking up and the occasional warm day brought the promise of spring once again although snow continued to fall off and on into March when the sap began to flow and sugaring began once again. In April, Elizabeth’s son Francis became unwell so they spent some time at Castle Frank, camping out in the unfinished house for a change of air. The days grew warmer and with the heat came the mosquitoes, but Francis has quite recovered and the Simcoes prepared to journey to Niagara.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”May 1796″ title=”May 1796 – 5th Session of Parliament”]

The journey to Niagara took less than four hours aboard the Mohawk, although the weather was cold and the strong north-westerly wind mad the passage rough. As the fifth session of the first legislature opened, the cold wet weather persisted and Elizabeth complained of symptoms of ague, 12Ague: Malaria or some other illness involving fever and shivering. which she treated by drinking sassafras tea. The legislature prorogued and was subsequently dissolved and the Simcoes prepared to return to York shortly afterwards, the day after Francis celebrated his fifth birthday.

King’s Head Inn, Burlington Bay. Sketch by E. Simcoe

This time, they journeyed by canoe, stopping for the night at Twenty-Mile Creek where they sheltered in an empty house.  The second night, they stopped at Forty Mile Creek where they stayed at John Green’s house before setting off once more in the early morning. For the next few days, they continued overland, sending the children and servants to the “Head of the Lake” in the canoe. The road on horseback across the mountain north of what is now Burlington descending near the Kings Head Inn at the southerly end of Burlington Bay. The last of the ride was through the moonlight and unnerved Elizabeth:

It was eight o’clock and we had five miles of that terrible kind of road where the horses’ feet are entangled among the logs amid water and swamps, to ride by moonlight, rather in the dark, for in the woods the glimmering of the moon is of little use, but rather throws shadows which deceive the traveller, tho’ to a picturesque eye they are full of indistinct and solemn beauty, but little serviceable to horses who plunge to their knees in mud pools half full of loose logs.

On 12 June, they stopped at Adam Green’s near Stoney Creek and they travelled through pathless woods to see the fall of the creek from the bottom. The journey was a difficult one and although the mountain abounded with rattlesnakes, they saw none. Elizabeth gathered many plants, learning their names from Green who told her of their uses. Ginseng was a root valued as a tonic and often exported to London where it might sell for a guinea a pound. Consumption vine was a pretty creeper that Green swore had cured his daughter of consumption. On their return to Green’s house, they dined on eggs, boiled squirrel, cakes baked on the coals, tea and coffee made of peas. The sugar they used in their coffee had been made from the sap of black walnut trees and while darker than maple sugar, Elizabeth found it sweeter. Green’s wife had recently died and Elizabeth wrote:

Green’s wife died a year ago and left ten children, who live here with their father in a house consisting of a room, a closet and a loft; but being New Jersey people, their house is delicately clean and neat, and not the appearance of being inhabited by three people, every part is so neatly kept.

They spent another three days waiting for the wind to change so they could continue their journey to York by boat and while waiting, they met Captain Brant the Indian Chief, who was taking his sons to Niagara to attend school there. Finally, on 16 June, they boarded the boat but stopped mid-afternoon at the River Credit because of the swell, even though they were within twelve miles of York. After taking a canoe trip up the Credit with some Indian guides, the winds had calmed enough that they could complete their trip to York, arriving about nine in the evening.

[aesop_timeline_stop num=”June 1796″ title=”June 1796 – Leavetaking”]

For the next month, the Simcoes visited with friends at York and spent time at the Castle Frank house. Elizabeth walked through the meadows and rode through the woods, collecting samples of wild flowers and herbs and prepared to say her goodbyes. On 14 July, Governor Simcoe received his leave and was informed that the frigate Pearl was at Quebec to take them home and would be departing for England on 10 August.  Elizabeth had made fast friends in her time in Canada and Elizabeth found the prospect of leaving York to be quite upsetting.  She wrote:

Took leave of Mrs. McGill and Miss Crookshank. I was so much out of spirits I was unable to dine with them. Mrs. McGill sent me some dinner, but I could not eat; cried all day.

At three o’clock that afternoon, with tears in Elizabeth’s eyes, they boarded the Onondaga, and commenced their journey home.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”400px” img=”” caption=”Castle Frank, summer of 1796. E. Simcoe.” align=”center” lightbox=”on”]


1 The agreement was to be revisited in 1805 and then ultimately disputed in the twentieth century when the Indian band claimed that their understanding was that the agreement was only a rental of the lands, rather than an outright purchase. In a 2010 decision by the Canadian government, an additional $145 million was distributed to the Mississauga Indian band in compensation.
2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10 Simcoe, Elizabeth. “A Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe : Wife of the First Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, 1792-6 : With Notes and a Biography.” 1911. Accessed July 4, 2015.
5 Muir, Elizabeth Gillan. “Riverdale: East of the Don.” Google Books. 2014. Accessed July 2, 2015.
6 This decision was to be reversed in 1834, when the name Toronto was officially reinstated.
11 “Important Canadian Earthquakes.” Natural Resources Canada. Accessed July 17, 2015. These were likely from the same seismic event. The reports from the Charlevoix-Kamouraska region on December 6, 1791 indicate a 6.0 magnitude earthquake with tremors continuing for many days.
12 Ague: Malaria or some other illness involving fever and shivering.